Arguably the premier creative medium in Japan, photography has undergone significant changes over the last few years. The advent of digital imaging has made it easier and cheaper for people to experiment with photography, while the latest generation of inkjet printers have made it possible to display these images at sizes that were all but unimaginable just a few years ago.
All Tokyo art galleries mount photography shows, or include photography in their exhibitions, but worth a closer look are a string of galleries in Shinjuku — some long-established, some fairly new — that focus on the medium.
Set aside the better part of an afternoon for a walking tour of these spots, which will take you to little artist-run nooks and huge corporate-sponsored showrooms to see everything from old-school, black-and-white film, silver-gelatin prints to enormous color-saturated inkjet prints. A flier with a map of the galleries mentioned below is available from all participating spaces; pick one up at your first stop, or call and ask to be faxed a copy.
We begin at Shinjuku Gyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi subway line. If you have brought a camera along, you might want to stroll the grounds of the city’s most photogenic park, the 60-hectare Shinjuku Gyoen, which has a wonderful greenhouse and three manicured gardens in different styles: French formal, English landscape and Japanese traditional. The park also has a photography gallery near its Shinjuku Gate, which favors park-related and nature subjects in its exhibitions. (It costs 300 yen to get in to Shinjuku Gyoen. Admission is free at all the other galleries featured here.)
Not far from the park’s Okido Gate is the new home of Daido Moriyama’s gallery, Place M, which is run by a collective of five established Japanese photographers and exhibits mostly their work.
Around the corner from Place M is a large space, Sirius, which has been staging exhibitions there for almost two years, generally as weeklong shows. Opening Jan. 15 is Akemi Tanaka’s “Children of the World,” which is pictures of, well, children, in various locations around the world. Sirius exhibitions are rarely controversial, although the space does cover a wide range of styles, from portraiture to landscape and cityscapes. The work is generally of high quality, however, as the gallery often serves as a display space for mid-career photographers launching new books.
Take a deep breath, because a couple of walkups are next. Both the Photographers’ Gallery and Galeria Q are located on the fourth floors of old buildings in Tokyo’s gay enclave, Shinjuku Ni-chome. Both are run by small groups of young photographers, whose works are for sale. The spaces are small but well-lighted, and feature weekly or biweekly exhibitions, usually but not always by members of the collective.
Currently at the Photographer’s Gallery is Keiko Sasaoka’s “Park City,” a look at her native Hiroshima, which she describes as a city centered on the Peace Park that commemorates the atomic bombing of the city in August 1945. “Even decades later,” says Sasaoka, “the Peace Park still seems to give Hiroshima its identity.” Sasaoka is showing nine black-and-white prints shot in and around the park (each 80 cm × 80 cm) and has self-produced a32-page book (980 yen). These are big, bold compositions with good spatial sense, tacked to the wall in a rough, bohemian fashion.
Galeria Q, which is exceedingly difficult to find, has Nagahiro Kumagai showing black-and-white prints. These are classic cityscapes in the style of early Nobuyoshi Araki or Daido Moriyama, shitamachi details snapped in the Tokyo district of Hongo. Here, again, exhibitions change weekly, and on occasion the gallery closes up for a while, so call ahead.
Wrapping up the tour are several large corporate spaces. The newly refurbished Konica Minolta Plaza, the Nikon Salon/bis 21, the Pentax Forum and Epson’s EpSite are all close to Shinjuku Station.
These spaces have frequently changing exhibitions and, as might be expected, tend to show work that photography-company curators would like. Here you will find big, bright landscapes, crisp macro studies, soft-focus black-and-white nudes — the sort of pictures that make photography itself look good.
Noteworthy now is the “Nikkor Photo Contest,” which runs to Jan. 19 and showcases the 283 winners (selected from some 40,000 entries) in Nikon’s biggest annual juried competition. This year’s Grand Prize winner for color photography is Yuji Tsukada’s “Summer Memories,” while “Early Spring” by Tomeo Sugioka gets the nod in the black-and-white category. This is a great chance to sample work by some very capable photographers from across Japan.
Finally, Epson, ever keen to show off its state-of-the-art inkjet printing machines, has some gigantic pictures of Mount Fuji by Yukio Oyama at the EpSite Gallery, showing until Feb. 8. Color me sentimental, but these are just breathtaking.
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