Photo Gallery International, Shibaura, Tokyo

Closes July 4

Tokyo exists as much in its images as in its tangible reality. The challenge of distilling the polyphonic experience of the city into a potent scene, however, has beguiled generations of artists. This show, entitled “Tokyo,” presents photographs of the capital spanning half a century by Yasuhiro Ishimoto, one of Japan’s masters of photographic Modernism.

Born in San Francisco in 1921, growing up in Shikoku, and then returning to the United States on the eve of the war, Ishimoto confronted the threat of Japanese conscription and underwent internment as an enemy alien in the United States. These experiences lend his images of both American and Japanese subjects a distinctive quality entwining intimacy and detachment. After the war, Ishimoto studied architecture before switching to photography in Chicago, which put him in direct contact with Bauhaus emigres, and he absorbed a vigorous Modernist sensibility before returning to Japan in 1961 to settle permanently in Tokyo. The city — its people and its spaces — has formed the background for the rest of his career.

Outwardly, his subjects are diverse: street scenes, portraits, urban landscapes, abstract images of leaves, snow and sky. The consistency is to be found in the quality of the artist’s gaze. Ishimoto’s Modernist eye roves the city seeking those momentary conjunctions when two principles collide within a single frame — youth and age, the organic and the mineral, image and texture. This tension, combined with a dynamic compositional sensibility and faultless technical skills, gives the pictures their magnetic force. To see the city over a 50-year period through one person’s eyes prompts reflection on the paradox of eternal change. Tokyo is celebrated as an environment in continuous flux, yet it is the continuity of its life that emerges strongest from these eloquent images.

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