'Snapshots Cast Their Spell'; 'Radiant Moments: The New Snapshot'

by Mark Thompson

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Closes Feb. 6

The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has chosen to link two concurrent shows by using the word “snapshot” in both titles; appropriately, the curatorial intent is a bit blurry and underdeveloped. Yes, many of the works embody spontaneity or achieve a certain gritty artlessness, but the casual snapshot doesn’t really cover the vast array of aesthetics on display.

The 3rd floor’s “Snapshots Cast Their Spell” mixes together famous and lesser-known masters. Suffice it to say, Paul Fusco’s “RFK Funeral Train,” a series that poignantly documents a stationary procession of waving, saluting, gawping humanity, all gathered to witness the passing of a dream, is worth the price of admission. The images downstairs in “Radiant Moments: The New Snapshot” aren’t quite as timeless, but this selection of contemporary Japanese photography is at least more focused.

But snapshots? Yuki Shigeo’s visual diary of Tokyo’s evolving cityscape could qualify, but at the other end of the spectrum, there’s Hirohiko Ikeda’s calm, austere black-and-white shots of Israel’s Negev Desert. Far removed from the urban clutter, these semi-fantastical images, which could be illustrations of untold epic tales, convey an awe for human archetypes and natural history.

Most of the photos spring from photographers’ responses to surroundings both alien and familiar. Clearly, Haruko Nakamura hearts Tuscany, and her photos of this idyll — frolicking children, toothless seniors, freshly butchered game — could easily launch a 1,000 package tours. Likewise, Hokkaido would be wise to license Yuji Obata’s romantic shots of night skating and crystalline snowflakes for its tourism promotion. Chikako Yamashiro’s experiments with shadow and depth perception in Okinawa are simultaneously deep and shallow.

The real journey of experience is seen in the works by Satomi Shirai. Her “Home and Home” photos evoke a life in limbo between dual countries. Scenes of lonely modern-living clutter are juxtaposed with staged shots of a fake little Japan. Hermetic retreats into dollhouses, equipped with all the plastic comforts of home, are displayed alongside depictions of living-on-your-own independence.

If any lessons are to be gleaned, it’s that Japan’s next generation of great photographers should get out of Japan.

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thu., Fri. till 8 p.m.); admission “Snapshots Cast their Spell” ¥500, “The New Snapshot” ¥700. For more information, visit