Broadly speaking, compared to Britain, Germany and the United States, France and Japan have shared an alternative approach to design since the industrial revolution, focusing more on the appreciation of handmade and luxury goods. This economic necessity reverberates today as a mutual affection of these nation’s workmanship and craft traditions. As analog film slowly dies off, replaced by the convenience of digital imaging, the window display by Takashi Homma at the Maison Hermes in Tokyo’s Ginza district is an interesting reflection on the state of photography and its current place in visual culture.
Homma, who started off as a magazine photographer in London and has gone on to produce quietly perfect contemporary art projects, puts as much energy and thought into the editing and presentation of images as he does into the creation of the images themselves. The fact that his work at the Renzo Piano-designed Hermes building is a window display should therefore not be taken lightly.
Pausing to look at it slowly and carefully will seem aberrant, and that is intentional. In describing the work, Homma mentions the French post-industrial tradition of the flaneur: the lone(ly) detached figure who wanders the city observing and recording, skirting the boundaries of acceptable behavior by refusing to be a consumer or spending his or her time in monied work. In order to properly take in his current piece, Homma requires that you pause between purchases and coffees; to stand, look and think on a busy street for longer than usual. Such a simple thing — but still aberrant.
In small windows around the side of the building, his images form the background to individual Hermes items: a glove clasp, a leather strap, a bottle of eau de toilette. Yes it’s advertising, but it’s also quite a witty twist on window shopping. You may want to buy the object, but Homma’s matte, blurred, indistinct image is in tension with the faultless luxury items in front of them, unsettling our visual pleasure with an intermediate and provisional record of the urban environment.
Using film is now a niche activity, a traditional craft as it were, and Homma has pointedly used camera-obscura pinhole photography for the images in his display. This entailed setting up a light-tight room in the building opposite the Maison Hermes with a small entry-point for outside light to enter and register on film placed on the wall opposite.
In the main display at the front of the building a male mannequin looks through a 19th-century wooden camera at a female one, both with large prints draped behind them like scrolls. It’s another surreptitious comment on accepted forms of looking, and it could be said that the artwork is the not the images, but more a performance piece, with the viewer as its protagonist.
“Camera Obscura Study” at Maison Hermes, 5-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, runs till Sept. 15; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Sun. until 7 p.m.) Free to view. www.maisonhermes.jp/ginza/window