As mentioned in the previous post we traveled by train whilst in Japan. Consequently, we spent time in train stations whilst in Tokyo and traveling to Morioka and Osaka from Tokyo. The train stations provided me with limited opportunities to make some photos within a loose reference to, and understanding of, the tradition of Japanese street photography.
This photo below was made whilst we were on the circular JRYamanote Line from Shinjuku to Tokyo Station. We were on our way to catch the Tohoku Shinkansen to the city of Morioka in the Iwate Prefecture located in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan.
I say a loose understanding since the Japanese tradition of classic postwar street photography (sunappu shotto) is usually characterized as a snapshot made with a handheld 35mm camera; black and white film; an ethos of candid spontaneous images; a style favouring rough, blurred, and out of focus images; high contrast tonality; a naive persona of the photographer as a hunter on the streets and photographic truth as evidence of reality. The subject matter of are-bure-bok (grainy, blurry, and out-of-focus) has its roots in the mass devastation of war in the form of a shattered, dislocated, military occupied country, which was initially pictured by Ken Domon and Tadahiko Hayashi, was often of Shinjuku’s dark alleyways (eg., Golden Gai) the bar areas of large cities, urban streets and railway stations and US military bases.
The work of the two main post-war groups — VIVO and Provoke — was surveyed and exhibited by John Szarkowski at Museum of Modern Art’s New Japanese Photography exhibition in New York in 1974. It concentrated on the men photographers in the 1960s. Though some photographers such as Ishiuchi Miyako’s 1977 Yokosuka Story, Tatsuo Suzuki, Takashi Hamaguchi and Kitai Kazuo continued to work within this classic black and white tradition, the orthodox understanding of street photography was questioned in the 1990s including its general disregard the images of women photographers as girl photos. With female street photographers (such as, Kawauchi Rinko, Mikko Hara and Ume Kayo), the tradition broadened, became more reflexive and critical of its classical assumptions about realism, objectivity, experience, gender and subjectivity.
We recently spent several days in Tokyo before we started the Basho Tohoku Tour followed by walking the Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi route on the Kii-Peninsula in Honshu. I spent some time during those five days walking around the bar district in Shinkjuku, which is where our hotel in Tokyo was located; as well as traveling around the different wards of Tokyo on the very crowded but extremely effective JR Yamanote loop line. Tokyo is an ever-changing, decentralized postmodern city of patchwork neighbourhoods with a long history of being a photographed city, often explored in terms of the tense relationship between tradition and modernity. The photos after 1945 were usually published in the form of photobooks. Two examples are Toshio Yamane’s color photographs of the waterfront of Tokyo Bay, taken on 4×5 film during the 1980s entitled Front (1991) and Shinichirō Kobayashi’s photographs of the construction works of Tokyo Bay taken throughout the 1980s in Tokyo Bay Side (1991)
As a visitor I could only photo the urban surface of this ever changing city –ie., the streets, people and architecture–which is what Nguan, the Singapore photographer, did with his Shibuya project (2010) of the peoples scramble at the intersection—the in front of Shibuya station, sometimes known as the Hachikō diagonal crossing. My idea was to be a flaneur for several days either by getting lost in Shinjuku or using the Situationist drifting strategy. The former was easy to do as Shinjuku Station is a large subway and railway hub is a labyrinth consisting of over 40 exits, two major department stores and many of the other conveniences and advertising associated with Tokyo subway stations
Whilst on the train I endeavoured to make photos of the city though the window when I was able to. The Big Echo photo below was made whilst we were on our way to the Shinagawa station to visit photography exhibitions at the Tokyo Art Photography (TOP) Museum. The standout exhibition was that of Homma Takashi entitled Revolution 9, which used rooms as if they were pinhole cameras — the blurb says “using the city to shoot the city”.
I was unable to make many urban photos through the train windows whilst in Tokyo as both the monorail from Haneda airport and the trains on the Yamanote loop line were extremely crowded and it was usually standing room only. There was little space by the window amidst a continual flow of people walking on and off the trains at the various stations on the loop line.