Aperture #219 – Editors’ Note
Tokyo conjures a distinctive, if familiar, image: hyper-modern and kaleidoscopic, a mutating urbanscape that is more Blade Runner than picturesque capital. Like any iconic city, Tokyo also exists in our mind’s eye as an idea. But Noi Sawaragi, one of Japan’s most influential art critics, speaking of the capital in these pages, punctures the idea that this ever-changing place can be neatly encapsulated. “Is Tokyo even a city at all?” he challenges, before reflecting on its diverse culture of image making. “There is very likely a connection between this lack of substance in Tokyo as a city and the scarcity of any single overarching theme or style that might define its photographic expression.”
That diversity of expression is felt across this issue, Aperture’s second to focus on photography through the lens of a global city. While interest in Japanese photography is always strong, a number of major exhibitions on the subject are now being staged internationally (or will be in the near future). Once again, it is a photo-zeitgeist. To create this issue we spent three weeks last December working in Tokyo with editor and publisher Ivan Vartanian, our consultant and guide. We met with photographers, curators, editors, booksellers, and historians to glean a sense of what people in Tokyo’s photography community were talking and thinking about, and what kinds of research and curatorial work were under way. The geography of the city is not simply depicted in these pages but is present as a central character in narratives of photography. As Vartanian commented in a conversation while we finalized the issue, “You might say that Tokyo infuses every body of work coming out of Japan.”
We have tried to characterize the photographic enterprise of the city by reflecting a range of work—some is explicitly connected to the city itself, other projects take us further afield, and a significant offering takes us into the past. We take a deep look at the work of Takuma Nakahira, the Provoke-era photographer and writer who is key to grasping Japanese postwar photography; we consider the role of the medium in Tokyo’s avant-garde scene that emerged amid the social turbulence of the 1960s; we revisit the mass-market, and at times lowbrow, glossy magazines that for decades were the platform for serious photographers. And then we turn to younger generations of image makers, such as newcomers Daisuke Yokota and Mayumi Hosokura, as well as midcareer figures like Rinko Kawauchi and Takashi Homma, both of whom display their evolving curiosity with their most recent projects—published here for the first time—which, for each of them, mark a departure from earlier series. Homma, featured on our cover, now makes foreboding images of Tokyo’s urbanscape using a camera obscura.
Like the city itself, the photography world in Tokyo is a vast and shifting landscape. A single issue can only hope to scratch the surface. Our concurrent edition of The PhotoBook Review, also dedicated to photography from Japan, helps us expand the conversation, and addresses the key role that books play in Japanese photographic culture—including a look at the crop of publications made in response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Additional articles will appear on Aperture.org and on the Aperture Photography App—among them an introduction to the thriving scene of alternative spaces that are helping to shape photography in Tokyo today, as well as other related stories and images from our archive. As writer Hideo Furukawa observes of Tokyo in this issue: “the city [is] formed…from an accumulation of tiny, fascinating details.”