Takashi Homma’s Tokyo Obscura
The following is an excerpt from a portfolio in Aperture magazine #219, Summer 2015, “Tokyo.” This article also appears in Issue 10 of the Aperture Photography App, a new biweekly publication from Aperture: click here to download the free app.
Takashi Homma emerged in the 1990s as one of the leading photographers of his generation. After living in London, where he worked for the groundbreaking style and culture magazine i-D, Homma embarked on a number of projects of his own, resulting in a sequence of photobooks that engaged Japan’s capital, including Tokyo Suburbia (1998), Tokyo Children (2001), Tokyo and My Daughter (2006), and Tokyo (2008). He became known for his elegantly restrained compositions and understated color, and an aesthetic that seemed to have more in common with that of the American photographers Stephen Shore and Robert Adams than it did with previous generations of Japanese photographers, like Daido Moriyama, whose pictures looked intentionally blurry and distressed. Recently, however, in a radical departure from his earlier work, Homma has begun working with a camera obscura, the proto-form of photography in which an inverted image is projected by light passing through a tiny hole in a wall.
Homma tends to prefer hotels for his camera obscura process: he converts entire rooms in Tokyo into pinhole cameras, blacking out the windows with dark paper and sealing off light leaks with tape. “The concept was to use architecture to take pictures of architecture,” Homma explains. In this way, he’s photographed water towers, city streets, skylines, ordinary subjects that take on an aura of mystery. In some images, large dots eclipse part of the view, like a gothic Japanese flag; in others, the blur is enigmatic, the palette unusual. “Exposing color film to natural light, rather than light through a lens, produces tones I’ve never quite seen before.”
The initial idea, however, was inspired by the work of Nobuo Yamanaka, a conceptual artist working in Tokyo in the 1970s. “Yamanaka, over twelve years, devoted himself to transforming his apartment into a pinhole camera. It made me think of the first daguerreotypes made by Nicéphore Niépce, how they were landscapes visible through the window of his house.”
With this work, Homma is purposely conjuring the past, intrigued by the way the process slows photography down, especially in our digital age of instant-image gratification. Another important touchstone for the work is author Junichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows,” a classic 1933 essay on aesthetics, in which Tanizaki comments on how, in the past, darkness was more a part of everyday life. “Today the world overflows with light,” Homma says. “Creating darkness is itself special. When you make a whole room into a pinhole camera, you move subtly away from the idea that you are taking the picture. It’s not the result of your actions alone and it’s unclear how it will all turn out until the very end.” –The Editors