Tokyo Art Scene: Still Life

8 Min Read

These photography exhibitions show us the versatility of still images. See how different artists from different countries and time periods utilize the camera to convey messages and aesthetics.

In the era of smartphones, photography has become a medium accessible to all. It has allowed us to commemorate celebrations and daily occurrences in still images; remembering things has never been easier. However, the convenience of having a built-in camera in our portable phones has also made it easy to take for granted the joy and creative process of photography.

This week, Savvy Tokyo introduces three photo exhibitions that showcase the diverse ways and approaches to both analog and digital photography.

“The Actuality of Film Photography”

© Photo by Nadila
Exhibition poster by the museum entrance

Around a 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku is the quiet residential area of ​​Chofu, and located near the Sengawa station on the Keio line is the “Tadao Ando street.” Although, not the official name of the street includes six buildings designed by the Japanese architect. The Tokyo Art Museum stands as one of the simple concrete buildings in the city. They usually host small exhibits featuring both Japanese and international artists. This month focuses on three photographers, Tamaki Yura, Naoko Funaki and Masahiro Kodaira.

© Photo by Nadila
Black and white film photography by Tamaki Yura is displayed over the concrete walls of the building designed by architect Tadao Ando.

With photography being more accessible via smartphones, it becomes easier to snap a picture, delete it or make modifications. The beauty of analog photography is the time and care put into crafting the desired frame. With only a limited number of images taken on film, photographers form a more personal connection with their subject in making sure no shot gets wasted. This appreciation for analog photography becomes the core of this exhibition. The three featured artists are fond of using film for their images and showcase different ways to convey their messages.

© Photo by Nadila
This photograph by Masahiro Kodaira stands alone on the third floor of the museum space.

“Wolfgang Tillmans: Moments of Life”

© Photo by Nadila
Exhibition poster by the elevator

Sitting on the windowsill is a scattered collection of crystals and a Wi-Fi router. A single leaf of a house plant sprouts through the middle of the image, and the gloomy sky is made evident through the way the light hits the objects. This is a frame of Wolfgang Tillman’s “Still Life, Bourne Estate” collection, a series of photographs depicting random things inside an apartment. The German contemporary photographer is most known for his still life images and his friends. Tillman is also responsible for the album cover of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, one of the most celebrated R&B works this decade.

© Photo by Nadila
Friends became a recurring subject in many of Tillman’s photography.

Works by Wolfgang Tillmans are currently being showcased in Espace Louis Vuitton, a gallery space located on the top floor of the Louis Vuitton store in Omotesando. Inside the space are 21 photographic prints ranging in size, with the earliest work dating back to 2002 and the latest being produced in 2020. Despite the lengthy time frame, a theme emerges among Tillmans’ collection—everyday life. Part of his collection are photographs that depict friends having conversations, a freshly trimmed haircut, objects by the windowsill and plants.

© Photo by Nadila
Tillmans photographs plants in apartments and urban landscapes.

“The Crystallization of Photographic Expression and Technique”

© Photo by Nadila
Exhibition poster located at the back entrance of the Fujifilm Photo History Museum

In the history of film and cameras, Fujifilm sits at the top of the list as one of the big names in the industry. Fujifilm has a long history of photographic films, including the production of both film and digital cameras, the use of photography for medical purposes, as well as front lining the recent trend of bringing back film and disposable cameras. The Fujifilm Photo History Museum located in Tokyo Midtown gives a glimpse into the beginnings of photography and the company. Throughout this month, Fujifilm Square will also be hosting a small exhibition about the various printing techniques used throughout the pre-digital period of photography.

© Photo by Okada Koyo
Koyo, Okada. “Pines of Tokai, Bishamon in Shizuoka Prefecture” (1944).

This is the second part of the Fujifilm Photo Collection Special Exhibition, featuring around 20 works from the 20th century. The subjects explored in these photographs range from nature, urban landscapes, people and props. Among the photographs displayed is one by Okada Koyo, known for his images of Mount Fuji. Appearing in the black-and-white landscape photo is the mountain with its famous snowy top, floating above clouds and tree branches.

© Photo by Maeda Shinzo
Shinzō, Maeda. “Bakushu Senretsu (Red Wheat Brilliance)” (1977)

The exhibition’s focus is the diverse film-developing techniques and processes available during the pre-digital era. For example, Koyo’s Mount Fuji shot was printed using gelatin silver prints which were popular during the century. Also featured are the works of albumen prints, the first method of photo printing and prints produced by the dye-transfer process, which was used for technicolor films.

We hope these exhibits help you rediscover the craft of picture-taking. Go out and explore; see what you can do with just a click of your phone camera.

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