current exhibition

A LIFE 1968-2017 - Shunji Dodo

Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00

Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30

Mondays and Tuesdays Closed

Entrance Fee 800 yen for over 18

commentary

A river redolent of humanity – the photographic world of Shunji Dodo
Kotaro Iizawa (photography critic)

Looking back over Shunji Dodo’s more than fifty-year career as a photographer, the Chinese character for “river” suddenly crossed my mind. Rivulets that form in the recesses of mountains gather water and eventually turn into great rivers that branch out and descend onto plains. In the case of Dodo’s birthplace of Osaka, the Yodo River system, whose headwaters near the boundary with Fukui prefecture feed into Lake Biwa and from there into Osaka Bay, assuming the names Seta River, Uji River and Yodo River along the way. It seems justifiable to compare the world of Dodo’s photographs with their imposing sense of scale to this Class A river with its total length of around 170 km and catchment area of around 8,240 km2.

It was after he entered the Department of Photography in the Faculty of Art and Design at Kyushu Sangyo University as one of the first batch of students in 1967 that the water vein that would become the headwaters of Dodo’s photography was formed. In his second year he loaded a roll of Tri-X into the Nikon F his father had bought him soon after he entered university and headed for Sasebo, then in turmoil as protesters sought to prevent a port call by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. A selection of these and other early photographs, including some shot in Tokyo in January, April and November 1969 before and after the assault by riot police on the student-occupied Yasuda Hall at the University of Tokyo, in Okinawa in July the same year and during a trip to London in June 1960, appear in Horizon Far and Away 1968–1977 (Akaaka Art Publishing, 2012).

One could say that the grainy texture arising from high-temperature development and the blurred and tilted framing of Dodo’s photographs were not so much borrowed from the “are, bure, boke” (grainy, blurred, out-of-focus) style of the likes of Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira having such a great influence on young photographers at the time, but a manifestation of Dodo’s own compelling desire to respond to the creative urge that welled up inside him. Though it should be noted that whether in Sasebo, Okinawa or London, his camera homes in on the sometimes pathetic and also ridiculous activities of the people crawling the earth. Dodo’s “river” persistently smacks of humanity as it continues to flow towards the sea.

While at university, Dodo also began taking the photographs of the Shinsekai district of Osaka that would later make up his first photobook, Shinsekai, Then and Now (Choseisha, 1986). Scenes of Osaka familiar from a young age became synchronized with the rhythm of his walking the streets, providing the material for the kinds of intimate snapshots that suggest a mutual calling of names with the people that are their subjects. By mobilizing not only his sense of sight but also his senses of hearing, smell and touch, he was able to capture vividly the atmosphere on the streets where “people have nothing to hide.”

Dodo graduated from Kyushu Sangyo University in 1970 and after a short spell teaching at Tokyo Shashin Senmon Gakko (now Visual Arts College Tokyo) he started work as a teacher at Osaka Shashin Senmon Gakko (now Visual Arts College Osaka) in 1972. He was appointed head of the school in 1998 and remained active on the education frontline until 2015. For most people, wearing the two hats of educator and photographer would have had a detrimental effect. In Dodo’s case, however, it seemed to have worked to his benefit. By continuing to take photographs between his busy educational duties, not only was he able to improve his powers of concentration, he was also able to incorporate in his own practice as feedback the creative energy of his young students.

It was in the 1990s that Dodo began to concentrate seriously on his work as a photographer. In 1985 he moved from Osaka to Kitakatsuragi in Nara prefecture, wanting to bring up his sons in a relaxed natural environment, but he also thinking it would aid his own rehabilitation. In the 1990s he began taking photos around the Kii Peninsula spanning Nara, Wakayama and Mie prefectures using a large-format 8x10 inch camera. In 1996 he switched from black and white to color. The results are contained in two photobooks, the black and white A Radiant Land: Kii Peninsula (Brain Center, 1995) and the color A Radiant Land with Thousands of Years (Brain Center, 2000).

Dodo’s use of a large-format camera that “enables one to express the world not with dots but with surfaces” instead of the compact 35mm camera he had mainly been using until then sparked a dramatic change in his approach to his subjects. Because he had to change the film for every shot, the number of photos he took decreased dramatically and he began to study the subjects closely before releasing the shutter. As well, while people remained his principal subject matter, he made them aware that they were being photographed and this enabled him to share with them the tense atmosphere. “People die,” he once said. “For this very reason I feel obliged to turn my attention to these familiar everyday scenes, to the lives being lived to the full in this place, to people who have nothing to hide, to existence.” In the years that followed, Dodo would continue to produce photographs that clearly lived up to these sentiments.

Dodo’s confidence in himself as a photographer is most clearly demonstrated in the two photobooks Ha-ha (Gallery Out of Place, 2006) and A Vegetable Garden, Sakura (Vacuum Press, 2009). In Ha-ha, he photographed the birth in 2004 of film director Naomi Kawase’s first child. Kawase had studied filmmaking at Visual Arts College Osaka while Dodo was head of the school and was also the director of the 2002 documentary film Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blossom, which scrutinizes the final days of photography critic Kazuo Nishii, a close friend of Dodo’s. For this series he used a 6x6 camera, affording a gaze as if the photographer had held his breath and silently drew close to his subjects. The series published in A Vegetable Garden, Sakura was shot with a Polaroid Type 55 camera that yields both positive prints and negative images, and while the number of photos is small, Dodo’s meticulous powers of observation with respect to the natural environment around him are amply demonstrated. One could say that Dodo’s eagerness to try various kinds of photographic equipment is also a manifestation of his keen spirit of experimentation.

In the photobooks published since 2010, Osaka (Seigensha, 2010) and Japan Sea (Akaaka Art Publishing, 2014), Dodo’s creative urge shows no signs of waning. Osaka, which began with Dodo directing his camera at the yonken nagaya (four-bay row houses) in Sekime, Joto-ku where he was born, is a series he embarked on as if tracing his own memories of the place where he grew up. As if confronting the limits of his physical abilities, the photographer, who had reached the age of sixty, walked around Osaka carrying a heavy 8x10 camera and associated equipment. Noteworthy here is the way his eye, which was once as finely honed to pounce on its prey, has transitioned into one that seems to calmly react to and encompasses whatever entities present themselves to him.

For the series published in Japan Sea, Dodo sticks with the 8x10 camera, though this time he covers an even wider area. Photographed from the viewpoint of “a reversed map of Japan as seen from continental China,” the scenes from along the Japan Sea coast from Nagatoshi in Yamaguchi prefecture to Wakkanai in Hokkaido are also an attempt to produce a new “theory of climate” that dramatically shakes our fixed ideas. Compared to his earlier series, the figures occupy less space within the frame thus the ground on which they live and its details come to the fore with an astonishing level of minuteness. One could call this an act of tremendous effort to attempt to verify Japan in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami by way of photography.

Since becoming the director of the Irie Taikichi Memorial Museum of Photography Nara City in 2015, Dodo has continued to boldly explore new territory. Presented at the museum in 2016–17, “Mt.Kasuga Primeval Forest” is his first series created in earnest using a digital camera. According to Dodo, he intends to continue this photographic project that involves penetrating deep into the mystical forest that extends behind the Kasuga Grand Shrine with its crowds of tourists. For “Bangkok,” he returns to taking candid photographs with a 6x6 camera. With the two great works Osaka and Japan Sea, the flow of Dodo’s river had descended from its headwaters and for a time poured into the sea. But it now seems as if this flow is seeking to head back upstream again.

The “river redolent of humanity” that is Shunji Dodo continues to swiftly flow, absorbing and dissolving all manner of things along the way.

more

artist statment

I think I started taking photos from the January 17, 1968 demonstration against the visit by nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to Sasebo. Back then I was taking photos all the time, everywhere, with my 35mm SLR, and though still lacking in technical skill, made up for it in enthusiasm and energy. There is the surprise of seeing and knowing. I looked back with great affection on my younger self, brought to a hesitant standstill with amazement. For 50 years I took photos of the things I wanted to see made into photos, not what someone asked me to.

Having been given this opportunity by Yoshihiko Ueda of Gallery 916, taking another look at all my photos and selecting some triggered a rush of sentimental emotions. Which was fun.

I will be presenting Sasebo, Okinawa, London, Shinsekai : Mukashi mo ima mo (Shinsekai: Then and now), Osaka no machi (Streets of Osaka) , Bangkok, Ha-ha, a vegetable; the large-format works Rakudo: Kii hantō(A Radiant Land : Kii Peninsula), Osaka, Nihonkai/Japan Sea ; plus my new digital work Kasugayama genshirin (Mt. Kasuga primeval forest).

biography

Dodo Shunji

1947  Born in Osaka Prefecture
1970  Graduate of Department of Photography,
Kyushu Sangyo Universitiy
1998  Principal of Visual Arts Osaka
2015  Director appointed at Irie Taikichi Memoriaal Museum
of Photography Nara City

Selected Solo Exhibitions
1978  OsakaTennoji / Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka
1985  Shinsekai Mukasimo Imamo / Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka
1992  Shuji Yuraku Bangkok (Bangkok, Pleasure of All living Things) /
Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka
1995-96  Rakudo Kii Hnto / Konica Plaza, Shinjuku, Osaka, Sapporo
1999  Sen-nen Rakudo / Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka
2000  Sen-nen Rakudo Kii Hanto / Nara Citiy Museum of Photography
2001  .com NEW YORK / Nikon Salon, Shinjuku
2003  Sarasoju / Arts Gallery
2006  Ha-ha / Gallery OUT of PLACE TOKIO・ZEN FOTO GALLERY
2007  Ha-ha Vegetable Kitchen / gallery bauhaus, Tokyo
2007  Ha-Ha / Focale Galerie Locarno, Swizerland
2010  Osaka /Gallery OUT of PLACE TOKIO・ZEN FOTO GALLERY・Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka
2016  Osaka by Daido Moriyama, Taikichi Irie, Shunji Dodo /
Irie Taikichi Memorial Museum of Photography Nara City
2016-17 Mt.Kasuga primeval forest / Irie Taikichi Memorial Museum of Photography Nara City
2017 Japan Sea / Nikon Salon, Ginza, Osaka

Awards Received
1996 Awarded the Award of the Year by the Photographic Society of Japan for Rakudo Kii Hanto (A Radiant Land:Kii Peninsula)
1999 Awarded the 24th Ina Nobuo Award for Sen-nen Rakudo(Thausand-year Paradise)
2007 Awarded the arts award by the Japan Society for Arts and Historiy of Photography
2011 Award the 23th shasinnoKai Award by the Photographic Society of Japan for Osaka
2011 Award the 27th Award of Higashikawa by the Photographic Society of Japan for Osaka

Books
1971-77  Chihei (Horizon) issues 10
1986  Shinsekai Mukashimo Imamo (Shinsekai, Then and Now ) /
Choseisya
1993  HORIZON / joint authorship
1995  Rakudo Kii Hnto (A Radiant Land:Kii Peninsula) / Brain Center
2000  Sen-nen Rakudo (Thaousand-year Paradise) / Brain Center
2003  Sarasoju / kumie
2006  Ha-ha / Gallery OUT of PLACE
2009  vegetable garden , sakura / VACUUM PRESS
2010  Osaka / Seigensya
2012  Horizon Far and Away 1968-1977/AkaAka
2014  Japan Sea /AkaAka

overview

A LIFE 1968-2017
Shunji Dodo

Date : 7 July - 10 September, 2017
Time : Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00 /
Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30
Closed : Mondays ( Except for Holidays)
Entrance Fee :
Adults 800 yen / College students or over the age of 60 500 yen / High school students 300 yen / Junior high school students or younger Free (Gallery916 & 916small)

Shunji Dodo, the photographs For enquiries regarding
the purchase of the photographs, please contact the gallery.
TEL: +81-(3)-5403-9161 / FAX: +81-(3)-5403-9162
MAIL: mail[a]gallery916.com