Jesse’s Book Review – “Hibi” Tsukiji Market by Takashi Kato
Jesse’s back and he dives into a fresh take on a fishy subject in Takashi Kato’s documentation of the world–renowned sea critter peddlers.
With the 2020 Olympics looming here in Tokyo, tourism has been at an all-time high. The city itself is changing to accommodate, where older buildings and places are being replaced for better or worse with the new. Among them I really hated to see Miyashita park in Shibuya go along with an older area in Shinagawa that I liked to photograph. What also has changed are the dynamics of each region of Tokyo. Roppongi was always the tourist area, whereas now it has spilled outwards north to Asakusa and west towards Shibuya.
Living 6 minutes off of the famous scramble (world’s busiest crosswalk), you see it all from Go Pros, Reds, iPhones, Nikons, and an occasional Leica… all essentially capturing the same thing every minute of everyday. One of Tokyo’s sites that has always been a tourist favorite is Tsukiji, the historic fish market. The market occasionally closes its gates to foreigners after transgressions, recall a decade back it was an Australian tourist who was kicked out for licking a pricey tuna. And with this, Tsukiji is often shot in the “My Journey to Japan” videos on Vimeo or included in Japan photography series accompanied with other images you can see in any guide book.
It is with this sentiment that I became curious seeing why a seasoned Japanese photographer would even bother with the subject. I went to his exhibit and that is where I purchased this book.
“HIBI” Tsukiji Market is a black and white photo book by photographer Takashi Kato. Kato made his name doing fashion and more importantly 6×6 portraits of the world’s leading film directors the likes of whom include mainstays: Wim Winders, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, Louis Malle and more obscure directors in Victor Erice, Abbas Kiastromi, Itami Juzo, and Krzystof Kieslowski.
Anybody who has been acquainted with the likes of these people immediately commands my interest. Two of his other series relating to the style of the photos here were shot in New York and Taiwan.
Born in 1955, also noticeable to me was his choice of equipment. For a black and white show, I was expecting to see grainy film prints and instead got digital prints of noticeably wide angle digital photos. Included in the exhibit was also a short silent film shot in Tsukiji on an iPhone with a motorized stabilizer.
I was intrigued by his embrace of all modern technology, yet loved how classically his photos were composed. The flow of the book is that of entering the market, a place setting shot of the skyline surrounding the market followed by atmospheric shots that focus on the light and texture of the market. In this there are lots of clever plays on light coming into the warehouse and reflections from the water drenched floor of the market.
Of these I like the photo of light creeping in through a closing elevator door. The line formed by the light is captured at a 45 degree angle while the cold texture of the metal floor occupies our eye. The is juxtaposed by a photo of the parking garage exit. The light source stems from the exit at the photos vanishing point exactly where the light source of the crack in the elevator stems from in the previous photo.
However, instead of a stream of light it is a white arrow sign pointing to the light. Fun witty plays like this exemplify his visual literacy that is a characteristic of classic black and white photography.
The next series of photos are of the people who work at the market simply going about their day. Again like classic photography, this is an observance of people in their context. Lines of the warehouse are utilized as leading lines to his subjects, puddles on the floor are used to reflect them, light from the outside silhouettes the workers, and the whiteness of rectangular ice boxes draw our eye. There is no modern aspect of interrupting the subjects by flashing them, creating a context where it is more about the photographer’s interaction than the subjects themselves. This is something I view as more modern. Also curious there are no tourists in any of these shots, something I notice a lot of in the video accompanying the exhibit…signaling to me that he selectively framed them out.
The following series of photos making up the smallest section in the book are of the fish themselves. He cleverly uses the water surface to play with our layers of perception. Bubbles on the water’s surface give the images their texture while the fishes eyes serve the composition with circles, while the scales of the fish play as fun visual repetitions.
This whole section comes of a bit surreal; (irrelevant but if I ever went to the market this is the area that would most interest me photographically).
The section after this is outside of the market. If this where a documentary this is the part where they perhaps would explain how the fish come into the market now that we have context. This is also the only area of the book where tourists can be seen, making up the more familiar images I have seen of the fish market.
The final section is quite fun focusing on objects in and around the market. Old fish scales, blocks of ice, hooks, gloves etc. I like how each even down the glove that although stained is a stark white are all heightened precisely because they are in black and white.
Finishing this book it reminds me of classic cinema. There are so many purely cinematic devices that get lost in today’s box office goals and CG technology. Although he uses all modern technology available it doesn’t at all cloud the overall goal as it is purposely structured and every photo has its meaning and place. It is not just shot in black and white for its own sake, but the choice enhances the experience.
In over a decade I have lived here I have never had the slightest desire to visit the fish market (although I am allergic to seafood perhaps the real reason), seeing his photos inspires more than what you would normally see from the market.
The book in a B4 size with 104 pages. There is a nice typographical introduction and afterward in both English and Japanese. The book retails for about 50 USD and can easily be obtained form the Japanese Amazon. Check it out…
Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
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