Jesse’s Book Review – Tokyo Strut by Shinya Arimoto
Stumbled on Shinya Arimoto’s latest photo book on a recent trip to the gallery he runs in ‘Totem Pole Photo Gallery.” I had previously reviewed his zine series titled, “Ariphoto Selection” (pictured in the lead photo) and although I have 8 of 10 volumes, I managed to only review volumes 1-5. His latest offering just came out in June 2022 and compared to his last three books, this offers material not seen in the zine series (well I never saw 9 & 10😅). It is made up of images mostly taken in and around Shinjuku.
The title, “Tokyo Strut” is a play on a 1970s song ‘Fussa Strut’ named after the city near the US Air base that most notably served the Korean War (had a great jazz scene too). The song was later covered in the mid 90s into ‘Osaka Strut’. In a rather uncharacteristically personal afterward, Arimoto reasons that with know artistic inclinations he simply take pictures…Tokyo Strut-ting if you will. And it is this straightforward approach that best describes this book.
The book is shot in his trademark wide yet square format on a Hasselblad 903 SWC. John Sypal had informed me he did the book’s sequencing himself which is quite uncommon for a published book of 1000 copies. But you can see above the amount of success he enjoys with the juxtapositions.
The result is quite different from his previous books in the rather serious nature of his tibet images, the book of bug images, and ‘Tokyo Circulation’ that were highlights from the zine series. This offering gives us a quite a lot of humor. The juxtaposition below of the bald man in a shiny suit juxtaposed against the penguin statue reinforces this sentiment.
Ultimately it is the characters he finds that makes the book. Some we have seen in the zine series, most notably of the Shinjuku homeless man. This differs from most because you can tell from Arimoto’s photographs that they actually have a relationship. This isn’t a statement on the human condition or any sort of pretension to anything grander…instead it is Arimoto very straightforwardly shooting someone that he sees and converses with periodically.
In fact very few of his “characters” he shoots are off the cuff. Ten years ago, this was what struck me about his work in the first place…that is the humanity involved. Daytime flash was pretty big at the time and the difference was the sincerity in the very intention of photographing characters. Arimoto’s approach was always more straightforward… and thus sincere.
Arimoto in his own words
Perhaps going back to his remarkably personal afterward, he does truly considers himself an outsider. It is this kinship he shares where he transitions from a place where others exploit…to a place where he highlights. In his own words:
“I take photographs. It may be nice to call myself a “photographer” or an “artist”, but to be honest, I cannot make my living by that, and my eccentric personality makes it difficult for me to get along in the world. Since I was small, I have always thought that I was defective for not being able to do the same things as other people, and I was overly sensitive to the social trend that made me think so.
In a world where cooperation and reading the situation are valued, it is difficult for someone with a personality like me to live in any way… When I meet people who, living in such a world, still believe in themselves and have the desire to live, I feel really happy from the bottom of my heart, and I photograph them with respect and sympathy.
I do not have a fixed theme, so I use a fixed aperture and shutter speed for most of my shots. I also measure the focus by eye and press the shutter without using a viewfinder. As expected, many of the developed photographs have unstable composition or unclear focus, and there are also many shots where the person’s face is cut off. But I don’t care if they have failed.
I just keep moving forward, chanting the simple and clear words, “happy and lucky”. I hope that by doing so, I will be freed from the curse of the past and will be able to act more like myself.” ——Shinya Arimoto
At the time of release, “Tokyo Strut” is still available. With the accessibility of the content being more geared toward traditional street photography, I think this will sell a lot faster than his past two book in “Tokyo Debugger” and “Tibet“. The book contains 149 images, coming in at a square 200 x 200mm that is apart of a series the publisher Zen Foto is doing. You can purchase it below for about $45.
*Arimoto’s self portrait.
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