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Review: Tsuchida's Camera Changes its Focus at Michael Dawson Gallery

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 8, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014
DATE: February 8, 2008

In spite of Japan's long and rich photographic history, barely a handful of the country's practitioners are widely known in the U.S.: Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, Hiroshi Sugimoto and perhaps a few more. The Michael Dawson Gallery introduces another, Hiromi Tsuchida. Tsuchida (b. 1939) has chronicled Japanese culture through numerous projects, focusing on gay men, identical twins, the survivors and landscape of Hiroshima, traditional costumes and people at parties.

Hiromi Tsuchida Tokamachi, 1997. Chromogenic
Light Jet Print
His first solo show in L.A. begins with work from 1969 and stretches nearly to the present, in 17 photographs from three distinct series. The show's broad span and compact size work against each other a bit, but an intriguing sensibility emerges, especially from the early prints.

The series excerpted in the show trace an arc from authenticity to artifice, from the intimate and rural to the predominantly urban and communal. The newest pictures are the most accessible, as they document a familiar kind of social phenomenon -- the mass event. Whether the participants are climbing on dunes overlooking the Sea of Japan or frolicking at a faux Swiss chalet water park, their individual identities are suppressed. The prints are large and abuzz with vivid, synthetic color.

Contrast that with the small, grainy, black-and-white photographs from the earliest series, "Zokushin," or "Gods of the Earth." In one of the most compelling pictures, from 1973, a priest dressed in white but for sunglasses and wristwatch stands on the rugged slope of Mt. Fuji, walking stick in hand. A few crates of empty bottles rest nearby on the dark, volcanic terrain, the profane cluttering the sacred. A shroud of mist pushes into the frame from above. Tsuchida's stare of searching intimacy is perfectly mirrored in the priest's stance. Over time, the personal tone -- tenderness, even -- in such early pictures gives way to a more sociological detachment, as Tsuchida's focus shifts from the idiosyncratic and regional to the homogenized crowd. Not only the subjects, but the pictures too, are less distinctive.

By Leah Ollman
For The Los Angeles Times

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