Shotgun Reviews

Issei Suda: Life in Flower 1971–1977 at Miyako Yoshinaga

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Bansie Vasvani reviews Issei Suda: Life in Flower 1971–1977 at Miyako Yoshinaga in New York City.

Oume 1977

Issei Suda. Oume, 1977, 1977; gelatin silver print; 8.8 x 8.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York.

Using a medium-format camera, Issei Suda’s square-shaped black-and-white portraits capture the liminal moments between posed and candid situations to elevate otherwise mundane moments of daily life in 1970s Tokyo. The exhibition Issei Suda: Life in Flower 1971–1977 at the Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York, includes stylized images from two series: Fushi Kaden (“The Flowering Spirit,” 1978) and Waga Tokyo 100 (“My Tokyo 100,” 1979). More than thirty years since each series was taken, Suda’s photographs produce a sense of nostalgia, and are a reminder of Japan’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

In Oume, 1977 (1977) and Yokohama Sankei-en, Umematsuri, 1977 (1977), Suda gestures toward an adoration of youth and purity conveyed by the innocence and charm of two young girls. In Oume, 1977,a girl stands beneath a cherry-blossom tree weighed down by its flowering branches. The tree forms a large, delicate white halo around her head, beatifying her presence. Meanwhile, the photograph Yokohama Sankei-en, Umematsuri, February 13, 1977 (1977) depicts an unsuspecting child with large, bow-shaped white ribbons in her hair and a black-and-white, polka-dotted kimono. Caught mid-blink, the child remains in a perpetual state of girlhood within the photograph. The emotional tonality and profundity of Suda’s work emerges from the very indeterminacy between the attentive and unmindful.

In more mystifying photographs that prompt feelings of surprise, one can discern the influence that traditional Japanese theater bears on Suda’s work. In Gunma Ota, June 8, 1975 (1975), a kimono-clad child is awkwardly posed, the rigidity of her body evident despite the large folds of fabric that cloak her small frame. Perhaps more visually discomforting is Yamagata Ginzan Onsen, August 28, 1976 (1976). Theimage depicts a seemingly distressed goat gnawing at the rope that binds it to a tree. Caught in moments that suggest restraint and displeasure, flight and fantasy, these photographs capture a cryptic juncture replete with numerous possibilities. Yet both subjects, apparently trapped in their circumstances, present a strikingly different scenario than photographs Yushima, 1977 (1977) and Toyama Shirobata, 1977. In the first image, four young girls jumping off a ledge exhibit a carefree spirit and unrestricted mobility, despite their traditional attire. And in Toyama Shirobata, September 15, 1977 (1977), a woman stands poised beside a wall of jagged boulders, her refined elegance made apparent by her unaffected stance. The fragility of the flowers on her kimono deeply contrasts with the sheer ruggedness of the rocky background.

Suda’s deft manipulation of light and shadow, and closely cropped compositions, enhances the enigmatic nature of his subjects. Showcasing a culture imbued with grace and elegance, Suda’s panoply of photographs exact specific moments in Tokyo’s history.

Issei Suda: Life in Flower 1971–1977 is on view at Miyako Yoshinaga, New York City, through October 18, 2014.

Bansie Vasvani is an art critic and writer based in New York City.