Fragments of Calm



An old woman eats onigiri, a ubiquitous Japanese rice ball wrapped in seaweed. She holds it in both hands and bites downwards, her body centred on it. It is probably lunchtime in a park in Tokyo, and she has been working all morning. A curtain billows. A child holding his mother’s hand glances backwards at the camera. These fragments of everyday life are captured in Issei Suda’s black and white photographs taken from the early sixties to the present day, which are currently on display in Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography.


Issei Suda


The exhibition title, nagi no hira (‘Fragments of Calm’), is the name of Suda’s most recent collection, but applies in theme to all the images on show – be they street scenes, portraits, or nocturnal shots of carp in a pond. Curator Harumi Niwa likens the atmosphere of Suda’s images to the feeling in the air when a breeze momentarily stills and exposes us to a fragment of calm, before resuming its movement.  

Combining diverse ethnological and subjective viewpoints, Suda’s work does not cater for Western stereotypes of Japan with stereotypical imageries of eroticism or Zen, and escapes any one school or style. Contemporaneous with Suda’s early career, a group of known as the Provoke Movement were producing photographs characterised by their grainy, blurred and out of focus quality, known as are bure boke. They photographed in pursuit of atmosphere and energy, their style at variance with that of a second group, known as Kompora. A composite created from ‘contemporary’ and ‘photography,’ Kompora aimed to produce a new, coolly objective and precise form to document everyday life.

Though belonging to neither, in intentions and aesthetics, Suda sits between Provoke and Kompora. Subtle distortions such as over-exposure combine with precise focus in his work. Windows simultaneously provide aperture framing and slide reflections into ambiguous space. A sense of intrigue underlies everyday scenes. In the photograph taken at night with a flash, the swimming carp appears like a zeppelin, and the pond around it, a starry night sky. Elsewhere, Suda photographs the tangled halo of a stranger as if capturing a solar eclipse. One of the most surprising photographs in the exhibition is of a little owl. It beams up at the camera, framed in a grid of light produced by a garden fence. The grid is like a photographic test strip; the owl and fence, examples of unforeseen moments in the everyday; and the overall image, a précis for Suda’s practice, working in the still of the breeze.


Issei Suda

Issei Suda

Issei Suda