Two photographic exhibitions



Twenty-five silver gelatin prints of equal size line the walls of MEM, a small gallery above an art bookshop in Ebisu, Tokyo. Each photograph is a discreet narrative and portrayal of character, mainly focusing on children, and all taken by Japanese photographer Shigeo Gocho. 

It is thirty years since Gocho died at the age of 36, after suffering from spinal problems that caused him to remain the height of a child. This physical impairment impacted his photographic style: his pictures are taken at child height, and sympathetically capture children at play and in moments of everyday life. The children are able to return Gocho’s gaze at eye level, and the images therefore display an entirely different set of power relations to those present in the work of Diane Arbus — where the camera seems to loom down on children from an elevated externality. 


Shigeo Gocho



Some of Gocho’s photographs are in soft close-up, employing a shallow depth of focus to create an intimate space of encounter. Other pictures appear more like film stills, using a tableau format that frames children in a location, and in medias res. Two young boys stand in front of a tractor wheel, which is taller than both their point of view and our own – again resulting in a sense of intimacy and mutuality. 
In one particularly cinematic shot, we see a field of tall grass and, barely a centimetre high in the centre right, two children running through it. A helicopter blanketed under tarpaulin stands in the grass, in the centre left of the image. Perhaps the children have discovered the helicopter and made it their den. Wrapped up as it is, it looks like an outsized toy. There is little in the image to indicate a precise location or date, and rather, a fictional and panoramic scene is offered us. Because of the low angle of the shot, we sense ourselves somewhere in that tall grass too.  

These images were originally published in Gocho’s 1977 book, Self and Others. The final image in the book is perhaps the most poignant: it shows a misty and floodlit sports pitch, and children with their backs to us, running into the distance. On a biographical level, the photograph suggests Gocho’s situation as an outsider – he ends the book with an image that maps a growing distance between himself and his vivacious subjects. On a more general level, the image may testify to the difficulty of depicting identity. However, this implies the photograph is more melancholy than it necessarily is, when it could be seen as a celebration of the buoyancy and transience of identity, and Gocho’s delight in tracking it. 


Shigeo Gocho


Born nearly two decades after Gocho, Tokyo photographer Takashi Homma’s work is currently on show at Taro Nasu in Bakurocho, Tokyo. Homma portrays buildings, everyday objects, people and pets with an eye for detail, a sense of empathy like Gocho’s, and an enjoyment of the everyday. His images of suburbia show families separated daily by long commutes, dogs held up to the camera for their portrait, children playing in arcades, and street after street of domestic architecture. Each dwelling, person and pet is a little different, and in looking at a series of such portraits, variations embedded in the everyday become apparent. 


Takashi Homma

Takashi Homma

Takashi Homma


Unlike Gocho, Homma prints his colour photographs in different sizes, and hangs them in various combinations and at various heights so that a dense and scattered sense of space is created, reflecting the different suburban and socio-domestic configurations depicted. This approach perhaps provides an updated version of Gocho’s format, cataloguing Japan’s post-modern megalopolis in a suitably heterogeneous manner.  

Gocho and Homma both provide photographic inventories for Japanese life: its buildings, people, pets and habits. Leaving the exhibitions and weaving home through the fabric of the city, each street corner feels like a photograph, and I halt here and there, to look.