View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This work is part of an installation comprising eighty black and white photographs which were among 116 images originally taken by Yutaka Takanashi for a photo-book entitled Toshi-e, which translates from the Japanese as ‘Towards the City’ (Tate P80412–P80491). The book was published in Tokyo in 1974. At the time Takanashi was a founding member of the Japanese avant-garde group of poets and artists called ‘Provoke’, named after the collectively authored magazine in which their work was published. The Provoke group sought to offer a more engaged and radical vision of post-war Japanese society through a combination of highly innovative written and visual accounts of the alienation and disaffection of urban life as they saw it. Towards the City was made in the spirit of the Provoke aesthetic and has been referred to as ‘the last great monument of the Provoke era’ (Gerry Badger in Takanashi and Badger 2010, unpaginated).
The artist devised this installation specifically for Tate. Toshi-e was originally published in two volumes: the first book was entitled Toshi-e and the second, smaller volume Tokyo-jin. The eighty images in the installation span the two different parts of the publication and are displayed in two horizontal lines: the larger prints from Toshi-e form the top row and the smaller prints from Tokyo-jin form the bottom row. This arrangement reflects the layouts and size proportions of the original photo-books. As the images in each part were taken as two different bodies of work they are conceptually different, however there are areas of overlap, with some images reproduced in both books.
In terms of subject matter, the books’ titles are indicative of their main themes. Toshi-e consists mainly of landscape imagery, fragments of architectural details and shots of vast expanses of land on the outskirts of the city, often taken from a car window, blurred, grainy and with tilted horizons. Tokyo-jin – which translates as Tokyoites – is more in the style of urban documentary or street photography, showing people going about their daily lives, shopping, eating, working and relaxing. The city depicted in both parts of the work is Tokyo, yet it could be any city, as Takanashi seeks to represent the urban context in general rather than a specific location.
In the text accompanying the book Takanashi described two antagonistic approaches to his photographic practice, stating: ‘just as I was working on this series, two conflicting creatures settled into my body. One is a “hunter of images”, aiming exclusively to shoot down the invisible, and the other is a “scrap picker” who can only believe in what is visible’ (Takanashi in Takanashi and Badger 2010, unpaginated). Here Takanashi recognises the tension inherent in his work between a sense of balance and a struggle between two extremes, highlighting the different intentions of the documentary approach and the subjective viewpoint. Typical of his work and of the Provoke aesthetic, Towards the City presents a number of fragmented images and narratives which, when brought together, form a composite picture of urban life in the mid-twentieth century.
Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The Photobook: A History, vol.1, London 2005, p.302.
Yutaka Takanashi and Gerry Badger, Toshi-e (Towards the City), New York 2010.