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Michael Dunn: Early Showa Period Photography

July 21 through December 24, 2021 Exhibition

I came to live in Japan in March 1968 and – in common with many at the time – found Tokyo to be far at odds with expectation. I thought Japan would be like images seen on a JAL calendar or the scenery in a Hiroshige print, but instead found a city noisy, crowded,  very heavily polluted, spiced with rioting Zengakuren students and wafts of incapacitating tear-gas. I longed to find the “real” Japan and visited the usual sights – Kamakura, Nikko, Kyoto and Nara – only to be dismayed by shuffling crowds and queues. I soon learned that  the only wise choice at weekends, holidays or August in Japan is to stay at home.

My first summer, I caught train and bus to the Izu Peninsula, not far from Tokyo but still largely undiscovered, both rail extension and roads only having been recently constructed. Forests of pine ringed the coast and its glorious beaches, and everything, especially the air, was clean and fresh. Fortunately not that much has changed whereas the cities have almost all been completely re-built. Now Izu has been my home for decades and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Some of the photographs here were taken on subsequent visits, using a 35mm Asahi Pentax camera. I can’t quite remember exact locations, but apart from the Izu West coast, some were taken in a fishing village in Chiba, somewhere around what is now Makuhari, and others in the shitamachi of Tokyo. Two pictures of an industrial wasteland were taken on the bayside of Shinagawa Station – now an area of high-rise buildings and chic restaurants. A couple of shots show injured veterans of WWII, begging while broadcasting patriotic military music – a common sight in Ueno Park at the time. All date from 1968 - 1969.

I discovered the negatives a few years ago after having been forgotten in a drawer somewhere, and had them copied onto a disc. I find that nearly half a century of Japanese summers, monsoons and winters have deteriorated the images slightly – resolution more sfumato with a silvery quality to the grey tones – that I find very pleasing. Now they seem to enhance my own memories.

Michael Dunn, Izu, July 2021

Michael Dunn, Japanese Art Curator/Writer/Photographer

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