Waga Tokyo 100 (roughly, “100 views of my Tokyo”) is a late 1970s account of Shitamachi Tokyo, an area in the East of the city where life is a bit more down to earth. This is where Japanese photography icon Issei Suda grew up, and therefor a place with a special meaning to him. In this gorgeous 2013 re-issue of the classic photo book, the skills that set Suda apart as a photographer are on obvious display.
While Waga Tokyo 100 tries to chronicle Shitamachi Tokyo, rather than a portrait of the city, it is a document of the people living there. Occasional architectural photos aside, Waga Tokyo 100 is a book of portrait photography, showing the models at least from the up, embedded in their surroundings. The variety of subjects is dazzling. Firefighters conducting an exercise, girls in kimonos jumping down a wall, grandmas carrying poodles, a fat-bellied yakuza posing at a shop, a woman leaving a shop, looking eagerly to the right — what might she be looking at? Suda’s photos are generally rich in contrast. There are photos of brightly lit buildings, against a blacked out sky, of girls looking back at the camera with puzzled eyes, of a perfectly lit bonsai tree on the back of a bicycle.
Rather than — as portrait photography tends to aim for — familiarise us with what is shown, Suda’s photos abstracts the situation photographed. He has an intriguing, unique way of finding and then highlighting the surreal, the extraordinary, the outstanding in the mundane and banal of everyday life.
To achieve this, Suda can rely on diverse, imaginative techniques, ranging from strange perspective perspectives over his signature stark lighting, often employing a flash to awkward poses and unusual compositions rarely seen in photography (one of the portraits in the book is completely black on the lefthand side). Obviously, not every photo in Waga Tokyo 100 manages to be of the same, high quality. But there is something to actually look at in each of the 100 images. While there’s no narrative to Waga Tokyo 100, the selected photos nonetheless form a whole. And while the book is technically constricted to a very certain place and time, it is not primarily a document of that place and time.
This 2013 reprint of Waga Tokyo 100 features the same photographs selected for the original publication in 1978, but has been re-edited into a different sequence. The photos feature no comment or annotation safe for the year and place they were taken, and are printed in very high quality. A short text by Rei Masuda of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in Japanese and English form part of this photo book.