Zen Foto Gallery is pleased to announce “Tokyo Heat Map 1997-2004”, an exhibition of works by Mitsugu Ohnishi from March 5 to April 17. This is Ohnishi’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, composed of his snapshots of Tokyo‘s Shitamachi area [traditional shopping and residential districts in Eastern Tokyo near Tokyo Bay], taken around the millennium 2000 with color reversal film. Born and raised in the Shitamachi area, Ohnishi has been taking snapshots mainly in the area for many years, capturing its transformation through time. About 20 years have passed since these photographs were captured, and Ohnishi has produced 24 prints in colour for this exhibition, presenting a new perspective of Shitamachi Tokyo at that time.

“The bubble burst in the early 90’s. The Heisei recession that came after that created a feeling of fin de siècle. Unexpectedly, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred in January 1995, followed in March by the Tokyo subway sarin attack. The term fin de siècle was widely used until around 1998, like the buzzword of the time. Curious eyes were also cast upon girls with new identities such as Kogal and Ganguro who had begun to appear on the streets of downtown Tokyo. In addition, young Japanese culture began to incorporate hip-hop music and fashion. With the innovation and popularization of personal computers, the Internet, personal handy-phone systems, and eventually, mobile phones, people returned to the metropolis.

When I scampered along the chaotic bustling streets of fin de siècle Tokyo, something unexpected surged towards me. It was not so much Daido Moriyama’s idea of “scratching” something, but it now seems to me that it was an era when the subject was unabashedly stimulating. As a photographer, I was only thinking about taking pictures as frankly as possible. For that reason, I decided to use a camera equivalent to medium format 645 + 28mm, and take photos vertically so that I could see through the viewfinder while holding it as it is. Taken in my youthful exuberance during the headlong rush of the era, these snapshots still look very fresh to me today.

Fin de siècle was eventually replaced by the word “millennium” and Tokyo entered the new century after a spectacular countdown. It was also the beginning of the “I LOVE NEW TOKYO” campaign. In Tokyo many skyscrapers rose in clusters, along with million dollar apartment complexes and the Roppongi “Hills tribe”. Everything seemed like an illusion. During this turning point of the century, my own work field changed slightly as well. To put it simply, it was around this time that I expressed my determination as an artist. I did not think that there was no other way but to take snapshots on the street, but I wanted to examine the connection between photography and society. When I think about it carefully, I may say that the corona wreck since last year is a major milestone in the past 20 years. The movement of all the gears in the world and our society has started to change. This is not an illusion, but I feel as if I am being called again to go out into the streets where dreams and melancholy intersect.” —Mitsugu Ohnishi “The Illusory Millennium, Street Dreams and Melancholy”

Artist Profile

Mitsugu Ohnishi

Born in Tokyo, 1952, Ohnishi graduated from Tokyo College of Photography in 1974. He received the 22nd Taiyo Award for “Town of Kawaguchi” in 1985 and the 18th Kimura Ihei Award for “The Long Vacation” and “New Around the Edges“ in 1993. In 2017 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Photographic Society of Japan. His main publications include: Wonderland 1980-1989 (FROG, 1989), “The Long Vacation” (Wides Shuppan, 2001) and “Kawano Nagareru Machide“ (Fugensha, 2016) and many others.