A leading figure in the rise of Japanese photography in the 1970s and 1980s, Keizo Kitajima (b .1954, Suzaka, Nagano) first came to be known for his grainy black-and-white shots of people on the streets of Tokyo, at an American military base in Okinawa after the end of the Vietnam War, and in New York.
Kitajima’s image Shop CAMP, set up in the bustling Shinjuku area in 1976 in collaboration with Moriyama, was a pioneering experimental space for photographers before the gallery system was established. In his legendary experimental series Photo Express (1979), Kitajima photographed people at bars and on the streets in Shinjuku at night right outside the CAMP, converted the gallery into a darkroom to make wallsized prints as a public performance event, and even published the images as an instant booklet.
Kitajima spent six months in New York roaming its gritty streets and hanging out in its clubs, resulting in the book New York (1982). He presents a vision of the 1980s New York, full of energy, decadence and moments of quiet desperation. For this photo book Kitajima received the important Kimura Ihei Award in 1983. He traveled through Europe between 1983 and 1984, visiting both Western countries and states in the Eastern bloc (→ European Diary 1983-1984). In the fall of 1990, Keizo Kitajima received a commission from Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper to visit the Soviet Union, the opportunity to spend a year documenting both people and places there (→ USSR 1991).
In 2001, he started the Photographers’ Gallery in Tokyo as a venue for exhibitions, debates and publishing.
Related Posts on Bildersturm:
(1) Keizo Kitajima: Photo Express: Tokyo (Steidl, 2011)
(2) Mao Ishikawa: Morika’s Dreams – A Port Town Elegy – Red Flower, The Women of Okinawa
(1) Keizo Kitajima: USSR 1991 (Little Big Man, 2012//2019)
While Kitajima’s is often known for its high contrast black and white photography, USSR 1991 differs greatly as it was photographed with the now defunct Kodacrome slide film, and offers a stunning, painterly account of his travels. Kitajima’s artfulness is ever present—this is not formulaic documentarian photography, or front line correspondence from a hard-boiled photojournalist. Here there are hard shadows from flash bulbs and a vivid technicolor applied to a part of the world that was often perceived as dark, grey and grim. While there are de-rigeur ruins of industry, giant colorless stacks whose purpose is never clear from afar, they sit in stark contrast to vivid blue skies. Peasants in multicolor prints gaze to the distance, religious activists swathe their faces in bright red scarfs. It’s not all grim here either: fashion models pose in bikinis, teenagers sunbathe, and actors mug for the camera.
Video: Keizo Kitajima in the former USSR (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)
Keizo Kitajima: European Diary 1983-1984 (Little Big Man, 2019)
Japanese photographer Keizo Kitajima traveled through Europe between 1983 and 1984, visiting both Western countries and states in the Eastern bloc—from West Germany to East Germany, Austria, Romania, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, and more. Kitajima visited Europe not as a tourist but as a photographer; the mission was to photograph what he encountered. For some reason, the photos he took during this trip have never been published—until now. After all this time, Kitajima’s black-and-white images of course take on meaning as historical documents. They are records of a time long gone by, after all. But Kitajima’s photos work on more than this one layer; he did not visit Europe to fix a historical moment for the future, after all, but to document life in places that were strange to him. His street photographs from both sides of the Iron Curtain capture local idiosyncrasies in architecture as well as fashion, but they also take a look at that chaotic universal force of daily life.