Chris Steele-Perkins: Japan Suite
Time Out says
This exhibition of 20 works, filleted from Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins’s extensive images of Japan, has a perfection that could almost be Japanese – if the pictures didn’t mostly cast doubt on that clichéd view of the place. Yes, Mount Fuji is here, but it’s viewed across a glowing filigree of factory pipes that echoes and mocks the lacework of branches that traditionally frame the mountain. There’s one of those here, too: it looks faked. Of a trio of geishas, one appears cross, another vacant and the third is absorbed with adjusting her obi [sash]. So much for their supposed unwavering focus on men.
It’s Steele-Perkins whose focus is unwavering, albeit kindly – his wife is Japanese and he has steeped himself in the great nineteenth-century woodblock artists such as Hokusai, with his ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’, and Hiroshige, who produced ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’ (the old name for Tokyo).
Photography is the woodblock art of the present. There’s endless replication with slight variation, if that’s what you want. Steele-Perkins balances the luck of being able to make multiple interpretations almost effortlessly with the glum acknowledgement of the price we’ve paid for such so-called progress. A man in a concrete-coloured suit ascends towards skyscrapers so all-encompassing there’s no sky to scrape. Jeans-clad, Coke-swilling children mill beside a ludicrous hot dog mannequin. Here, Steele-Perkins draws a desperate parallel between the human-sized snack dousing itself in ketchup and an ancient culture that appears to be doing the same.