Flash Up by Seiji Kurata, reviewed by Maki

As a collector of Asian photo books I have often been attracted by the interesting publications of Zen Foto Gallery. Their editorial line often focuses on works based on intimacy and experience, as in the books from Hideka Tonomura (Mama Love / They call me Yukari…), Tokyo Rumando (REST 3000~ STAY 5000~) or Yang Seung Woo (The Best Days) is quite relevant and interesting which makes this prolific photo books publisher one of the most significant of recent years in Japan.

This new publicationFlash Up by Seiji Kurata is no exception to the rule. Here we find a photographic work from the 70’s, which was originally published in 1980 in Japan by Byakuya Shobo to be 33 years later re-edited by the Zen Foto Gallery.

Seiji Kurata was born in 1945 in Tokyo. He is still unknown in the West, yet his photographic career began almost 40 years ago. After making workshops with Daido Moriyama, Araki Nobuyoshi and other japanese photographers in the 1970’s he made his first book “Flash Up” which was awarded the Ihei Kimura Prize (1980), as a relative unknown outsider. Then continued with series such as “Photo Cabaret” and “80s Family“, broadening out from the concentration on Ikebukuro district in “Flash Up” to a wider spectrum of Tokyo society.

Flash Up” as its name indicates is composed of Snapshots taken with a strobe light mostly in the streets of Ikebukuro, but also in Shinjuku, between 1975 and 1979. As Kurata says “living in Tokyo is a journey“, and since this day when he decided to turn off his television and grab a camera to feel awake, sharpen his senses and expand his perception with photography, he paced the streets of Tokyo, camera in hand … During 4 years he met, photographed and befriended the actors of this Tokyo nightlife that makes fantasizing so much and arouses the curiosity of Western people.

In this luxury large format re-edition book (designed by Satoshi Machiguchi publisher and art director of MMM editions in Japan) we find through the Snapshots of Seiji Kurata the entertainment districts and businesses of Tokyo. The photographer explores the world of Yakuza’s and Right Wingers, host clubs, gambling house’s, portraits of club’s workers, gangsters, strippers, pictures of gangs fights and crime scenes in a way that make us sometimes think of the photographer as a japanese Weegee.

Seiji Kurata is definitively one of those japanese photographers that recorded life in their hometown without knowing he was making history. It makes this beautifully cloth cased and quality imprint book a must have for those interested in japanese photography in the vein of great street photographers as Watanabe Katsumi (Gangs of Kabukicho / Hot Dog : Shinjuku 1999-2000…) as well as for any photo book collectors.

“Thus I have maintained a continuing dialogue with the camera accompanying me. Through constantly shifting reality and phenomenon, for 35 years I have continued as in a dream the camera work and techniques that could at any time become obsolete. However, Flash up as a style, an attitude and consciousness that did not change from the beginning. It was accumulated during those four years after starting Street Photo Random in 1975. Above all, in the production of these “snapshot” photographs I searched for footholds whose existence was unknown, while ignoring the haphazardly distributed noise and information of our everyday world. It was a compellingly thrilling ordeal and, being at times on the receiving end of not a little wonderful needle that acted as a further stimulus, I have ploughed my own furrow.”

Extract from “For those living in the 21st century” by Seiji Kurata (Flash Up, Zen Foto Gallery, 2013).

Flash Up is available to purchase here.

Maki is a photographer born and currently living in Marseille (France). He studied photography in the beginning of the 80’s. He was the founding member of the collective of european photographers SMOKE. He is also publisher of the mini photobooks collection MÉDIA IMMÉDIAT and is working since some years on his photographic series about Japan called “Japan Somewhere”.