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Here and There :
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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries and museums around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest. The writer claims no art expertise, just a subjective viewpoint acquired over many years' residence in Japan.

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image image Cut It Out! Kimio Itosaki at the Emon Photo Gallery
Alan Gleason
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"Fotomo for assembly / Asakusa Building / Impersonal Art League / Kimio Itosaki." © Kimio Itosaki, courtesy of Emon Photo Gallery

If you're peering at them through the smoked-glass facade of Emon Photo Gallery, the images on the far wall look abstract, like shards of a broken windowpane reassembled in haphazard fashion inside a picture frame. Only close-up can you tell that these are photo collages of houses, streets and buildings surrounded by a hodgepodge of smaller figures: people, bicycles, mailboxes, trashcans, shop signs, and other minutiae of city life.

But Kimio Itosaki's collages are not merely two-dimensional deconstructions of the street scenes he captures on camera: they are designed to be cut out and reconstructed into 3D models. To this end he meticulously attaches tabs for folding and gluing the pieces together, and labels each of them by hand.

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"Fotomo for assembly / Kyodo / The See-through House / Non-Euclidean Photo League / Kimio Itosaki." © Kimio Itosaki, courtesy of Emon Photo Gallery

Itosaki calls these works Fotomos, from "photo" and "model." His inspiration for the concept derives, he says, from tatebanko -- pop-up pictures that were a popular diversion during the Edo period (1603-1867) -- as well as from the obsession of certain 1970s avant-gardists with functionally useless buildings and other structures, which they termed "hyperart." Itosaki usually shoots older neighborhoods, mostly in Tokyo, that have yet to suffer the impact of Japan's unquenchable thirst for development. There is nary a chain store in sight. Though he clearly favors the more idiosyncratic, human-friendly elements of urban enclaves as yet untouched by Starbucks and McDonalds, he is not overtly anti-development; perhaps he just finds such places more interesting to photograph. The collages are colorful and quirky, and Itosaki's sense of humor adds to the fun. One of the pleasures of scrutinizing a Fotomo is reading the whimsical labels he attaches to the buildings and people that appear in them.

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Installation view, Emon Photo Gallery. Photo by Alan Gleason

For all that, Itosaki says he came up with his Fotomo concept in an attempt to de-personalize the artistic process. In an essay appearing in the catalogue for a 2014 show at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, he writes: "At the time I was in despair over the limits of my talent, and saw creative possibilities in 'impersonal' works, where the creator cannot be identified. In order to record more accurately the 'impersonal art' I found on the street, I devised the Fotomo technique, which involved turning photographs into three-dimensional objects."

Whatever the motive for them, Itosaki's Fotomos jump-started his career and brought him the recognition he once feared would elude him. From 1996 to 2004 he produced a "Prefabricated Fotomo of the Month" for each issue of Sanpo no Tatsujin, a magazine about exploring Tokyo on foot. Since then he has continued to exhibit his work, publish books, and garner awards.

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Installation view, Emon Photo Gallery. Photo by Alan Gleason

The solo show at the Emon, a quiet space tucked away on a residential street in Tokyo's posh Hiroo district, offers a satisfying selection of 30 framed Fotomos, but only one example of a fully assembled model -- of downtown Hong Kong, replete with little double-decker buses. Granted, the artist's statement on the wall asserts that this particular exhibition is intended to present "works in which two-dimensional photographs were reimagined in 3D, but here have been restored to 2D." Still, one can't help wanting to see more examples of the actual models.

For those wishing to try their hand at putting a Fotomo together, Itosaki does conduct workshops. One scheduled for 13 May at the Emon was advertised as open to anybody age seven or older. Hopefully there will be more such opportunities. Itosaki's Fotomos are delightful compositions even in their flat-plane format, with plenty for the eye to mull over. But what fun it would be to see what these little dioramas look like in all their pop-up glory.

All images reproduced by permission of Emon Photo Gallery.


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Kimio Itosaki: The World of Fotomo
21 April - 20 May 2017
Emon Photo Gallery
5-11-12 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-5793-5437
Open Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday to 6 p.m.
Closed Sundays and holidays
Transportation: 3 minutes' walk from Exit 3, Hiroo Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line
 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for 30 years. In addition to writing about the Japanese art scene he has edited and translated works on Japanese theater (from kabuki to the avant-garde) and music (both traditional and contemporary).
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