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Issue 241

Homma Takashi Fashions a Camera Obscura From Hotel Curtains

An exhibition in Toyko sees the artist engage one of the earliest forms of photography to capture quiet, almost apparitional, landscapes

BY Nicholas Gamso in Exhibition Reviews | 18 JAN 24

Over the last decade, Tokyo-based photographer Homma Takashi – best known for his studies of suburban youth –has turned from a practice rooted in social commentary to something stranger, more atmospheric. He begins by creating large camera obscuras from blacked-out hotel rooms across Tokyo and other parts of Japan, as well as Los Angeles, Milan and New York. As light passes through a tiny ‘pinhole’ aperture incised in the window curtains, buildings and landscapes appear upside-down, projected onto the opposite wall with a flat, neutral focus. Only some of the images – the series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ (2016–ongoing), for instance – could be called beautiful, with soft lines and pale blue and purple tones. But even these are somewhat diminished, reminding us that the act of looking involves duration and change, and that environmental conditions – the rising sun, the quality of the air – affect our ability to perceive what surrounds us.

Takashi Homma, mount FUJI 9/ 36 from the series Thirty - Six Views of Mount Fuj i 2016 , Chromogeni c Print, 1 × 1 m Courtesy: © Takashi Homma, Taro Nast
Takashi Homma, mount FUJI 9/ 36 from the series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’, 2016, chromogenic Print, 1 × 1 m. Courtesy: © Takashi Homma and Taro Nasu

Included in the exhibition ‘Revolution 9’ at Tokyo Photographic Art Museum – Homma’s first institutional show in Japan for almost a decade – the pinhole works range in size from a few square centimetres to several metres. The smallest are displayed in acrylic boxes; the largest, which span several sheets of glossy photosensitive paper, are tacked directly onto the gallery walls and show dramatic folds, gaps and abrupt shifts in tone or degree of exposure. Some contain the shadow of the artist, or Kanji characters such as 光 (light) which he’s drawn onto the paper. The sheer extent of noise and distortion in these images, and their often blurry or ragged edges, speaks to unpredictability and loss of control – primary conditions of a medium that has been robbed of any element of risk by the advent of digital cameras and editing tools, at least according to some purists.

Takashi Homma, Revolution 9, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; photograph: Takahashi Kenji
Takashi Homma, ‘Revolution 9’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; photograph: Takahashi Kenji

While Homma’s adoption of the pinhole technique – the earliest form of photography – hints at a certain nostalgia, his work also confronts contemporary image culture, urging us to consider how manipulation and falsehood train our reception of the visible world. At the same time, the artist’s use of such a complicated and deliberate process implies an intense curiosity about real things that lie beyond oneself: surface, interference, movement, stasis and light. Homma shares with all great artists a commitment to the outside as a dimension of human experience.

Takashi Homma, New York from the series The Narcissistic City, 2013 , chromogenic print, 56 × 89 cm. Courtesy: © Takashi Homma, Taro Nasu
Takashi Homma, New York from the series The Narcissistic City, 2013, chromogenic print, 56 × 89 cm. Courtesy: © Takashi Homma and Taro Nasu

‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ directly references Hokusai Katsushika’s famous eponymous print series from c.1830–32. Unlike Hokusai’s electrifying ukiyo-e wood cuts, however, Homma’s depictions are quiet, almost apparitional. Fuji dissolves and re-appears, bathed in morning half-light or, from a greater remove, surrounded by lakes and low houses. Homma has published several photographic collections devoted to mountains and coastal landscapes over the years.Yet, filled as they are with crystalline detail, these nature studies have less in common with ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ than his architectural photographs. His series ‘The Narcissistic City’ (2013–ongoing), for instance, features an astonishing, six-panel rendering of the hundreds of gothic spires and arches of the Duomo in Milan, as well as a photograph of the Renzo Piano-designed Maison Hermés in Tokyo–a stack of amber windows which Homma splits in two. By contrast, the images in ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ are dreamy and sedate – more like his tender portrait of a prostrate figure (Camera Obscura Nude, 2014), lying still as the world hurries by.

Homma Takashi’s ‘Revolution 9’ is on view at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum until 24 January.

Main image: Takashi Homma, Revolution from the series ‘THE NARCISSISTIC CITY’, 2013, chromogenic print, 36 × 9 cm. Courtesy: ©Takashi Homma and Taro Nasu

Nicholas Gamso is the author of Art after Liberalism (2022) and a contributing editor for the Millennium Film Journal.