top コラムExhibition ReportVol.17 John Sypal "Nebraska Life" ジョン・サイパル

Exhibition Report

Vol.17 John Sypal "Nebraska Life" ジョン・サイパル

John Sypal

This month’s Photo Exhibition Report is a look at my own show- “Nebraska Life”, up at Totem Pole Photo Gallery in Shinjuku from March 14-19, 2023. 

As you may know, I am an American, from the midwestern state of Nebraska, living in Tokyo. In fact, this August will mark nineteen years since I moved to Japan. That’s nearly half of my life- and the entirety of my adult one. Like anyone who lives abroad, I’ve got two lives, so to speak. One is my “original” Life- the Nebraska one, which began in 1979. My “Japan Life” began in 2004.


As this new Life in Tokyo settled, my mid-twenties became my thirties, then my late thirties, and then somehow suddenly, my current early forties. All the while, every summer I’d fly home and for about two weeks step back into my Nebraska Life. There, I’d enjoy time family and friends- and my camera. With each visit, my sense of “home” shifted. I am from one place, but can go home to either. Each summer, after going home to Nebraska I’d return home to Japan where I’d process my Nebraska film and file the Nebraska negative sleeves in a binder labeled, well, “Nebraska”.  It’s funny- for one reason or another, I didn’t really do anything with these negatives- I didn’t even make contact sheets. They just kept going into that binder for years while I focused on my photographs in Japan. I would have probably continued to sit on them had it not been for a serendipitous encounter with a Tokyo book designer in 2022 which (long story, another column) resulted in a new photobook in 2023 titled “Nebraska the Good Life”.  One thing led to another-and, with an open week at the gallery, I realized it became time to finally do something. 

That leads us to the topic of this column.


My exhibition Nebraska Life is comprised of 193 silver gelatin prints. Twenty-three of these (16x20 fiber prints) were originally shown at my first show in Japan at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon in 2005.  Ten of these are half-frame photos snapped while driving in my hometown, ten more are 35mm reactions to automobiles, with the remaining three linked by personal, photographic interest. Many of these are pictures which I hadn’t looked at since the Nikon show closed seventeen years ago. There’s a thrill to reencounter older, mostly forgotten pictures. You get to look at them again, for the first time. Even better to do so large, up on a wall. 

Anyway, the bulk- the heart- of this exhibition consists of 170 “kabine” sized prints. (This was a Japanese-market paper size: 12x16.5cm).  These, covering my filed-away glimpses of Nebraska Life from 2019 to 2005, I printed on Fujifilm RC paper that I found cheaply online.  Expired paper, with its decreased contrast, seemed fitting for older pictures. The nature of the project- years of memories- combined with the sweet deal I got on the paper encouraged the aspect of quantity as a tool for expression. After two evenings with a loupe and a light table, I was ready to print.


I opened my Nebraska binder began from the top, with negatives from my most recent trip home: The Summer of 2019.  From there I slowly worked my way into the past- through the summers of 2017, 2016, 2015… all the way to 2005.  The prints floated in the chemistry. After a while, I had a funny feeling: 

Listen, I had come unstuck in time.



There in the developer tray, under the red glow of the safelight, with one 5x7 at a time my high-school-age nephews reverted back to little kids, then toddlers, then babies. As I went back through my negative sheets my siblings too, became new parents, then just-married, and went back to college. I watched as my parents become younger, and grandparents come back to life. In mirrors, the guy holding the camera got skinnier. 

It’s a strange magic, photography. 

Never had I worked with such wide expanse of time in so short of time before. This experience affected the show’s installation.


“Unstuck in time” (apologies, Mr. Vonnegut)- I knew the best way to deal with the resulting brick of prints was as a linear, plotted story but something more like the mess of memories in my head.  Cutting loops of washi masking tape, I attached the prints more or less randomly in a grid along the gallery’s longest wall. Like our brains, from afar it’s a ribbon of grey- but getting close one has the chance to examine images, moments, people.  

In this grid, time skips about from rectangle to rectangle.  An eighteen-year-old nephew can be next to himself at age five- they both “exist” there together. Nearby I’m in a mirror at twenty-five – and a dozen centimeters away again there’s me at thirty-eight. In this river of images sits one sister in the same burrito shop booth over ten summers. In between these time-hops are snaps of cars and streets and signs- American flags, smiling dogs, and Jesus. What a place.  Can’t wait to go back.

Yet, as of this writing I don’t know exactly when my next visit will be. Looking at these prints though, I hope it is soon. 

My other hope is, by exhibiting this patchwork quilt of memory viewers may reconsider their engagement with photography- to see the familiar, and familial as a worthy subject- to collect with their cameras not images, but time. 



今月の写真展レポートは、2023年3月14日から19日まで新宿のトーテムポールフォトギャラリーで開催される私の個展「Nebraska Life」をご紹介します。




その2004年、東京での生活が落ち着き、20代半ばが30代になり、30代後半になり、そしてなぜか突然、現在の40代前半に。JAPAN LIFEを謳歌しながら、毎年夏に帰国し、2週間ほどはネブラスカのルーツに戻るのです。実家で、家族や友人、そしてカメラとの時間を楽しむ。そのたびに、私の「故郷」に対する感覚は変化していきました。




2022年、東京にいるブックデザイナーと偶然の出会いがあり、2023年に『Nebraska the Good Life』というタイトルの新しい写真集が出版されることになったのです(その話はまた今度にしましょう)。




その出番こそ今回の「Nebraska Life」という写真展です。この展示は193枚の銀塩プリントでできています。このうちの23枚(小全紙16x20inch)は、2005年に新宿ニコンサロンで開催された私の日本での初個展で発表されたものです。 そのうちの10枚は、私の故郷をドライブ中に撮ったハーフカメラの写真で、さらに10枚は35mmのアメリカの「車文化(カー・カルチャー)」への反応であり、残りの3枚は個人的な写真的興味でつながっています。






とにかく、この展覧会のメイン、つまり心臓部(ハート)は、カビネサイズのプリント170枚で構成されています。 これらは、2019年から2005年までのネブラスカ・ライフの片鱗をファイリングしたもので、ネットで安く見つけた富士フイルムのRCペーパーにプリントしました。期限切れの紙は、コントラストが低下しているため、この「古い」写真にふさわしいと思いました。「何年にもわたる思い出」というプロジェクトの性質と、紙を安く手に入れたことが、表現のためのツールとしての量という側面を後押ししました。




「ネブラスカ」のバインダーを上から順に開くと、直近の帰省時のネガが並んでいました。2019年の夏です。そこから私は、2017年、2016年、2015年...2005年までの夏を通して、ゆっくりと過去へと歩みを進めていきました。 プリントは化学反応に浮遊していました。しばらくして、私はおかしな感覚に陥ったのです。












「Unstuck in Time(時間の中にとらわれる)」(カート・ヴォネガット)


















John Sypal "Nebraska Life"

Totem Pole Photo Gallery, March 14-19, 2023


ジョン・サイパル「Nebraska Life」
期間:2023年3月14日(火)〜 3月19日(日)



住所:東京都新宿区四谷四丁目22 第二富士川ビル1F


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