top コラムTokyo Photobook Tour24 山内道雄 Michio Yamauchi『TOKYO UP CLOSE』

Tokyo Photobook Tour

24 山内道雄 Michio Yamauchi『TOKYO UP CLOSE』

John Sypal

From the window of an airplane descending to Haneda airport Tokyo appears as an impenetrable, dense urban maze that sprawls out in all directions to the horizon.  

Its vastness can be overwhelming at first, but one quickly realizes that the megalopolis is comprised of countless tiny communities, each a piece to a grand, ever-changing puzzle. Its street corners, buildings, and the lives within have long been fodder for photographers. If we consider photos of Tokyo with definite settings and characters -think, Kineo Kuwabara’s snapshots or Nobuyoshi Araki’s Tokyo Story-  as poems or chapters of novels, the photos of Michio Yamauchi are, rather than paragraphs, something closer to scrawled words and letters plucked from scraps of paper on the sidewalk.  These shreds, seen through the magnifying glass of his Nikon, comprise his 2008 book Tokyo Up Close.


The book begins with a couple of close-up pictures: an overflowing ashtray followed by a gutter drainage grate, both shown larger than life in grainy Tri-X.  Dirt and grime set the stage of the city’s details, but next the camera pulls back for the third shot- that of a crowded city street. While the sense of space is extended, the picture’s density keeps things near. 

Now, this book isn’t a study on urban textures or examples of macro lens magic. While a weaker book (or photographer) would focus on literal Small Things in a Big City, or utilize a macro lens to reduce objects to graphic elements, Yamauchi’s interest is in his reactions to the density and flow of the city’s streets.  And this it suggests well. The book’s tempo echoes the sort of shifting flow of attention one’s eyes have when walking down the sidewalk: those moments of strangers passing, an odd shadow here, glowering men there, a mesmerizing half-glance of a woman, a pair of broken sunglasses in the gutter. Signs, cats, crows and concrete- the sunlit backs of pedestrians a few steps ahead. Rather than grapple with the city’s enormity, Yamauchi finds his world between two meters and the close-focus edge of his lens. 



First-time viewers of Yamauchi’s photos will probably wonder how he could get so close his camera, or perhaps assume that he merely shot “blind”, holding his Nikon to his chest or at his waist. As a matter of fact, I once had the chance to see him at work. In 2010 I was photographing a festival with my mentor, Mitsugu Ohnishi.  We were on a side street near Monzen-nakacho station where a crowd of children and their parents had gathered near a kamishibai street performer (a traditional picture-card storyteller).  Ohnishi noticed Yamauchi, who was also taking pictures that day, and the two friends began to chat. While they caught up, I stood to the side, watching the performer. I looked back to see that Yamauchi had disappeared.  Where did he go? My eyes darted around the crowd. A few seconds I finally spotted him- he was squatting down amongst the group of children, snapping away at their eyelevel. He was working intensely- his thumb was a blur, advancing frame after frame. The kids seemed unfazed- as did their parents. And yet… how can I describe it?  He has the photographic gift of invisibility- he can get in the thick of it with his camera at his eye without anyone either noticing or caring. Aside from decades of experience, this ability isn’t something you can teach or learn.  I’ve since run into Yamauchi on the street several times since- he appears out of nowhere, still shooting so fast it’s hard to believe that he’s actually taking photos. The camera is a part of him. 

Speaking of his camera, I took a snap of Yamauchi’s Nikon FM3a that August day in 2010. To this date his is the only camera I’ve ever seen that’s had its leather covering worn through by its owner’s fingers. 



Tokyo Up Close was published by Rat Hole Gallery in 2008.  Affiliated with the Hysteric Glamor fashion brand, Rat Hole was a gallery and publisher which through its 2006-2020 run continually produced photobook masterpieces. The photography world in Tokyo was richer for their dedication and support and it’s sorely missed. 

I guess the only “good” thing about Rat Hole’s closing is that heaps of their deadstock photobooks have been pulled from storage and hit the Tokyo market at heavily discounted prices. You’d think that high-quality, fascinating photobooks would only go up in value- but you can find their publications in new condition for much less than when the gallery was open. (I bought my copy of this book at So Books for almost half what it went for new.)


This A4 sized hardcover book is slim yet satisfying, and with its crisp, hard printing style reminiscent of graded photo paper, Tokyo Up Close is a fine companion to Yamauchi’s many other black and white books of the city.  The slipcase itself is a work of art- Yamauchi’s statement, printed in a flourished font is embossed across the page in a haphazard cascade. Over it are what at first look like random scratches- further inspection reveals that each line is an extended element of letters in his text. The effect echoes the sorts of scratches and wear you find on utility poles and worn signage. Like the city itself, it’s a mess from a distance but, with proper observation, meanings can be found. 


Admittedly I can’t make out the entirety of his words- but the last four lines ring loud and clear:


I believe that 99% of them (my photographs) are pretty much equivalent to garbage.  

It’s the remaining 1% that intrigues me and causes me to wonder at my reaction to those instances of reality.  

And then another person, looking at photographs I’ve taken in response to arbitrary reactions, reacts too. 

Other people are able to feel my reactions—that’s even more intriguing. 





街角、建物、そしてそこにいる人間は、昔から写真家の関心を集めてきました。桑原甲子雄さんのスナップ写真や荒木経惟さんの『東京物語』など、設定や登場人物が明確な東京の写真を"詩"や"小説の一章"と考えるならば、山内道雄さんの写真は"段落"というより、歩道に落ちている紙切れから抜き取った落書きのようなものです。彼のレンズを通して見たこれらの「切れ端」が、2008年刊行の写真集『TOKYO UP CLOSE』を構成しています。



この写真集は、クローズアップされた写真から始まります。1枚目の溢れた灰皿の次は側溝の排水溝。 汚れと垢が街のディテールを作り上げますが、3枚目、カメラは混雑した街の通りを撮影するために後退しています。写真的に空間は広がっていますが、道の密度から物事を近くに感じられるのが不思議です。











なんと表現したらいいか…。 彼は「透明人間」という写真の神様からの才能を持っているようです。誰にも気づかれず、気にされることなく、カメラを手に渦中に入ることができるのです。何十年もの経験は別として、この能力は教えたり学んだりできるものではありません。以来、何度か街で山内さんと遭遇しましたが、彼はどこからともなく現れ、実際に写真を撮っているとは思えないほどの速さで撮影を続けているのです。カメラは彼の一部なんですね。






写真集『TOKYO UP CLOSE』は2008年にラットホールギャラリー(Rat Hole Gallery)から出版されました。ファッションブランドのヒステリック・グラマー(Hysteric Glamor)と提携していたRat Holeは、2006年から2020年まで、傑作写真集を生み出し続けたギャラリー兼出版社です。彼らの献身的なサポートによって東京の写真界はより豊かなものになったと思っています。


ラットホールがギャラリーを閉じ、デッドストックの写真集が倉庫から大量に引き出されたことで、東京の本屋などでは割引価格でこれらが売られていることでしょう。高品質で魅力的な写真集は値上がりする一方ですが、ラットホールの出版物は新品状態で、ギャラリーがオープンしていた頃よりもずっと安く手に入れることができます(私はこの写真集をSO BOOKSにてほぼ半額で購入しました)。









I believe that 99% of them (my photographs) are pretty much equivalent to garbage.  



It’s the remaining 1% that intrigues me and causes me to wonder at my reaction to those instances of reality.  



And then another person, looking at photographs I’ve taken in response to arbitrary reactions, reacts too. 



Other people are able to feel my reactions—that’s even more intriguing. 






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