Installation view of RYUDAI TAKANO’s “When the absence of light touches the ground, Distance is lost and distance created” at Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo, 2016. Courtesy Yumiko Chiba Associates.

When the absence of light touches the ground, distance is lost and distance created

Ryudai Takano

Yumiko Chiba Associates

Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is often referred to as a black hole with an “empty center.” By night, the Emperor’s official residence sinks quietly into the night surrounded by noise and during the day is cut off from the city by a curtain of trees and a vast moat. The work of photographer Ryudai Takano exists somewhere between the physical and metaphysical world where his earlier series of self-portraits “with me” (2006–) and daily snapshots such as 05.04.07 (2005) both hold the same level of attention, hint at the fluid attitude toward sex and our place and presence within the world, yet give nothing away as to whom they depict or where they are taken.

While the palace is very real, the absence it creates in its wake suggests something beyond being the symbolic center of Japan. For Takano, the palace as a historic landmark is no different from the form or outline of someone passing with the sun behind them. We recognize them in passing even when what goes on inside is a complete mystery.

The work in Takano’s current exhibition “When the absence of light touches the ground, Distance is lost and distance created” at Yumiko Chiba Associates in Tokyo is a series of color photographs that focus on the shadows of people that enter and leave Takehashi metro station, close to the Imperial Palace and neighboring National Museum of Modern Art. Each image is taken near the station entrance, with the camera trained at the floor and the staircase leading down to the platform. With each photograph, the entrance is reduced to glimpses of material, stripped of light and filled with the reflection of bodies that pass Takano’s camera. Focusing on these bodily impressions, everything else is ever so slightly out of reach and oblique.

RYUDAI TAKANO, 15.07.22 #28, 2015, C-print, 12.7 × 17.8 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist, Yumiko Chiba Associates and Zeit-Foto Salon.

RYUDAI TAKANO, 16.06.11 #05, 2016, C-print, 12.7 × 17.8 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist, Yumiko Chiba Associates and Zeit-Foto Salon.

Born in 1963 in Fukui, central Japan, Takano has been an active photographer in Tokyo for more than two decades. Receiving the 31st Kimura Ihei Award for new photographers in 2006, Takano’s practice asks questions of what it means to see by dealing with the symbolism of place and appearance.

RYUDAI TAKANO, 16.05.14 #b29, 2016, C-print, 180 × 126.5 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist, Yumiko Chiba Associates and Zeit-Foto Salon.

The untitled photographs in this show, also just recently published as a book, When the absence of light touches the ground, Distance is lost and distance created (2016), all range in size and scale. Smaller 6×4 inch images are stepped on the wall and focus on latticed silhouettes. One in particular, gives the faint suggestion of a foot slipping from the shadow’s frame to cast its own image on the concrete floor. The main photograph is a wall-hung roll that’s almost life size—its length hits the floor, extending the image into the gallery space creating a view and perspective that viewers fall into.

Whereas the edge of light and shadow here are clear to see, Takano’s other exhibition “Time and Distance” held concurrently at Tokyo’s NADiff Gallery (11/26–1/9/17) deals with images at street level, enlarged and out of focus. Images of figures walking reveal a softer character that dissipates as each figure moves further away from his camera.

This play of shadow has its roots not only in his earlier work but also, and most notably, the shadow paintings of renowned Japanese postwar artist Jiro Takamatsu, whose work Takano revisited prior to this project. Photographs in Takano’s book String and Coke (2014) reinterpreted some of Takamatsu’s found objects, photographing them in daylight and around Fukuoka’s Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine. By then casting his own silhouette at night over the floodlit grounds, Takano’s play with objects and silhouettes fixes and reveals his own image of Takamatsu as an artist and free spirit by overlaying it with his own.

Revealing and masking is Takano’s way of drawing out the quality of a place; he re-interprets what is accepted and equally prohibited through the intangible presence of light and shadow. His earlier book, Kasubaba (2011), collects photographs of places throughout Japan that appear ordinary on the surface, but subversively treat the city as an ambiguous place of desire and obsession, freely morphing between the two.

With Japanese culture obsessed with privacy and discretion despite being filled with conflicting images of sex and violence, Takano’s focus away from identifiable subjects could, in other hands, be seen as a form of censorship. Yet with Takano, any focus lost between the camera and the subject in the depths of darkness, creates another sort of distance altogether, where a camera’s narrow perspective reimagines incidental moments involving light, the body and taboo within the same photographic sentence.

Ryudai Takano’s “When the absence of light touches the ground, Distance is lost and distance created” is on view at Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo, until December 24, 2016.

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