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"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #50 ©Toru Ukai


"From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997" #52 ©Toru Ukai



It was 24 years ago, in 1997, that I started my photography in Guangzhou, China. 1997 is the year of the Ox in Chinese astrology and 2021 is so, too. At the beginning of 2021, I show you some of my early pictures from my film archives, which were taken in 1997.

Needless to say, China has dramatically changed since then. I’ve gradually changed, too. Now I’m 60. If the pictures surprised you, your surprise should come from the changes of China and me myself, that is, my photography. In those days I regarded a motion blur or even a camera shake as proof of our lives. I thought it was a way to breathe new life into a rigid and dead image without life and time. Besides, seemingly, the blurred photos show that I was still young and lively enough then.

Well, now we’re in the third wave of COVID-19 in Japan. It’s not so easy to take a new picture on the street. Probably I continue to dig up 'hidden treasures' to me for the time being ;) Some of them will be added to the project album “From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997”. Just enjoy, my friends!



At Minami-Urawa Station, Saitama ©Toru Ukai, 2020



It’s not a mistake to say that there’re no restrictions about the pandemic here in Japan, but instead the government dares to encourage us to take a domestic trip even now in a surge in infection. It seems just our cautiousness or obedience prevents us from being infected with COVID-19. In fact it’s quite difficult to find a brave person without a mask here. A mask has already been part of our face and it makes us feel relieved among the crowd. Besides, a mask is also a certificate of “being normal” or a permit to “be here”. The most important fact is that it's an unwritten law here…

I guess a mask will be a must in going out even in the post-COVID days in Japan. Instead of losing our lips, we find a smartphone and our fingers absolutely essential for communication with one another. A new normal can show an interesting chimera on the street.


In Ashikaga, near my home town © Toru Ukai, 2020



I’ve been engaged in photographing the suburbs of Tokyo in the past two years, though I started my photography as a street photographer clinging to the center of Tokyo. Now I feel a strong sense of ‘centrifugal force’ working in myself. I almost lost interest in urban consumption society. It might be caused partly by my aging. I’m 60.

I feel that Tokyo has already been beyond the permissible range of humanity in every sense of the word. It’s nothing other than a monster circulating goods, services, capital and labor limitlessly without thinking. I found it prosperity when I was young. Now I find it just a chaos. You can enjoy the chaos only if you have enough money to please the monster. Yes, money is a pass to the fantastic world.

Besides, the ‘centrifugal force’ has been stronger by the pandemic recently. At present I hardly go to downtown. Instead, I try to approach the edge of the metropolitan area. Sometimes I take a picture around my hometown which is 80km away from Tokyo. Pictures there can be Chapter 2 of my ongoing project “Whispering in the Suburbs”.

The center to the suburbs. The suburbs to the edge… But it doesn’t mean that eventually I can find a paradise anywhere. It may be just a getaway. In fact, I left my hometown for Tokyo to have a bright future when I was 18. And now I try to escape from Tokyo to my hometown that looks more desolate than ever. In short, my life is kind of like repeated getaways.


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All images © Toru Ukai, 2020

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