Snap frozen moments: Masayo Nishimura at Ceres Gallery

Snap frozen Osaka: "Each person ... seems to convey his or her own personal life story
even though they appear frozen in their action."
Continuing on my photography-ogling odyssey, I chanced upon this wonderful shot in Ceres Gallery, a non-profit artspace for women artists. It's part of a show called "Recollections: From New York to Tokyo" by Osaka transplant Masayo Nishimura, who was manning the desk when I stumbled in on a rainy, icy Manhattan Saturday. The show features largely subway shots from both countries, with a handful of above-ground moments.

Let me rant at length as to why I love this image. First, it's Japan. As of 2009, when I visited Japan for the first time under the auspices of my job as a bicycle evangelist, I'm a hopeless Japanophile. Yes I have a Maneki Neko cat (2!) and a nabe pot lugged from Kyoto. Yes I pedaled through its delirious, labyrinth-like cities, scarfed brilliant bento at train stations, surged with crowds at popular temple and museum sites and staggered about in the neon glitz of "Times Square"in Harajuku that eats New York's Times Square several times over. Check out my Japan blog.

Second, the way it captures in a frozen moment, the stultifying tenor of stripmallandia - an austere, clinical plaza in Osaka, a "working" city I didn't get to visit.  Despite the hurrying citizens, there's no movement. It's a breezeless, snap-frozen moment of plastic, tile and laminate. Not a blade of greenery pushes through that sprawling grid - all has been grouted into submission. The only hint of Mother Nature is a discreet planter with one of those dubios, bombproof shrubs in it.  The space is expansive yet claustrophobic, the sky open, yet leaden. You sense not a single exchange of spoken English, yet the Starbucks Coffee and Mister Donut yell across the square in that language of commerce, as if two giant UFO's from Planet USA landed and dug in.

The light is fantastic. Super-market-aisle white surfaces with no dark corners to hide and be strange. No shadows, either.  My architect friend wondered if she'd merely Photoshopped entourage figures into it. "No, overcast day and fast film," said Masayo.

In the background, three austere buildings in various stages of completion rise up against that leaden sky. They are the only things in motion - onwards, upwards, graywards. And center stage, a Citizen Osaka yawns, and yawns big time. Industrialization, relentless and roaring, is frozen into every tile and coffee cup and polyester blouse. It's a drone that makes one tired.

"I just snapped it," said Masayo, simply. A MFA graduate and Hassleblad aficionado, she shot this series with a 35mm Minolta SLR but printed it herself, by hand, in a darkroom. Since Kodak recently discontinued production of color printing paper for manual printing, she as been having a "difficult time keeping going with my printmaking in the color dark room."

Below are some scenes from her subway series in Japan, using no flash or tripod. The quotes under the photos are taken from the artists' statement in the exhibition.

There's a reception for this show on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at Ceres Gallery. Check out the website - and the work of its many other women artists.

UPDATE: I am now the proud owner of edition 1/10 of this image.

"Unlike pre-war designed, rat-infested NY subway stations, subway architecture
in Tokyo is relatively new, clean and well-maintained and filled with generally
well-mannered passengers."
SALARY MEN: "Those uniformed creatures ... blend so well into the Tokyo subway 
architecture, they seem a natural fixture for the subterranean environment."
"The photos look meditative, quiet and somehow detached from reality in these
supposedly noisy places."

Not shot by Masayo: Yours truly doing the Shinkansen Shuffle in 2009 - easy with a folding bike
and exemplary train staff! My trip to Japan
Masayo's Site:
Masayo's Blog:

Ceres Gallery
547 West 27th St Suite 201 New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212-947-6100


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love the Snap frozen Osaka photo. The balance of key elements is struck just right - the not too close, yet not too distant perspective, the negative space around each subject, the juxtaposition of geometric angles and lines coupled with soft architectural curvatures. As the people transgress through the space, the suspension of animation is just long enough to feel drawn into their path to engage; if only for that brief moment in time.
    I am happily passing this to a Japanese friend of mine; she will love it.


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