I recently stumbled across Shinya Arimoto’s latest photo book while visiting his Totem Pole Photo Gallery. I had previously reviewed his zine series entitled “Ariphoto Selection” (shown in the main photo) and although I own 8 out of 10 volumes I managed to only review volumes 1-5. His latest offering just came out in June 2022 and compared to his last three books, this offers material not seen in the zine series (well, I’ve never seen 9 & 10 😅). It consists of images mostly taken in and around Shinjuku.
The title “Tokyo Strut” is a nod to the 1970s song “Fussa Strut,” named after the town near the US Air Force base that primarily served in the Korean War (and also had a great jazz scene). The song was later covered in “Osaka Strut” in the mid ’90s. In a rather unusually personal hindsight, Arimoto argues that with known artistic inclinations, he simply takes photos… Tokyo strut-ting, if you will. And it is this no-nonsense approach that best describes this book.
The book was shot on a Hasselblad 903 SWC in its characteristic wide yet square format. I was told by John Sypal that he did the sequencing of the book himself, which is quite unusual for a published book of 1000 copies. But you can see above how much success he has with the face-offs.
The result differs markedly from his earlier books in the more serious nature of his Tibet Pictures, The Book of Beetle Pictures and Tokyo Circulation, which were highlights of the zine series. This offering gives us quite a bit of humor. The juxtaposition of the bald man in a shiny suit next to the penguin statue reinforces this feeling.
Ultimately, it’s the characters he finds that make the book. We’ve seen a few in the zine series, most notably the Shinjuku homeless man. This differs from most as you can tell from Arimoto’s photos that they actually have a relationship. This is not a statement of the human condition or any sort of claim to anything greater… instead, Arimoto very directly shoots anyone he sees and converses with on a regular basis.
In fact, very few of the “characters” he photographs are off the cuff. Ten years ago, that’s what amazed me about his work in the first place… that’s the humanity that goes into it. The daylight flash was pretty big back then and the difference was the sincerity in intention to photograph characters. Arimoto’s approach has always been more direct… and thus sincere.
Arimoto in his own words
Maybe later he’ll go back on his remarkable personality and really consider himself an outsider. It’s that kinship he shares as he moves from a place others exploit to a place he exalts. In his own words:
“I take photos. It might be nice to call myself a ‘photographer’ or ‘artist’ but honestly I can’t make a living at it and my eccentric personality makes it difficult for me to navigate the world. Ever since I was little I always thought I was defective because I wasn’t able to do the same things other people do and I was overly sensitive to the societal trends that caused me to do so.
In a world where collaboration and reading the situation is valued, it’s difficult for someone with a personality like me to somehow live… When I meet people who live in such a world, still believe in themselves and the desire have to live , I feel truly happy from the bottom of my heart and photograph them with respect and sympathy.
I don’t have a fixed subject, so I use a fixed aperture and shutter speed for most of my shots. I also measure focus by eye and press the shutter without using a viewfinder. As expected, many of the developed photos have unstable composition or unclear focus, and there are also many shots where the subject’s face is cropped. But I don’t care if they failed.
I just keep moving and chanting the simple and clear words “happy and happy”. I hope this will free me from the curse of the past and allow me to act more like myself.” —— Shinya Arimoto
At the time of publication, Tokyo Strut is still available. As the content accessibility is more geared towards traditional street photography, I think this will sell much faster than his last two books in Tokyo Debugger and Tibet. The book contains 149 images that appear in a 200 x 200 mm square and are part of a series being made by the publisher Zen Foto. You can buy it below for around $45.
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