What words alone cannot convey
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“Can writing succeed as the subject of photography?” This is a question that troubles Paris-based artist Yuki Onodera.

Her two works from the series “The World is Not Small Enough” are included in “Photographs by Five,” a group show at Zeit-Foto Salon in Kyobashi, Tokyo, looks at how photographic representation has continually reflected the changing realities of daily life. In Onodera’s case, that has meant a move beyond images and toward another language after moving from Tokyo to Paris in the 1990s.

For Onodera, settlement is something fragmented by technology. Her growing suspicion of the limitations of what images alone imply has meant she now works three-dimensionally, making the point that we only truly understand the world by experiencing it. Her photograph of a room full of signage — of mountain topology, rivers, plant names and people — speaks of the subtle cultural differences that “outsiders” misread, overlook or simply ignore.

Ryudai Takano photographs the unfinished surroundings of Shanghai Railway Station, where his camera is openly ignored, while Kazuo Kitai wanders the Parisian back streets quietly observing fishermen and children that hang on his every move, subverting the attention he receives by choreographing their movements and documenting them.

Asako Narahashi has gone to great lengths to understand settlement from difficult positions. Her recent book “Even After” describes how low-slung buildings and landscape become exaggerated when they’re viewed underwater. This time, though, she shows mountain climbers at the peak of a summit. As people look off in different directions, its unclear whether they have just arrived or are about to head back down. With the eruption of Nagano’s Mount Otake still fresh in everyone’s mind, any serenity here is tinged with an unsettling sense that geography is alive.

Simply put, “Photographs by Five” is a photographic survey spanning each decade from when Zeit-Foto Salon opened in 1978. Having recently moved to a new space, the gallery’s express purpose of presenting photographic artwork continues unabated. Now tucked behind the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Museum, the authority this presence has on the photographic survey takes on an irony of its own.

Takano’s solo exhibition this year at Aichi Art Museum, which included a series of male nudes, prompted a mystery complaint that led to a police attempt to shut it down. Instead of withdrawing his work, however, Takano chose to censor it, highlighting both the strangeness of the anonymous complaint and the absurdity of an obscenity law designed to reflect a European sensibility and morality that is over 100 years out of date.

While nothing here prompts similar comparison, the question of what is actually visible and what isn’t but is implied is important — Shanghai’s stalled rush to develop; youth amid an aging Paris; the pursuit of inhospitable climates; and raw imagery from India by Yuki Urakami.

Despite a succession of changing landscapes, the realities and situations faced have not limited the imaginations of the artists of “Photographs by Five,” with each photographer changing the circumstances of an awkward moment to their advantage by remaining as involved and open-minded as possible.

Originally published on October 24, 2014