Last Updated:Jun 16, 2007

I Love Art 8 “Beautiful Cities in Dreams”

We arrived at Watari-um to see the “Beautiful Cities in Dreams” exhibition just as it started pouring – sudden showers after uncharacteristically hot, sunny weather for a May afternoon.

We started on the 4th floor and worked our way down for practical reasons (they were holding a photography seminar downstairs), but in hindsight this is probably the best way to go.

Looking at the first photograph – Allen Ginsberg’s “One Day August 18, 1984” – a view from an apartment window in raining New York (I think) – and then seeing the pouring streets of Tokyo through the windows of Watari-um, I was hit by a strange sensation of not knowing where I was; the Tokyo streets suddenly looked black-and-white, while I could almost feel the breeze coming in from the window in the photograph rustling the trees below.

The exhibition took me to a different time, a different dimension, where the secrets of cities are revealed one by one in carefully framed shots. I was especially taken by Duane Michals’ photographic stories, in which he depicts dreamy, out-of-this-world narratives in a succession of 4 or 5 black-and-white photographs. Rene Magritte’s photographs of classic cityscapes in the 1920s and 30s onwards also give the impression of the fantastical, as if they are scenes from a film. They make you wish that you were there, living in his romantic cityscapes. Why do cities look so sexy in black-and-white?

Chance encounters, missed opportunities, lost love, people, streets, and the unexpected: that’s why we love cities, and why photographers continue to pursue the subject. As we walked back out into the glistening sidewalks of Tokyo, the sunshine peeking from the cracks of thick clouds, I sorely wished I had a camera with me.

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Lena Oishi

Lena Oishi

Born in Japan in 1982, grew up in England and Australia. With a BA in Media and Communications and MA in Cinema Studies, she now lives in Tokyo as a freelance translator and occasional editor. Works include VICE Magazine, Japanese editorial supervision of "Metronome No. 11 - <i>What Is To Be Done? Tokyo</i> " (Seikosha, 2007), and translation for film and art festival catalogs. She can also interpret simultaneously if you give her enough candy. Lena likes making her eyeballs bleed after watching way too many films while eating ice cream in the dark.

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