TORU UKAI  Photography

I hold a duo-exhibition with Markus Lehr in Berlin from Sep. 6th to Oct. 19th. See the details in NEWS page.


Projects in JAPAN


Theater Degree Zero
Tokyo, the city of zero degrees. Isolation, fatigue, corrosion and some kind of totalitarianism…
It looks freezing even in the heat of midsummer.
“Degree Zero” also connotes some invisible boundary line or critical point.
Nothing good or bad happens at the moment but the theater is full of potential for changing…
It’s a companion project to “Prewar Days”.


Prewar Days
Japan has been in the long “postwar days” for more than 70 years as a defeated nation.
It seemed the postwar situation would be almost eternal.
But now I feel it’s on the way out though Japan still looks peaceful at present.
“Postwar” could be another name for “prewar” if we lost our modesty, discretion and tolerance.
The project shows the signs in a metaphorical way.


Interface / Interference – Ongoing Project –
When I say “I”, an interface appears around me without any specific shape. As soon as I say “you”, another interface appears between you and me, whether it’s good or not. When I point my camera at the world, I become aware that the world is full of interfaces. They divide the world into innumerable fragments and they’re full of potential for change. Sometimes they can be the takeoff for communication, harmony, fusion or mutual understanding, and sometimes the ignition point of rejection, separation, alienation or conflict, just like walls.
This project deals with the interface between contrastive elements or the interference with each other. Nature and humanity, nature and civilization, the past and the present, living things and lifeless things, this world and the other world, land and water, the real and the virtual, safety and danger, a person and another, etc. … Anyway, the interface is almost always the opening sentence of a (hi)story. Nobody knows whether it will lead to a happy or tragic ending.
Half of the pictures have been taken in Kyoto. The ancient capital is surrounded by mountains and the rivers flow through the center of the city. I find various dimensions bordering on and interfering with one another there. Nature in itself is just nature with humanities and the accumulation of history, for example. I can also say that the interface gives birth to an amalgam of various dimensions.


For the End of an Era – Ongoing Project –
The Japanese use the Gregorian calendar and the Japanese calendar at the same time.
“Heisei” is the era name of the previous emperor and it ended with his abdication this April.
The era began with the end of the Cold War and the bubble boom in Japan 30 years ago.
Since the bubble collapse, we’ve been drifting without any destination through the era.
I intend to symbolize the Zeitgeist in the project and it shows you where we are at present after 30 years’ drifting.
I try to make a comprehensive list of it and classify my pictures into 24 tonalities, following the great example of Bach.


Invisible Machinery
The hidden and invisible structure in our society.
It’s born out of the whole desire of us, though it could suppress and depress ourselves.
I call the structure “Invisible Machinery”, which is in the outside and even in the inside of us.
It’s invisible but the signs are everywhere among us.
Capturing “Invisible Machinery” is my main theme of photography.



Baroque for Life
Modern life or the capital logic prefers excess rather than moderation.
Probably it has some affinity with “Baroque”.


Projects in CHINA

Shanghai looks totally photogenic because of its diversity and chaos.
I tend to take pictures almost impulsively there. No thinking, just gazing.
When I want to regain my “wild nature” which I lose in well-ordered Tokyo, I go to Shanghai for emptying my mind.
So every picture taken there is essentially “untitled”.



From the Terminal Station, Guangzhou 1997
During the 1990’s Chinese peasants were pouring into big cities like an avalanche in pursuit of better life.
Guangzhou, where I was living then on business, was the most typical city about the phenomenon in China.
The area in and around the terminal station was always incredibly crowded with tens of thousands of people.
Besides, a huge number of people stayed in the station square until they would get jobs in the city.
We could see everything about life, that is, cooking, washing, sleeping, selling, buying , gambling, quarreling, fighting and just living there on the street.
Although it looked chaotic, I was often overwhelmed by their life force and some kind of dignity in spite of their poverty.
It was a trip for discovering the diversity of people and the starting point of my photography.
After returning to Japan, the project was awarded a prize in the 7th “New Cosmos of Photography”.


Projects in EUROPE

I’ve participated in some exhibitions in Europe since 2013.
Europe gives me good opportunities to photograph something unknown.
It’s still a new world at least for me, a man from the Far East.

All images © Toru Ukai, 2019


© 2019 TORU UKAI Photography . All Rights Reserved.