WATANABE Katsumi

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WATANABE Katsumi 渡辺 克巳 (1941.10.17- ) Morioka, Iwate Pref.

Noted photographer of Tokyo's Shinjuku area.

Education Graduated from high school in Morioka in 1961.

Career Office assistant at the Mainichi Shimbun Newspapers Morioka Bureau 1957-1961.

Employed at the Tojo Kaikan photo dept. in 1962. Quit in 1967 and turned freelance photographer. Becomes a street photographer for hire in Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho taking pictures of nude strippers, yakuza, gay boys, etc., for money. Operated a photo studio from 1976 to 1981.

Awards Camera Mainichi Album Award, 1973; Award of the Year, 1998, Photographic Society of Japan. (2001.6.29)

Shinjuku 1965-97 - 新宿1965-97

Reviewed on: 2001.06.29 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Massive collection of portraits of Shinjuku's workers in the sex trade and underground spanning over 3 decades.

新宿の30年間の凄い写真記録。

Published: 1997.11.20 Publisher: Shinchosha ISBN: 4106024306 Price in Japan: ¥4,515 Qualities: Soft cover, B/W photos Size: A5, 508 pp. Language: Japanese

I don't know to translate it exactly into English, but I can describe it. In Japanese, he was called nagashi no shashin-ya. This was a photographer who made his living by walking the streets at night and asking people to have their picture taken for a price. The photographer would then make prints in his own darkroom and go back the next day to deliver the photos to the paying customer.

This is what the book's photographer did for over 10 years in Shinjuku from 1965. He operated from a tiny apartment in Shinjuku and went out to take portraits of people on the street at night for money. At the time, flash photography was difficult for the masses. A flash bulb was required in those days, and you had to change the flash bulb for each flash picture. But he had a pro-use electronic flash so it was easy for him. He offered a set of three B/W reprints of a single pose by the customer for 200 yen.

He roamed Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho area teeming with bars, strip joints, Turkish baths (now called soaplands), etc. He inherited the job from a mentor who allowed him to work in Shinjuku. His main customers were nude strippers, bar hostesses, transvestites, homosexuals (gay boys), yakuza gangsters, runaways, street punks, motorcycle gangs, etc.

The result is a massive collection and record of one of Japan's most notorious areas during one of Japan's most interesting periods in its modern history. The photos span from 1965 to 1997, and they are presented in chronological order. You see this interesting transition from the seedy strippers of the '60s, the disco kids (often kissing) in the late '70s, to workers in faddish sex establishments in the '80s such as the "no-panty coffee shops." The 1990s were characterized by foreign women working in the sex trade, cell phones, and high school girls in loose socks. Throughout the book, you also see landscape shots of Shinjuku's transformation into a major urban center.

The last section of the book shows then-and-now photos of Shinjuku. If you're familiar with the major places of Shinjuku, you'd be amazed to see how things have changed over the years or decades. Where the Studio Alta building with the big TV screen stands today, there was just a humble, inconspicuous building in 1977. The area around Tokyo City Hall was also a vast space of nothing in 1968.

He is one photographer with many stories to tell. Can you imagine strippers willing to pay you to take their picture? (Today, it's the other way around.) Or being invited (with the approval of the club manager) to their dressing room where everyone is topless? (The make-up mirrors double the effect.) One time when he was posing a nude stripper lying on a bed, he got a hard-on and she noticed and slapped the fly of his pants saying, "You should be more professional!" and giggled. Unfortunately, his business dwindled dramatically with the advent of cameras equipped with a built-in flash. But he got some great pictures while it lasted. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

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