Shin Noguchi photographs the bizarre and beautiful details of public life
- Rebecca Irvin
- 24 July 2019
With his discreet, poetic and enigmatic approach to his art, Shin Noguchi captures the subtleties and complexities of Japanese culture without relying on staged scenarios or clichéd imagery. He has been featured on The Leica Camera Blog, in Courrier Inte’l, Internazionale, Libération and The Independent. His new book will be published this year in Italy.
For years, Shin has been documenting scenes of the extraordinary ordinary in a series titled Something Here. Expanding on this, Shin says: “I’m here, just here. You’re here, just here. There is something here, something beautiful, something special. It may last but a moment, but we are always connected to each other. There is always someone in the world keeping an eye on your struggle.”
Keeping an eye open to the constant flux of people, things and occurrences in his immediate environment, Shin teases out the incongruous details of daily life that disrupt the quotidian consciousness. As he states: “visual and emotional depth appears in a photograph by being particular about the detail.” A grinning woman presses up against the window of a subway carriage; a man with a briefcase leans his head in apparent frustration or exhaustion against an exterior wall; men in tall white chefs’ caps watch a game of golf from an astroturfed terrace; a KFC worker looks with concern at a snow-covered effigy of Colonel Sanders.
Shin tells us: “I’m always concerned that time, in the context of contemporary
society, passes too fast. People barely have time to observe the figure of themselves in the mirror, let alone pay attention to the appearance of other people and things around them that can offer comparison with and elucidation of their own lives. I want to share these beautiful moments with people – I want them to understand that extraordinary moments exist in our daily lives and that they can happen anywhere and at anytime.”
Drawing on Mark Twain’s maxim that “truth is stranger than fiction”, Shin sees the scenes he photographs as “more beautiful and full of human touch than the carefully choreographed movies of Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, or the plays of Shakespeare.” With humour and tragedy in equal measure, contained in visually compelling and formally satisfying compositions, he transforms street photography from its traditional snapshot, hip-shot perspective into a cinematic view of the drama of everyday life.
Unlike the fictions constructed and projected by cinema and theatre, Shin’s strange reality is revealed to him in chance encounters. He tells us: “To shoot people with a camera, for me, is like saying ‘hello’. Sometime I use my voice, sometime my eyes, and sometimes
my camera – that’s it. I really enjoy talking or making conversation with people in the street, and if I use a camera for it, I always use the viewfinder; I never use hip-shots to hide myself.”
As Shin sums up the atmosphere and worldview that Something Here attempts to convey: “People are living life desperately. Sometimes lonely, sometimes helping each other, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing.” His photographs amuse the viewer at the same time as evoking sympathy for their subjects. We delight in the symmetry of a mother carrying her twins down the street of Ginza, Tokyo’s famous shopping district – Shin’s favourite photo of the series, incidentally – while simultaneously feeling compassion for her exhaustion.
Something Here is a fantastic testament to the precariousness and unpredictability of ordinary life. For Shin, “taking a picture affirms the existence of people and the existence of human karma. It’s also an opportunity to affirm my own existence and accept it as it is.”
About the Author
Becky joined It’s Nice That in the summer of 2019 as an editorial assistant. She wrote many fantastic stories for us, mainly on hugely talented artists and photographers.