Keiichi Tahara

La Foret Museum

Born in Kyoto in 1951, Keiichi Tahara is a photographer of considerable talent who has earned a reputation belying his years. Based in Paris since 1972, he was the recipient of the Grand Prix for Young Photographers at the 1977 Arles International Photo-Festival. The exhibition at the stylish new La Foret Museum building in the Akasaka district of Tokyo offered a broad selection of Tahara’s works—specifically, those documenting the effect on European architecture of the turn-of-the-century explosion in artistic and esthetic expression often simply labeled fin de siècle.

This term embraces a number of architectural developments and schools, including Jugendstil, the “liberal-culture” group, and the Secession, although it is perhaps Art Nouveau that characterizes the period for most people. Tahara’s lens has invoked the almost spontaneous flowering of Art Nouveau as it affected building and decoration in Europe; the many breathtaking images not only demonstrate his mastery of light and form but clearly attest to a profound understanding of, and empathy for, the subject. He consistently expresses the essence of an exterior or a unique interior decoration. One of the keys must lie in his preference for “natural” lighting; sunlight or moonlight for exteriors and the existing lighting for an interior space (indeed the interior scenes seem to be Tahara’s true forte).

Regrettably, however, neither the concept nor the form of the exhibition did justice to the photographer’s talent. More than 100 of his works were reproduced in glazed poster-prints suspended from the ceiling in rows by wires. The floor-level spotlighting in an already dimly lit hall resulted in strong reflections on the prints, which made them difficult to see.

Thematically, the exhibition was unclear at best, and its overall affect seemed to be one of confusion. In an attempt to “avoid categorization” (as it was explained to me), the works were not accompanied by captions, although a list was available to those incorrigible deviants who insisted upon knowing something about the object of Tahara’s interest. Perhaps this was an attempt to encourage the visitor to view the images as a whole, thereby evoking a generalized impression of the fin de siècle as perceived through Tahara’s lens. Under more ideal physical conditions, this ill-defined ambition may have proven meaningful; however, having squinted through a dazzling display of photographic and architectural grandeur, I left with a nagging feeling of frustration at having been tantalized by a presentation that should have been clear yet was always just out of reach.

M. P. L. Green