New York Photo Review
Volume 5 Issue 4 January 28 to February 3, 2014

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Lovely Shadows/Black Tsunami
James Whitlow Delano
Mangaland: A Tokyo Retrospective
Ed Barnas

Photo by James Whitlow Delano . Source: James Whitlow Delano, "Scrutinized by Fortune Teller,


For a Western street photographer, working in an Asian city can be a challenge. To get beyond the expected one has to invest time, not just in roaming the streets, but also in learning about the culture and experiencing it. James Whitlow Delano, who has been based for the past two decades in Tokyo, offers his highly impressionistic view of that city in “Mangaland: A Retrospective of Tokyo”, images taken in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The style of this series calls to mind the work of Robert Frank and Ralph Gibson in its personal and interpretative approach and aesthetic. Its overall mood is noirish, with twilight setting the time in many of photos, that period between day and night when work is done but it is not yet time to sleep. Not surprisingly, a number of the images deal with crowds - commuters and train stations - places where many turn inward to maintain their personal space. Delano offers us images of a salaryman with eyes downcast, oblivious to those beside him, an old man, smoking while making a late night call and turned away from the camera, and a monk standing quietly against the wall in Shinjuko station. In this last I found a particular contrast between modern and traditional Japan. The subject’s face is hidden under a broad conical hat and the blurred edges of his dark robes seem to radiate darkness while commuters rush by. And whether it is a mass of commuters ascending, heads bowed, with a lone fluorescent fixture in forced perspective pointing the way into a dark center, or a solitary young woman running past a construction site, with a low light from the side casting a “lovely shadow” on the wall’s advertisement, rush they do.

Photo by James Whitlow Delano . Source: James Whitlow Delano, "Pony tails, piercing glance and a cigarette, Shibuya, Tokyo" 1998

But not all are unaware of the photographer on the sidelines – he (or the viewer) is subjected to the downward stare of a young girl, hair in a ponytail, who dangles a cigarette in her hand, and scrutinized in the sidewise glance of a fortune teller in Sugamo, lips pursed as if to chastise the photographer.

There is a sense of mystery in several of the images – what are those three schoolboys so intently discussing under the expressway rising above them? (Delano calls them conspiratorial in his caption.) Why is that woman peeking at you over the shoulder of the man in the elevator, and what are those women pointing to outside the frame?

Photo by James Whitlow Delano . Source: James Whitlow Delano, "Lovely shadow, construction site, Tokyo, Japan"

In addition to the photos from Mangaland, in the side room of the gallery there are a dozen images from the Black Tsunami series, a survey of the aftermath of the 2011 disaster. In sharper focus and not printed as darkly as the other images on display, these photographs are less impressionistic and more journalistic. They depict the damage inflicted (ships grounded, fertile fields ruined by salt water) and later recovery efforts. The image of wilted sunflowers at a family grave was poignant while that of a cherry tree in bloom rising out of a mount of rubble seemed to hold promise for the future.

Thirty images are on display. The archival pigment prints tend to be dark and grainy, with the focus soft, and corners darkened to draw the viewer in to the central subject. Though available in larger sizes, the prints on display are mostly 13x19, small by current digital trends but well suited to the analog nature of this series.

James Whitlow Delano
Mangaland: A Tokyo Retrospective

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Thursday, December 12 to
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Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat