Last Saturday I had a bit of free time to kill in downtown Tokyo, so I went to one of my favorite places: The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
Through the end of June they are running the 2008 award winners for photojournalism as well as a double exhibition of Daido Moriyama. Moriyama's exhibitions are a retrospective as well as a recent collection called "Hawaii".
The photojournalism winners was an amazing collection of modern photography, as one would expect, but they were also incredibly graphic. Scenes of war-torn countryside, shanty towns, extreme poverty, death, and shocking rites of passage filled the gallery to the point of saturation. While I recognize the importance of the display, it was hard to walk through for any extended amount of time.
The Moriyama exhibits were much tamer, if not any less interesting. The retrospective suffered from over-exposure to Moriyama's style through no fault of his own. Moriyama was a pioneer in using what were then "bad" techniques to produce photographic art – things like blur, high grain, stark contrast, off angles, etc. – that have since become so mainstream as to produce a feeling of "oh, this again" in the viewer. Again, his work is important in a historical, big picture, context, but the exhibition itself did little for me.
On the other hand, Moriyama's "Hawaii" collection was fantastic. Although he used many of the same techniques that made him famous, when seen together, the individual works combined into a moment much greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, there were several photos that are moving in and of themselves, works that capture a single frame of time, a single piece of reflected and refracted light, but it was truly the collection that made an impact.
If you're in the Tokyo area, around Ebisu, the exhibitions are definitely worth checking out and the TMMoP is worth supporting in any case because of their consitant excellence.