Takashi Homma's Anti-Decisive Moment

Words by Elliott Foos

Among Japan’s most recognized photographers is Takashi Homma. Beginning his career in London photographing for i-D Magazine in the 1990’s, Homma returned to Japan and began to photograph Tokyo, making the city his focus and muse. Homma published books documenting Tokyo’s cultural scenes and suburban vistas, leading to his being awarded the Kimura Ihei Commemorative Photography Award in 1999 for Tokyo Suburbia. Since then, Homma has honed his unique style of timeless and evocative documentation, dubbed “New Documentary”, earning his work cult status as well as solo shows at Parco Gallery and the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum.

Homma is skilled at distilling photography to its simplest componentsphotographer, subject, machineand creating images as vessels to peer into, but also pour into. Quotidian and documentarian, ultimately it’s Homma’s taste and sensibility that elevates. It’s as though he trusts the image to present itself, and when it does, he records it. 

Sitting with Homma’s photographs, this trust is evident. A respect, more than a reverence, of the subject calls both the viewer and the viewed to the camera, be it art-pop deity Bjork, a young boy in an arcade, or a Le Corbusier window. Homma’s presence and indeed camera is seemingly treated as a trusted archivist rather than a hunter, pecking at opportunity. This is at the core of his sensibility, and it has afforded him the practice to perfect his ability to “react to a coincidence” as he phrases it in the interview “Eye Camera Window,” with the Canadian Centre for Architecture. As a practice, New Documentary isn’t totally emotionally removed from the subjectit’s not journalistic or objective, nor is it as particularly narrative as documentaryit’s an artifact and a vessel. 

Maybe these images are like a vase, nearly perfectly made but for a tiny artistic imperfection to tell you it was indeed made by hand. It’s there to have context, meaning, and emotion applied to it. It asks, rather than tells. Homma’s philosophy and sensibility culminate in photos which have a resolute immobility, drawing you in with a simple gesture, as opposed to closing the conversation in a point. 

This is seen most clearly in his serialized works, particularly New Waves (2007) and Mushrooms from the Forest (2012). These works may conceal the simplicity in their conception or capture, but he has been forthright in revealing his philosophy. In reflecting on how these photographs came to be, Homma has revealed common themes driving this work. In New Waves, he realized he needed multiple photos of the Hawaiian waves crashing, not because he was searching for the perfect, decisive shot but in fact the opposite: he felt these photos of a wave appearing and being replaced by another were capturing “the anti-decisive moment”, and that this moment cleanses the image of its emotional valence and distorts its context, making it timeless, still.

In Mushrooms, a collection studying mushrooms particularly from within contaminated forests around nuclear disasters, Homma felt that these mushrooms were themselves snapshots. Granting no second chances while displaying their poetic and fleeting beauty, by the morning they’d be gone, the photos came to him. 

In retrospect, the singular Hommaesque distance he’s created in his images has been a direct result of his philosophy. This distance has been present outside of the more conceptual work, too, including his work for i-D, but may be most evident in his early and mid-period portraits: photographs decorated with of-its-moment fashion, subjects in repose, and containing what some might feel are imperfections: blur set by rapid motion or a field of skin tone haze left by the photographer’s finger framing his subject. While these imperfections present as spontaneous, they’re the artifact of practice, a skill for anticipation great photographers possess. They indicate reaction, coincidence not designed for within the staging of a scene, and act as a brushstroke. This mode of distance is the hallmark of Homma’s New Documentary, and while many may perceive it as separation, perhaps it’s a tether between the subject and the photographer, a warmth in connection and a gesture toward emotion, rather than a declaration. It’s curious, then, to know that much of Homma’s praise is centered on a lack of emotion, especially when work like that found inTokyo and my Daughter (2006) exemplifies this tethering. It’s hard to argue that a series pairing the growth of Tokyo at the end of Japan’s Lost Decade with that of his daughter, growing before his eyes, is anything but emotional. Saccharine, certainly not. Homma deftly presents a scene and asks you “how would you feel?”

It seems awaiting a wave or walking a forest is exactly where “New Documentary” exists. Rather than hunting for the perfect photograph, it’s an architecture of utility, a poetry built in time, capturing the moments in which beauty is not its most beautiful, but its most honest.





Bas Princen and Stefano Graziani visit Takashi Homma’s Tokyo studio – CCA

Takashi Homma on Le Corbusier – CCA

In conversation: Maristella Casciato, Tom Avermaete, Yto Barrada & Takashi Homma – CCA


Scans of: Diaries 2010-2011 (2011) by Takashi Homma, Tokyo Children (2001) by Takashi Homma