Issei Suda occupies a unique position in the history of Japanese photography: deeply important yet having received relatively little attention for his work from the West. Perhaps owing to the fact that he never became associated with any particular school, he remained outside the widely disseminated narratives told about Japanese photography. While more celebrated figures, such as Daido Moriyama and the Provoke Group are well known, Suda labored in a surprising degree of anonymity.
Perhaps another problem for Suda is that his techniques were straightforward: he used a medium-format camera and precisely observed his subjects, painstakingly describing what he saw. As opposed to some of the more raw and biting Japanese photography that has long been popular in the West, Suda’s artistry is more subtle. It can be hard, at first, to discern what makes Suda’s work so special, yet his delicacy and precision become clearer with extended appreciation.
In the words of Ferdinand Brueggemann, an expert on Japanese photography:
“Although Suda develops each of his shots with incredible precision, his images also always describe reality with some form of subtle distortion. His works operate in a highly charged space somewhere between the objective depiction of everyday occurrences and often quite unusual views of everyday life that seem to embody some sense of mystery…Ultimately, it is the theater of everyday life that serves as a model for Issei Suda’s precise and, at the same time, mysterious images.”
Or as Charles A. Hartman, Suda’s gallerist in the United States, said about Suda’s “unique and perceptive eye”:
Suda’s work captures a bygone world that was simultaneously more open and less suspicious of the photographer’s gaze. His pictures construct an extended portrait of both time and place that is compelling and curious, eccentric and beautiful.