Review by Candice Weber
Catherine Edelman Gallery presents their first showing of photographs by Hiroshi Watanabe, pulling from three of his portfolios: Findings, Suo Sarumawashi, and Kabuki Players.
Watanabe's prints are certainly well crafted and well displayed, but it's a shame none from his portrait series were included in this show. Watanabe is a master portraitist who frames his subjects as if they were each the main protagonist of their own novel. This ability to at once humanize and caricature comes forth, however, in his portraits of the monkey players of the Suo Sarumawashi, an association dedicated to preserving this 1000-year old form of theater. These little beasts come off as more composed and more intelligent than some humans I know, and it's hard
whether this melancholy comes from feeling sorry for them, or identifying with the emotions Watanabe is able to create on their faces.
The visual parallels between the Sarumawashi portraits and his series of kabuki players could only be intentional, and suggests that these two Japanese traditions are viewed with equal amounts respect by both the photographer and Japanese culture as a whole. Watanabe chose to frame those liminal moments when the actors are mid-transformation. This is quite a powerful choice, given the importance of costuming and make up to the narrative of kabuki. His photographs seem to span centuries as the actors appear half themselves, and half iconic characters little changed since the 1600s.
Watanabe claims his photographs derive from an intense interest in "what humans do," something quiet clearly evident in his Findings series of photographs taken during his travels. They give the impression of the photographer as a visitor from another planet, taking everything he sees completely out of context, and finding it all beautiful in its absurdity. The moments Watanabe chooses to capture are sometimes so poetic and perfect that it seems a shame to interrupt them and nail them down on film. This is, however, an excellent problem to have.