The Galerie des Minimes presents the poetic Kyoto of Japanese photographer Kai Fusayoshi.
There are still lesser-known Japanese photographic figures in France, despite the fascination with Japanese culture, recent discoveries through exhibitions and publications on this photography territory, and the dedication of committed curators and historians. Kai Fusayoshi can be considered a rare bird, one whose work remains to be explored with the joy of discoveries to come.
Described as a ” poet-photographer” by gallery owners Olga du Saillant and Felix Cholet, he was born in 1949 in Oita (Kyushu). His sister entrusted him with his first camera to rescue him from the care of a chicken farm. He entered Doshisha University in 1968 but left a year later, disappointed with expensive and uninformative studies. The rest of his time was dedicated to photography, which he practiced between various part-time jobs.
In 1972, Kai Fusayoshi founded the Honyarado café, where artists, writers, activists, and actors of the Japanese counterculture gathered, blending post-war Japan with Western protest cultures. Two years later in Tokyo, Araki founded the Workshop photography school with Masahisa Fukase, Shōmei Tōmatsu, Eikō Hosoe, and Daidō Moriyama. This school gave its name to the major eponymous magazine in the formation of a Japanese erotic, licentious, and poetic aesthetic.
Although Kai Fusayoshi described himself as independent and mentioned not having “participated in workshops with renowned photographers,” he was close to some photographers of that time. He corresponded occasionally with Sadayoshi Fukuda, mentor of Kineo Kuwabara and Hiroo Kikai, and with photo critic Kouen Shigemori. Later, Araki sent him a self-published photo book. Since their collaboration in the “Taiyō” magazine with Shomei Tomatsu in 1983, they maintained a close relationship until Araki’s death.
The Honyarado café became the soul of the city. The photographer ran the bar every day, prepared curry, and modestly exhibited his prints. “It was the soul of the city,” he said. “Honyarado was more than just a cafe; it was also a printing press, a library, a concert hall, and even a school of thought. We welcomed committed individuals and political prisoners from around the world,” he recounted, mentioning figures like the folk singer Nobuyasu Okabayashi and poets Yuzuru Katagiri, Kazuko Shiraishi, Shuntaro Tanikawa, and Kenneth Rexroth, mentor to Allen Ginsberg, who regularly organized poetry readings. Philosophers Syunsuke Tsurumi, sociologist Rokuro Hidaka, and critic Takeo Kuwabara were also frequent visitors.
The café stood for several decades before being destroyed in 2015 in a presumably deliberate fire. The photographer lost almost his entire body of work, including 2 million negatives. “My whole life was in it – my articles, books, shots; I lost everything. Over 2 million prints went up in flames; I didn’t know what to do. I almost died from it.”
A few rare negatives and prints survived outside the café, and there is a significant body of work in books, as Kai Fusayoshi, like many Japanese photographers, made artist’s book to disseminate his work, showcase his latest series, and play with formats and papers.
“Many burned photographic prints were given to acquaintances, including a contemporary Swiss artist, while others are still kept at home. About 10,000 negative films survived the fire, intact. I intend to carefully check them and, if possible, create an installation to archive them in the future,” promises Kai Fusayoshi.
The Galerie des Minimes displays in a tight and joyful arrangement the prints saved from the tragedy. Kai Fusayoshi’s work reveals the humor of a gaze full of tenderness for the immediate street, contributing to shaping a new vision of the historic city and post-war Japan.
The city under his eyes is the embrace of a night in a sticky interior, a boldly uncovered fleshy chest under a bridge, a mysteriously tense face out of the fog. His shots are distant, imbued with a form of amusement that contrasts with the approach of the Tokyo school. They allow capturing an outdoor scene as a whole, the gaze wandering over a multitude of crucial moments (Ukiyo).
There remains the drama, the loss of a work that can only underscore the desire to see more. Hoping that prints emerge from I-don’t-know-what depths, from I-don’t-know-what drawers. Hoping, and above all, rejoicing in this exhibition that reveals a discerning eye, amused to be in the world.
Kai Fusayoshi — From Honyarado
Galerie des Minimes
From November 2 to December 21, 2023
13, rue des Minimes 75003, Paris