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Yukio Kitayama and the PGI

by Monty DiPietro

They knew from the beginning that they were living on borrowed time. It was 1979 when the PGI (Photo Gallery International) first opened its doors in Tokyo’s Toronomon district, and the two-floor combination bookshop and gallery space hosted hundreds of photography exhibitions over the next two decades: A near-perfect balance of Japanese and international contemporary photographers, along with a mix of retrospectives on the work of the likes of Edward Weston et al.

Alas the PGI sits squarely in the path of "MacArthur's Road," a thoroughfare first put on the drawing board soon after the end of the Second World War. A big wide road which is finally going to be built. On March 31, the PGI’s unassuming little brick building will close its doors one last time and soon after that the structure will be razed, paved over and gone.

It is some consolation for photography buffs that a second PGI space opened about four years ago. Despite a lousy location it is a pretty good gallery—well-lighted and only slightly smaller than its doomed Toronomon sister space. PGI had been running the two galleries in concert, and will mark the transition to a single space with a couple of shows: Naohisa Hara, an old PGI favorite, will close out the Toronomon location with "Venezia," a collection of black and white cityscapes shot in Italy, while a show of water photographs by Yukio Kitayama will turn a new page at PGI’s Shibaura space.

"We can’t do as much with less," says PGI director Shin Yamazaki at Kitayama’s opening party, "but we intend to try and maintain our curatorial policy of both presenting contemporary photography and showing early-20th century masters in our new space.

The Kitagawa show looks like it could have come from either period: There are 40 full-toned, 50cm and 28cm square prints here, and they are a deep, mysterious and meditative collection. These are pictures of water, of a stream out in the Okayama countryside to be exact. Kitagawa, 36, has a simple method for capturing the atmosphere of the water: He stands in the stream, points his camera down, and shoots.

To great effect. Although many of the lush prints appear to have been manipulated in the darkroom, solarized perhaps, Kitagawa says that they are all straight prints. There is a great deal of detail in these pictures—not the least of which is in the interlaced highlights the sun plays on the uneven surface of the water. The more one studies these pictures, the more one is drawn into them, into the movement they capture.

"I think that the flow of water is like the world around it," says Kitayama, who, incidentally, does not swim. "It is difficult to explain exactly but there is movement in everybody and everything, both inside and out."

And even as the ebb and flow swallows up yet another space on the increasingly bleak Tokyo art scene (the year 2000 is scarcely three months old but it has already witnessed the closure of the Satani Gallery, the Tobu Museum, and the strip of rental spaces on Omotesando to name but a few), the PGI is determined to frame the history of its Toronomon gallery in a positive light.

"We survived in Toronomon for 21 years and we did a lot of good things," says Yamazaki, "and now we go on. There are no regrets."

Notes: Naohisa Hara is at the PGI Toronomon until Mar 31, 2000 (3501-9123) and Yukio Kitagawa is at PGI Shibaura until Apr 15 (3455-7827). Pictured is Untitled, black and white photograph, Yukio Kitayama, courtesy the artist.
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