A Story of the New York City Subway "The first time I went to New York City, in September of 1995, I found it to be both a city of bustle and of silence. The one place that most captured that feeling was the subway. The subway is awake 24 hours a day, and in that time I could experience both its livelieness and serenity.
The subway was dim and damp , but from it comes a culture that emanates from the underground tunnels to the city above."
Notes from Underground: Memories of My Uncle records Sumida’s personal journey into darkness, from the death of his father in 1984 until the death of his uncle in 1990.
Born in 1952, Sumida has spent most of his life in Kochi Prefecture, originally called Tosa, in southern Japan. Upon his father’s death, Sumida suffered a period of depression and frustration. He sought refuge in the night. To avoid ongoing turf wars between yakuza gangs, and easily angered patrons of Kochi’s pleasure district, he began shooting with infrared film and a filtered strobe flash, unseen by the human eye. Over time he began to focus his photography on Nobara, a downtown gay bar. There for the first time he met his uncle, his mother’s brother, who was a performer at the bar. With the protection of his uncle Sumida photographed extensively at Nobara.
The pictures that resulted from this 6 year journey into the night are both charming and brutal. We see his uncle dancing in a ballerina costume, caressing a microphone that looks like a dildo, and sitting on his bed in a shabby apartment, his legs covered with bruises. We feel the energy of the night in views of the city aglow in neon. Finally we witness the deep sadness that Sumida and his mother experience in 1990 when his uncle died of alcoholism at the age of 56.