Notes from Underground: Memories of my Uncle.
Photographs by Kazuo Sumida
Exhibited in Tokyo in 1989 under the title of Tosa Late Night Diary and Uncle, this show represents the works United States debut.
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 went into 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 to shoot with infrared film and a filtered strobe flash, unseen to the human eye. He later started to photograph in Nobara, a downtown gay bar. There for the first time he met his uncle, his mother’s brother, a performer at the bar. With the protection of his uncle, who died of alcoholism at 56 years old, Sumida worked 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 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. And we feel the deep sadness that Sumida and his mother felt in 1990 at the funeral for his uncle.