Place M was founded in 1987 by four prominent Japanese photographers, making it the third oldest photography gallery in Japan. Only taking up two rooms in a nondescript building near Gyoen Park, the gallery only shows one exhibition at a time, on a weekly rotation. My visit coincided with an exhibition by the gallery’s co-founder Daido Moriyama, an internationally famous photographer known for chronicling social decay in post-war Japan. Moriyama is still active today (his most recent book came out in 2015) and his photography remains impactful and evocative.
I had the chance to talk with Seto Masato, another co-founder who was taught by Moriyama as a young man. Seto later became an award-winning photographer himself, selling pictures to the likes of Elton John. Translated by his charming assistant Yuka (a talented videographer in her own right) he showed me around his former teacher’s exhibition – a selection of dreamlike black and white photography portraying the streets of Paris and Tokyo. Masato-san told me how most galleries in Tokyo have a more conservative outlook than his; how he wants Place M to be open to photographers of all styles. This attitude is reflected in Seto’s own photography, which ranges from candid street portraits in Bangkok to abstract macros in post-meltdown Fukushima. As a passionate amateur photographer, a conversation with someone as talented as Masato-san is priceless, adding immensely to the already-great photographic experience gained at Place M.
Surprisingly, considering the calibre and fame of both the exhibition and my guide, I was the only person in Place M for most of the two hours I spent there. The gallery comes alive on Saturday nights, as popular classes are taught between 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm. For sixteen years Masato-san has critiqued students’ photos and given them advice for improvement. After 2 years of classes, students have the opportunity to exhibit their own work at Place M. With an appointment, the darkroom can be used 24/7 by anyone who wants high-quality enlargement of their pictures. As a testament to this quality, Masato-san showed me a huge unframed print, still in perfect condition despite being older than I am. In addition to classes and printing, Place M regularly hosts lectures by a wide variety of photographers, including Moriyama Daido himself.
Place M is an amazing find. Seeing such world class photography for free and in such an intimate setting makes Place M worth a lengthy pilgrimage for any photography or art enthusiast.