Two children on a beach are pulling an elegant lady by the kimono sleeves. A man wearing a tuxedo stands casually on top of a sand dune. A sensuous woman is waiting before a man in a suit. These are some of the tableaus created by Shoji Ueda between the 1940s and 1980s. Some are funny, innocent scenes, others erotic or romantic… The images are always meticulously composed, and the framing is skillfully chosen to bring out the grace of the models. The art of Shoji Ueda revels in discreet elegance, in apparent chaos which the photographer handles with mastery, and in close attention to detail—all proofs of his heightened sensibility.
This sensibility can be seen, for example, in Ueda’s portraits of men holding helium balloons. These images are an ode to the lightness of being, to rediscovered childhood, to the simplicity of things. They are the very fabric of life in its terrifying fragility, which the photographer captures and explores when showing the hand grasping the thin balloon tether. This might be the possessive hand of a man who wishes to hold on to useless, absurd things, even while he himself is destined to die. Shoji Ueda’s photographs are filled with hidden melancholy that permeates human existence. Elegantly clothed in a desert surrounding, his models seem to be unlikely apparitions, puppets obediently following their artist-master’s bidding. But they are also like those images of vanitas that convey the absurdity of the human condition. Nevertheless, the delicate, fragrant world of elegance portrayed by Shoji Ueda seems to be a bulwark against the horrors of the world. It is an island of grace and dignity before the inevitable end of every individual life.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
The World of Shoji Ueda
March 21 to May 17, 2019
Galerie &co119, 119 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris