New York focuses on Keizo Kitajima’s energetic social documentation of New York City during the early 1980s. Born in Nagano in 1954, Kitajima came of age in post-war Japan in an era that was both economically and culturally influenced by the US. At a unique photography school called “Work Shop”, Kitajima was able to study with the great post-war photographer, Daido Moriyama, whose visual style is present in Kitajima’s photographs. The two became good friends and exhibited together at CAMP, a gallery they and other young photographers of Kitajima’s generation founded in 1976. Seeing his generation defining itself in urbanized city centers, Kitajima photographed Tokyo and Okinawa extensively and in 1981 traveled to New York City to continue his project in the US. He spent more than half a year in New York photographing this unique time in the city’s history.
Kitajima, with hyper-awareness of the differing notions of “foreignness” in Japan and America, photographed the vibrant social and cultural life of New York City. Framed in the seamy clubs, the everyday city streets and against the monumental verticality of Manhattan’s dense structure, Kitajima shows the diverse social hierarchy of the city with a vivacious and temporally evocative charm – his photos scream eighties. Kitajima sees New York as a “naked city” in which people’s social status is immediately apparent even while just walking down the street. His images come to function like a time capsule bearing the gifts of this gone cultural moment. Against a shifting social backdrop of Reagan, the reemergence of Wall Street, the beginning of AIDS, and a post-punk, New Wave club scene, Kitajima produced a unique view of New York playing on an inherent property in the city’s composition which allows him to comment and document as a foreigner in a city of foreigners.