Takashi Arai (b. 1978, Kawasaki, Japan), first encountered photography while studying biology at university in Tokyo. He writes, 'I was initially interested in the history of cinema. I began by studying the Lumière brothers. I then became interested in the origins of photographic processes. After visiting an exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, I stumbled across the daguerreotype'.
Beginning in 2002, Arai taught himself everything he could about daguerreotypes, using among other sources the original manuals (translated from French into English and then Japanese) written by Louis Daguerre. Fascinated by the concepts, he began to assemble the materials necessary to produce the daguerreotype plates himself, mastering this complex and labourious process.Using a 19th Century lens, he hand polishes each individual silver plate to allow the ideal reflective polished surface. Attentive to every detail, a single plate of 6 x 6 cm takes Arai an hour to polish. The reflective quality of the daguerreotype plate is essential to its magic. Called, “the magic mirror,” a well-made plate has the unique quality of implicating the viewer in the frame. When standing in front of Arai’s work, the viewer's face is discernible on the reflective surface of the image. This mirroring of the ghostly silver plates allows the viewer to become completely enmeshed within the worlds depicted. Using variable exposure times (several seconds to fifteen minutes), the artist's involvement is felt in each plate’s subtle imperfections and physical markings, as in the unearthly blue glow evident on some plates.
Long concerned by nuclear issues, Arai has used the daguerreotype technique to create individual records —micro-monuments— of his encounters with surviving crew members, and the salvaged hull, of the fallout-contaminated Daigo Fukuryūmaru fishing boat of 1954, records that touch upon the fragmented reality of events in the past. This project led him to photograph the deeply interconnected subjects of Fukushima, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, including the making of individual portraits of Hibakusha - people affected by the 1945 atomic bombings.
Since 1 January 2011 Arai has been taking each day one 6 x 6 D-type, creating the Daily D-type Project, a series with a diverse subject matter, ranging from people, flowers, landscapes, cityscapes and still lives.
Takashi Arai's exhibition 'At the Shoreline' at Chiba City Festival of Arts / Chiba Foto 2021 consists of five hundred daguerreotypes of East Japan's coastal landscape - which is blocked by seawalls, staggered by nuclear power stations and military bases - and a sound installation with a three hundred years old water jar and a radiation detector. 'Multiple Monuments for 1000 Women No 1-10', 2020, exhibited Yokohama Triennale and Purdy Hicks Gallery, 2020, explores the traditional belief and practice of senninbari: waistbelts embroidered by women for Japanese soldiers, notably during World War II, that were intended as good luck charms to protect their wearers. Each daguerreotype depicts a single stitch in a senninbari, or “one-thousand-stitch”. The meticulous process of polishing each daguerreotype plate’s surface both reflects and memorializes for Arai the labour of the women who made the stitches.
Takashi Arai’s work has appeared in numerous exhibitions, including those at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. He received in 2018 the Salerno Festival 1st Prize Short Film Category for Oshita Kagami and in 2016 the 41st Kimura Ihei Award for his first monograph MONUMENTS, published by PGI in 2015. Arai was the winner of Source-Cord Prize, UK, 2014. His works are held in major public collections including the Hirschhorn Museum, Washington; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and Musée Guimet, Paris. He exhibited in Afterglow Yokohama Triennial 2020. He has been shortlist for the 2023 Prix Pictet Japan award.