Watanabe Katsumi
Gangs of Kabukicho


November 9 – December 22, 2006

Andrew Roth is pleased to announce the opening of “Gangs of Kabukicho”, photographs by Watanabe Katsumi. On view will be over 55 black-and-white portrait photographs taken between 1966 and 1980.

Watanabe Katsumi was an itinerant portrait photographer working primarily in Shinjuku in Tokyo. The photographs presented here were all taken in the blue-light district of Shinjuku called Kabukicho. The subjects in Watanabe’s photographs are the prostitutes, street people, drag queens, entertainers, and gangsters (Yakuza) that populated Kabukicho at night.

Essentially, Watanabe made his living by selling the photographs he made back to his subjects. He would offer three prints for 200 yen. A modest gentleman, Watanabe had a keen sensitivity for the natural posturing of his subjects, which allowed them to uninhibitedly reveal their identities. He saw Kabukicho as a stage; his photographs documented the performers.

After WWII there were plans to open a Kabuki Theater in Shinjuku, which was the cultural center of Tokyo at the time. Although plans were thwarted, the area became known as Kabukicho. Kabukicho developed as a nightlife district centered around the sex trade. The neighborhood was referred to as: “Nihon no kahanshin” [Japan from the waist down].

To accompany the exhibition, PPP Editions in association with Andrew Roth has published Watanabe’s Gangs of Kabukicho. Reproducing over 155 photographs, the luxurious publication features an essay by Kotaro Iizawa that chronicles the history of Shinjuku and offers a biography of Watanabe, who died earlier this year.