The TOP Collection exhibition features masterpieces from the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum’s collection of over 36,000 works. This year’s exhibition on the theme of memento mori presents around 150 photographs and related works that probe how people have lived resiliently in the face of death, seeding our imagination for how to move forward through difficult times.
“Memento mori,” a Latin phrase meaning “remember that you will die,” was meant as a reminder that people’s daily lives unfolded in the shadow of death. As the plague ravaged the medieval Christian world between the 14th and 17th centuries, this trope became associated with images of the “dance of death” showing skeletons and humans dancing, and was widely depicted as part of paintings, music, and other works of art. Photography, as well, has often been described by critics as a medium that evokes death.
This exhibition reconsiders the intimate relationship between memento mori and photography through prints depicting death and photographs by Eugène Atget, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Frank, Mario Giacomelli, and others spanning from the 19th century to the present.