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Letters from Noto: Living in Japan 1955 to 1964 

When: Dec. 13-Jan. 22 2009

Some scorn the belief that people everywhere are pretty similar, but the Japanese, considered suicidal fanatics in 1945, look perfectly human in these postwar photos by David L. Beckman, a Presbyterian missionary who lived in the village of Ushitsu on the NotoPeninsula from 1955 to 1964. His award-winning photographs, predominantly black-and-white, depict rural life before industrialization, and they imbue their reportage with a calm dignity. "Sailors," "Man and Ox," "Farmhouse in the Fall," "Baseball -- Anticipation" (our national pastime hath charms to democratize the savage breast, it seems), and "Farmhouse and Melting Show" are certainly authoritative, satisfying works, but more impressive are Beckman's dangerously charming "Girls under Umbrella," "Mom and Baby," "Straw Hat," and "Dog at the Breadshop," schmaltz in lesser hands, that might, surprisingly, win over some not-so-hard-boiled visual-culture connoisseurs. Letters from Noto runs through January 22 at Alta Galleria (2980 College Ave., #4, Berkeley).AltaGalleria.com or 510-414-4485.


— DeWitt Cheng

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