Jai Tanju is an enthusiastic, friendly guy…or so I assume from our email correspondence, half of which – his – is punctuated almost exclusively by exclamation points.

By Sarah Custen

“The beauty is in the feeling of getting something tangible that you can hold onto!” he writes. “Something you can hang on the wall of your office or the refrigerator and see on a daily basis again and again!”

He’s talking about “Film Por Vida,” his international print exchange program, which opens its Tokyo exhibition this Friday at Beams (B Gallery) in Shinjuku. The project is a traveling collection of photographic prints sent through the mail by over 300 photographers from around the world.

“I was inspired by a movie I saw called ‘How to Draw a Bunny,’ about Ray Johnson and his postal art movement in the early 60s, an amazing and life changing documentary!” Tanju explained. “After watching it, I wondered why I never get mail? I was sitting in my office, and I saw a photograph that I’d pinned to my wall from my friend Joe Brook that he sent me as a Christmas card. I took it down and saw that he just wrote the address on the back and slapped a stamp on it!? A light bulb went on!”

A freelance photographer from San Jose, California, Tanju was shooting mainly for skateboarding magazines, with a lot of down-time in between, waiting for checks to come in the mail. “And those checks never came. So it was like, ‘F— the mail sucks, I hate the mail.,’” he said in an interview with thesickpeople.com. “Once I saw that movie…I thought, ‘Maybe I can correspond with people and my trip to the mailbox…will be something I can look forward to.’ I just started to send my friends photographs I had lying around and used the word exchange because I wanted them to know that I wanted something back. The aim at first was to correspond, but I soon wanted to spread the word and get as many people involved as possible!”

Of course, if you’ve ever opened your mailbox to find a letter, postcard or package – even something from Amazon – then you know that “all-exclamation-points, all-the-time” feeling. Tanju’s friends, colleagues and correspondents felt the same, and soon the project grew. Carried by its own momentum, “Film Por Vida” has exhibited in New York, London, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Norway, Reno, and now Tokyo.

“After the first show in NYC, I haven’t chosen the locations,” Tanju said, explaining that print exchangers use their connections and enthusiasm to help him put on shows all over the world. “It’s very organic,” he said.

Tanju has already had several shows at Tokyo’s No. 12 Gallery, but this is the first time “Film Por Vida” will drop into town. “I exchange with a lot of Print Exchangers in Japan and the show came about because of the hard work of a creative group here called Hot Fudge,” he explained.

Tanju has also shot for Japan’s SB Journal and The Day, during his 20-plus years as a professional photographer. “I come from a family of artists, so I have always had that in me,” Tanju said. “It wasn’t long before I took my photography more into the realm of collages and assemblage art. Three years ago I started my own gallery in San Jose called Seeing Things Gallery.”

Film Por Vida, like its creator, is busy, colorful, enthusiastic, and friendly. “Totally interactive!” Tanju proclaimed. “I hang all the mail to the wall with strings, so you can turn over each piece over to see who it is from and see the stamps and message!”

This personal, physical connection is “Film Por Vida”’s core, its strength: a project about friendship as much as anything else. “After doing the exchange for 8 or so years, I have made so many good friends all over the world!” Tanju exclaimed. “And the showing of my mail as an art show has been guided by these friendships…Japan has played a big part in that!”

“Of course photographs are beautiful, and so are stamps,” he said, “but friendship is the most beautiful thing!”

“Film Por Vida: A Print Exchange Program”

Curated by Jai Tanju (http://filmporvida.blogspot.jp/2015/08/this-is-coming-up-quick.html)
Hosted by Hot Fudge (http://ltishere.tumblr.com/?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma)
September 11 – October 4, 2015
B-Gallery (http://www.beams.co.jp/labels/detail/b-gallery)

Beams Japan, 6F
3-32-6 Shinjuku, Tokyo