October 15, 2014 9:46 AM EDT

Seemingly oblivious to the presence of the camera, a middle-aged woman sits on a bench, shaded by her umbrella, she takes in the surroundings of Hachimantai Mountain in northern Japan. Nearby, steam rises from hot springs, adding a sense of drama. On the opposite side of the bench sits a young man dressed in black, his back turned to the lens. He gives a sideways glance, almost as if he knows he is being watched. The two have inadvertently become actors in a form of theater of the everyday documented by the photographer Issei Suda.

This 1972 image is typical of Suda’s approach to photography: careful observations of the quotidian, acute attention to framing and formal balance in the image, and an emphasis on subtle gestures. Suda’s black-and-white photographs in square format are deliberate in the sense that his subjects often fulfill a symbolic purpose within the frame. His images can be fleetingly looked at and enjoyed for their aesthetic value, but they can also be studied and analyzed like a sociological project on the complexities of human behavior.

Let's face it, most commencement speakers are aren't all that memorable. Ten years out, many people can't say who spoke at their graduation, never mind repeat what they said. But every year there are a small batch of gems--speeches by a celebrity or CEO that fuse together equal parts wit, wisdom, nostalgia and meaning. Many of these are by women. In fact, the commencement speech has become a powerful platform for accomplished women. In the coming weeks, big names like <em>Scandal</em> showrunner Shonda Rhimes and General Motors GM Mary Barra will ascend podiums around the country. In the meantime, here are inspiring quotes from 12 of our favorites from previous years.
                        
                        <strong>Julie Andrews at <a href="http://commencement.colorado.edu/speeches/julie-andrews-spring-2013/">University of Colorado Boulder (2013)</a></strong>: "Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world <strong><em>you</em></strong> want to live in"
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNJvZOBho6Y&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University (2009)</strong>: "Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6pPBqfrAnI&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Toni Morrison at <a href="http://llanoralleyne.com/2011/05/toni-morrisons-commencement-address-to-rutgers-university-class-of-2011/">Rutgers University (2011)</a></strong>: "But I tell you, no generation, least of all mine, has a complete grip on the imagination and goals of subsequent generations; not if you refuse to let it be so. You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world."
                        
                        <strong>Barbara Kingsolver at <a href="http://today.duke.edu/2008/05/kingsolver.html">Duke University (2008)</a></strong>: "If somebody says 'your money or your life,' you could say, 'life,' and mean it. You'll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck — those will be yours."
                        
                        <strong>Michelle Obama at <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/11/remarks-first-lady-eastern-kentucky-university-commencement">Eastern Kentucky University (2013)</a></strong>: "If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do -- we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. "
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ADCPKzXuwo&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Amy Poehler at <a href="http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/05/you-cant-do-it-alone">Harvard Class Day (2011)</a></strong>: "As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7N_L_pu74k&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>J.K. Rowling at <a href="http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/06/text-of-j-k-rowling-speech/">Harvard (2008)</a></strong>: "So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c&amp;w=420&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Sheryl Sandberg at <a href="http://barnard.edu/headlines/transcript-and-video-speech-sheryl-sandberg-chief-operating-officer-facebook">Barnard College (2011)</a></strong>: "We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdvXCKFNqTY&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Maria Shriver at <a href="http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/05/power-of-the-pause-maria-shriver-commencement-address/">USC Annenberg School of Communication (2012)</a>: </strong>"I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5xLcLIlXqU&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Meryl Streep at <a href="http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0069-streep.htm">Barnard (2010)</a></strong>: "This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There's only change, and resistance to it and then more change."
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-a8QXUAe2g&amp;w=420&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Kerry Washington at <a href="http://parade.condenast.com/15857/viannguyen/best-quotes-from-kerry-washingtons-and-stephen-colberts-graduation-speeches/">George Washington University (2013)</a></strong>: "“When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”
                        
                        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl08kKKS1lw&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        <strong>Oprah Winfrey at Spelman University (2012)</strong>: "You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don't know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go," [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpx8uNzRdew&amp;w=560&amp;h=315]
                        
                        &nbsp; (Inspirational moments from Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres and more.)
Let's face it, most commencement speakers are aren't all that memorable. Ten years out, many people can't say who spoke at their graduation, never mind repeat what they said. But every year there are a small batch of gems--speeches by a celebrity or CEO that fuse together equal parts wit, wisdom, nostalgia and meaning. Many of these are by women. In fact, the commencement speech has become a powerful platform for accomplished women. In the coming weeks, big names like Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes and General Motors GM Mary Barra will ascend podiums around the country. In the meantime, here are inspiring quotes from 12 of our favorites from previous years. Julie Andrews at University of Colorado Boulder (2013): "Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in" [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNJvZOBho6Y&w=560&h=315] Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University (2009): "Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6pPBqfrAnI&w=560&h=315] Toni Morrison at Rutgers University (2011): "But I tell you, no generation, least of all mine, has a complete grip on the imagination and goals of subsequent generations; not if you refuse to let it be so. You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world." Barbara Kingsolver at Duke University (2008): "If somebody says 'your money or your life,' you could say, 'life,' and mean it. You'll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck — those will be yours." Michelle Obama at Eastern Kentucky University (2013): "If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do -- we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. " [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ADCPKzXuwo&w=560&h=315] Amy Poehler at Harvard Class Day (2011): "As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7N_L_pu74k&w=560&h=315] J.K. Rowling at Harvard (2008): "So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c&w=420&h=315] Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard College (2011): "We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdvXCKFNqTY&w=560&h=315] Maria Shriver at USC Annenberg School of Communication (2012): "I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5xLcLIlXqU&w=560&h=315] Meryl Streep at Barnard (2010): "This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There's only change, and resistance to it and then more change." [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-a8QXUAe2g&w=420&h=315] Kerry Washington at George Washington University (2013): "“When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.” [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl08kKKS1lw&w=560&h=315] Oprah Winfrey at Spelman University (2012): "You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don't know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go," [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpx8uNzRdew&w=560&h=315]  
Inspirational moments from Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres and more.

Born in 1940 in Tokyo, Suda’s substantial body of work, which ranges from the 1960s to the present day, provides a fascinating window into a period in Japanese history that witnessed radical social, economic and political change. Suda graduated from the Tokyo College of Photography in 1962, and he began his professional career between the years 1967 and 1970 when he worked as a stage photographer for an independent theatre troupe called Tenjo Sajiki led by the widely acclaimed artist and writer Shuji Terayama. At that time in the late 1960s Tenjo Sajiki was at the very heart of a radical underground movement thus proving Suda with access to numerous artists who have, in the meantime, become household names in the Japanese art scene.

An important shift occurred in 1971 when Suda started to work on self-guided photography projects. In the context of Japanese language, this shift can be best illustrated with the subtle but important difference between the English loanword kameraman and the Japanese term shashinka: the former being a professional photographer such as a studio or a newspaper photographer, whereas the latter signifies an individual who pursues photography as an art form. Suda’s progressive development as a photographer also corresponds to an era in which the opportunities of the medium photography were radically reevaluated by the Japanese avant-garde.

Suda’s most acclaimed project, Fushi Kaden which was first serialized in the magazine Camera Mainichi and then published as a book in 1978, is a photographic homage to Noh — a major form of classical Japanese musical drama: the title of the project references a fifteenth-century book written by a prominent director and actor in the genre. Suda’s contemporary interpretation of traditional Japanese theater is produced by a variety of images that depict performers or musicians at local festivals. Theatricality is also referenced more subtly, with several street scenes in which Suda is capturing a form of theater of the banal unfolding in front of his camera.

The pattern established by Suda’s acclaimed work can be observed in photographic projects produced in subsequent years – the majority of which are based in Tokyo. Even though he seeks to make the ordinary look extraordinary — with his work often appearing utterly surreal — Suda’s photographs promote a heightened awareness of the everyday. Clearly influenced by his formative years working as a stage photographer, for Suda the streets have become the stage, strangers have become actors, objects have become props, and the camera a tool to put order into this world.


Issei Suda: Life In Flower, 1971-1977, showing at the Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, closes Oct. 18.

Marco Bohr is a photographer and writer based in the United Kingdom. He runs the Visual Culture Blog and can be found on Twitter @MarcoBohr.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

You May Also Like
EDIT POST