Phot(o)lia’s list omits some good ones:
Some people seem to thrill to signed books. But when I contemplate this pile of signed (or about-to-be-signed) copies, my own very mild interest is quickly eclipsed by sympathy for Zhang. He’s a young man, I’d guess full of energy. Energy surely better expended on taking more photos, editing them, enjoying life with Mrs Zhang (actual or potential), or whatever.
Still, the prospect of signing five hundred isn’t enough to inspire thoughts of suicide; the task can be surmounted — perhaps in thirty-minute bouts, twice a day (just as I once learned to touchtype). And the book is published in China, a technologically advanced nation; which gives me hope that his signing chore might have been, shall we say, assisted.
I didn’t buy Suda’s even newer 1975 Miuramisaki, charming though its six (6) pages are. We read that there are 350 copies, all of them signed.
No, instead I bought a copy of Suda’s Kado no tabakoya made no tabi (more pages, lower price). I’d guess that there are between five hundred and a thousand copies of this; mine’s signed, and perhaps all of them are. Certainly BLD is selling signed copies of it, of Suda’s book Rubber, and of his Minyou sanga (my copy of which is signed), each for the list price. So it’s probable that hundreds of copies of these three books are signed, too.
Suda Issei had to write out his name three times just for me. If I ever meet him, I must apologize.
And in the space of just a year or so, he’s written out his name well over a thousand times. Perhaps close to two thousand times.
Suda is in his seventies. He could be attending to his juku, fishing, walking the dog, or whatever. Or of course taking photos. Assuredly he has better things to do than write out his own name, and again, and again, and again. . . .
While China and Japan have much in common (e.g. Borgian patterns of political appointments), Japan seems less enterprising. I do hope that its publishers/photographers too are employing labour-saving technology, but the variation among “my” examples of Suda’s signature suggests otherwise.
What is it about signed books, anyway? I have books that were signed especially for me by perhaps ten photographer friends and (face-to-face or email) acquaintances. And there’ve been some other bonuses too, like my copy of Stand BY, signed by three of its photographers. I didn’t ask for such signatures, and they were and are welcome. But this idea of signing (or autopenning) every copy of a book seems stupid. Photographers, if your publisher suggests this, just say no. Shouldn’t your photobook sell on its content and presentation? If you also want to appeal to the nitwit market, fine: cash in on it and cut down on the tedium: add the combination of a signature, a more interesting cover (ideas) and a small inkjet giclée print for an additional édition de luxe, priced accordingly.
There’s an an entire website devoted to autopenned astronaut signatures. (I haven’t yet found one on autopenned cosmonaut or photographer signatures.) Further reading: “Great moments in autopen history” (Gawker), “Ten facts about the ‘autopen’” (Politico), another perspective on signatures and “collectibility”, Steidlheads managing to go nuts even over unsigned books.
The italic print. Three of the four photos above are copyright Jiazazhi Press, the Autopen Company, and Automated Signature Technology respectively. The other one depicts works of calligraphy that are, in one way or another (I’m no expert on this stuff), the intellectual property of Suda Issei.
However implausibly, the Japanese photo magazine business is alive.
After Ima and the reappearance of Kaze no tabibito comes Shashin gahō (写真画報). I don’t see any indication of when the second issue is due, but anyway the first is just out. This devotes sixty pages to photos by Araki and sixty to photos by Sanai. There are also short interviews and other odds and sods (all in Japanese only), but essentially it’s a slim A4 book with a lot of photos by each of two photographers. Yes, a photo magazine rather than a camera (or “lifestyle”) magazine.
Both Araki and Sanai already have plenty of photobooks available, so I’m not entirely sure why this particular issue of the magazine is needed; but I found myself looking through both its halves. I ended up putting the magazine back on the shelf, but I’ll certainly look out for the next and subsequent issues. And if you want a collection of Araki and Sanai’s photos, you’ll get value for money right here.
You can see the magazine here on its publisher’s website. Like a fair number of Japanese magazines, the issue has its own ISBN: 978-4-7683-0417-4.
I long dismissed Daikanyama as just yet another area for elaborate courtship rituals, where young chaps take young gals to buy frocks and have lavish meals. But I kept hearing good things about the branch there of Tsutaya (book/fun shop) and therefore yesterday, as a compromise between (A) doing useful work and (B) going to faraway Morioka (for the Watabe show), I went to take a look and if possible do my duty as an obedient consumer and help the nation’s moribund economy.
The Daikanyama branch of Tsutaya has a lot of photobooks. There are new ones, and there are used ones. The used ones are uniformly labelled “vintage”, even when they’re as recent as 2008. The “vintage” books are in reach or out of reach. Those in reach are amusingly expensive. Those out of reach are hilariously expensive.
Now that I duckduckgo the shop, I see that it:
- serves as the anchor for the upscale Daikanyama T-Site shopping complex
- has a luxuriously appointed lounge-bar area on the second floor
- has individually curated specialty departments
I’m a sucker for luxuriously curated upscale anchors, and so I looked at the new books too. Odd: it felt as if I’d landed on Planet Photo-Eye, or anyway Planet The Top Half of This Page. There were plenty of the books that US bloggers fawn over but I’d not seen before. Some of these were good, too: a small book by Alec Soth elaborated on the best (B/W) ingredients of his yellow anthology From Here to There, and the label on the sample copy was marked with a reasonable ¥1750, too. Eh, what, ¥4750 on the shrink-wrapped copies? Perhaps not then.
Oh noes, now I see that Photo-Eye says that this book is unavailable and amazon.com has it at $127; so I missed a chance to get something rare and collectible!
If I missed a bargain or three in this luxuriously curated upscale photobook shopping complex, I blame the powerfully repetitive piano noodling going on most of the time. (The short breaks were for powerfully repetitive other-instrument noodling.) This must be Usen’s recommended easy listening for the book-shopping hipster. (Kinokuniya’s muzak seems more suited to hospice waiting rooms.)
What with this aural slime, I wasn’t in a receptive mood for hip photobooks, and escaped to the next building. This was gloriously muzak-free. Even the lack of photobooks was refreshing at first, but when that sensation dissipated I looked upward and saw a promising cover. And yes, it was a photobook worth looking at.
Iijima Kōei (飯島幸永)’s Kanryū: Tsugaru no onna / Echigo, sekka ujō (寒流 津軽のおんな/越後・雪下有情). The main title means “cold [sea] current” and it’s a collection of older, B/W photos of snowbound Tsugaru and Niigata, particularly of girls and women there. (Many of the adult males would have departed for seasonal work elsewhere.) The editing could be a little tighter (and there are no captions or other text in any language other than Japanese), but it’s impressive. Iijima’s website needs updating (it doesn’t mention this book, published late last year), but it does have a set of images that would appear in the book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-7791-1810-4; CiNii.)
Tsutaya’s copies of Kanryū seemed slightly bowed so I didn’t buy. But the book reminded me of another I’d wanted to see: the late 2012 reissue/reworking of Motohashi Seiichi (本橋成一)’s 1983 book Ueno eki no makuai (上野駅の幕間). The title means “Intermission at Ueno station”, and it’s full of, yes, B/W photos of Ueno station. Rail fans will revel in such things as the labelling with metal plates of departure platforms, but even the rail-unenchanted will see how different this is from present-day Tokyo stations, what with giant baskets, alcohol- and tobacco-fuelled picnics on the floor and so forth. Motohashi seems to have been hugely energetic for this ample book, photographing everything from uniformed ceremony to one worker taking a leak from a platform down to the track. It’s from a time when quantity meant more than formula or repetition. I haven’t compared it with the original but the printing is at least as good and a copy of this costs a lot less than does a copy of the older book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-582-27795-1; CiNii.)
So I bought Ueno eki no makuai, and enjoyed it on the way home. But I felt a little sad. I’d got most enjoyment out of a couple of books of photos taken before most of Tsutaya’s customers were even born. Did nothing appeal among what was new (and perhaps unimaginable thirty years ago)?
The doorbell rang and help arrived from China: my copy of Zhang Xiao (张晓)’s They (他们). Zhang, from the northeast of China, was living in Chongqing in the southwest, when he took the (uncaptioned, unexplained) photographs here. Apparently they’re all taken with a Holga, and with no trickery. It would have to be an extraordinarily well behaved Holga, and certain phenomena seem preternatural even by urbanizing Chinese standards. So I’m not sure what’s going on here. But there’s a contrast: while I don’t know what’s going on in a lot of the photos in books on display in Tsutaya, I generally couldn’t care less; here, the misty, oneiric scenes are odd indeed, and whether they’re real or fake they fascinate.
There’s a lot from this series available on the web: here and here, as well as Zhang’s site. See for yourself. And reading material here and here. The book is published by Jia Za Zhi Press in Beijing and very handsomely done it is too. The publisher writes about it here and here; you can order it by email from them (as I did) or from Bigcartel (here), and it’s said to be available from some retailers.
I’d not heard of the book, the series or the photographer till a couple of weeks ago. (I must have missed this at Eyecurious.) Though Zhang’s CV lists a lot of exhibitions and awards, it doesn’t mention any book. They isn’t his first; there’s also Coastline, published by Actes Sud in 2011. I wonder if there have been more.
The top page of Morioka Shoten currently tells us (my translation):
14 January (Mon) – 19 January (Sat)
Exhibition of photographs by Watabe Yūkichi, “Alaska Eskimo”
In this exhibition we’re showing original vintage prints from the series “Alaska Eskimo” (Asahi Sonorama Sensho 20, Asahi Sonorama, 1979) by Watabe Yūkichi, who became much talked about with “Criminal Investigation”.
A postcard elaborates slightly. The prints are from the Asahi Sonorama archives, and are for sale. The hours are 13:00 to 20:00.
Here‘s a map to the refreshingly solid building that houses this and other small galleries.
It’s a bookshop. If you go there, take a look at the book selection, which probably includes items you haven’t seen elsewhere. Don’t miss Mr Morioka’s own book Books on Japan 1931–1972 (日本の対外宣伝グラフ誌), a book that’s all in Japanese but is lavishly illustrated, about books and magazines for the export market.
I picked up my copy of Abe Jun’s Black and white note 2 (黒白ノート2) today, and yes it’s as good as it’s cracked up to be.
The Japanese economy continues to stumble; a nuclear power plant still emits radioactive material, the boss of Tokyo is now somebody whose history book is published by Viz and who was groomed by a far-right fantasist, while the bosses of Osaka and Japan are themselves far-right fantasists.
Ah, but the head of Yokohama (now Japan’s second city) is a woman. In Japan, batshit nationalism seems less common among women (or less often emitted by them). There’s still hope.
And in the world of Japanese photography too, good things are happening. Not only have there recently been plenty of photobooks worth examination, but the magazine Kaze no tabibito (風の旅人) is back.
A bit of background. The recent “10×10″ show at ICP featured three Japanese photomagazines (we’re told): Ima, Asphalt and Phat photo. The covers of Asphalt look familiar so I must have looked inside them, but I have no memory of the content; anyway, the magazine’s web page suggests that it has reached issue 10 and thereby ended. The issue or two of Phat photo I glanced at didn’t much interest me. Ima hadn’t actually launched: the event showed issue zero, which was excellently printed and had a very good sample from Watabe’s A criminal investigation but little else to retain my attention. (In general, it looked like a briefing book for smalltalk at an art-photography cocktail party that I’d happily skip.)
There have been good Japanese photo magazines. Even recent issues of Asahi camera and Nippon camera reliably have something of interest in each issue. But these two are primarily cameraporn. Other magazines (I can’t remember the titles) are generally worse: one subgenre suggests that a camera — preferably lomographic or otherwise somehow “retro” — is a passport to a soft, feminine world of pastels, babies and kittens.
There have been magazines that concentrated less on hardware and fashion than on photos. They include Déja vu, Natural glow, and yes, Kaze no tabibito. This started in April 2003, coming out once every two months. It was published by a travel company, and the final section of the magazine had what looked like sponsored “editorial” pages, to which I never paid any attention and which I assumed financed the entire enterprise. Each issue would have a vague title in kind-of English: “Find the root”, “Own life”, etc. But it had plenty of photo-essays. Not all were to my taste, but they spared the “snapshot aesthetic” and superflattery (both very worthy, I’m sure). Contributors included Arimoto Shin’ya, Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Kazama Kensuke, Kikai Hiroh, Nakafuji Takehiko. . . .
Mrs microcord would buy at least two copies of each issue, but presumably not enough other people did, and the intervals between issues became longer and longer until what was announced as the final issue, about a year ago. But months ago I heard rumours that it would reappear.
And yes, issue 45 arrived yesterday. It’s from a new company, Kazetabi-sha (かぜたび舎).
The primarily photographic features in this issue are:
- Kawada Kikuji, “2011 – phenomena” (pp. 7–30). What’s got into Kawada’s head? There are “arty” digital artifacts straight out of the kind of zine that nobody wants to buy, and even HDR. “At a glance,” writes Dan Abbe, “this series looks terrible”; and I won’t argue with that. But yes there might be something to it; and here’s your economical introduction to it.
- Mizukoshi Takeshi, forests (pp. 33–48). Fans of nature photography will be interested, non-fans should take a look anyway. Some of these photos seem conventional but others are almost abstract. As for the photo of birds in flight, a much feebler version might appear on the cover of some book published in an edition of 300 and destined to be the talk of the blogs. In short, this is good stuff; I’ll take it over the Kawada.
- Okahara Kōsuke, Fukushima (pp. 59–74). An unfamiliar name to me, though I should have recognized it (see below). Photos in and near the deserted area. We’ve seen this kind of thing before but Okahara does it well. I want to see more of his work.
- Koga Eriko, Mt Kōya (pp. 79–92). The creator of Asakusa zenzai is this time up a sacred mountain (and working very differently). For my taste, a bit heavy on the colour filters — or conceivably, if it’s film, not heavy enough — but still attractive.
- Uchiyama Hideaki, “Underground” (pp. 97–110). More revelling in underground machinery from the poet of underground machinery. My inner fourteen-year-old loves his photos.
- Ōyama Yukio, Kathmandu (pp. 113–127). Here’s a surprise. When I Google this man I find calendar photography of beautiful Mt Fuji and so forth: highly respectable but strongly soporific. His night scenes of Kathmandu aren’t of scenery and they’re hardly suitable for calendars. I’ll look in his books when next in the photobook library.
In short, a pretty good collection.
Scheduled to come out twice a year, the magazine is all in Japanese. (For each photostory, the photographer and title are given in roman letters. But that’s it.) The website is all in Japanese. However, Paypal is accepted (unusual for a Japanese publisher or retailer), and the world outside Japan is recognized. (Tip of the hat to Andrew for pointing this out, in the comment below.)
This page gives the options for the wider world. Issue 1 is:
- 3000 yen for Asia as far west as India (but excluding what used to be the Soviet Union), Guam and Saipan
- 3300 yen for north and central America, Europe, the middle east, and Australasia
- 3800 yen for Africa and south America
I’m simplifying quite a bit. For example, “Africa” means just South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia; and Namibia and Tanzania remain mysterious. To check for details, run the page through a translation service. And/or write (concisely and simply, please) to email@example.com. (Additionally, I’m not going to return there in search of changes, and what’s said above is likely to go out of date.)
I’m indebted to Andrew and Sean (below) for pointing out two goofs in the original version of this post, both now (I hope) fixed. (Clearly I was far too sleepy when I posted the original.)
Here’s a third: above, I don’t describe the magazine.
Kaze no tabibito not a magazine either about or of photography, but instead one that combines photography and text. And the goal isn’t art (however defined) but instead something like encouraging people to think seriously about issues that merit thinking about seriously. This may make it sound dull, and in truth it’s hardly an exciting magazine. But almost all other Japanese magazines (exceptions including Days Japan and Kin’yōbi) concentrate so much on junk stories — personal (non-)issues in domestic politics (the Ozawa Ichirō soap opera, etc), fear/envy of Japan’s neighbours, electronic gizmos, looking good, buying more crap (often to look good), expensive-crap-porn (million-yen “designer” wristwatches, etc), celeb tittle-tattle, prettily dressed popsters (epitomized by AKB48 and Arashi), girls in (or not in) bikinis, etc — that seriousness is actually a refreshing change, or anyway it can be when it comes with good photos as here. (And the magazine isn’t fuelled by some religion, either.)
Inability to produce a list of the year’s best (from anywhere) doesn’t stop me from producing a list of the year’s best from Japan. For 2011 this was difficult, but this time around there’s a lot more good stuff (or I searched for it more energetically). And two dismissive messages I received a couple of weeks ago (“Top 10 lists, ugh!” and “the whole ‘best of’ thing leaves me a bit nauseous”) meant I just had to make a list. Even if you’re sufficiently insane to trust my judgment, the list can’t be authoritative: I haven’t yet got around to looking at Hamaura Shū’s Sorane and Watanabe Satoru’s Da.gasita. (Among what I didn’t bother to look at, there’s perhaps half of the product of the Araki and Moriyama industries — even putting aside the monumental contribution from Aperture — and of course a pile of books whose covers either exuded mere prettiness or just looked too boringly trendy.)
- Arita Taiji’s First born. I remember skipping those pages of Camera Mainichi devoted to the series decades ago, and now that a book is at last available it still doesn’t click. But plenty of people whose opinions I value do appreciate it, so take a look.
- What’s arguably the year’s most outstanding Japanese photobook: I exclude Obara Kazuma’s book Reset: Beyond Fukushima merely because it happens not to be Japanese. (Though perhaps it’s not Japanese by necessity. Would any Japanese publisher have had the guts and energy to produce it?)
Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto selection vol. 3 (Tokyo: Totem Pole Photo Gallery). 有元伸也, 『Ariphoto selection vol. 3』(東京: Totem Pole Photo Gallery). CiNii. The third fascicle (“volume” is rather a misnomer) of what I’d presumed was going to be a Shinjuku anthology but turns out not to be. Arimoto Shinya and his Rolleiflex returned to Tibet in 2009 (a decade after his Tibet book was published), and here’s the result. It’s 36.5×29.5 cm, containing just 16 B/W photographs, the majority of which are portraits. Like the two previous fascicles, it’s as slim and inexpensive as a zine but as well printed as a real photobook. You could buy two copies, cut them up and frame the pages for your personal Arimoto exhibition.
Dodo Shunji, Horizon far and away 1968–1977 (Tokyo: Akaaka-sha). 百々俊二, 『遙かなる地平 1968–1977』(東京: 赤々舎). ISBN 978-4-903545-87-5. CiNii, Worldcat. (This photo shows (A) the book as normally sold new in Japan: a translucent yellow cover goes over an obi which goes over (B) a very different cover; and (B) is how the book is sometimes advertised and perhaps also sold. Don’t worry; it’s the same book.)
The photos in Dodo Shunji’s earliest photobook (1986) are lively but copies of this are elusive; the photos in his second (1995) are never less than workmanlike but for me the spark had gone and wouldn’t return until Osaka (2010). Yet in magazines and so on there have been glimpses of early, energetic work. At last here it is, anthologized in well over four hundred pages. It’s in twenty-six lettered sections, A to Z: we get student riots, down-at-heel quarters of Osaka, Dodo’s fiancée-then-wife, the infant Dodo Arata, protests close to US military bases, Americans close to these bases, short trips to London, Pusan, Hokkaidō, and more. It ends with the newborn Dodo Takeshi.
The subject matter and mood put this together with what Araki (minus repetition and obsessions), Tōmatsu and Kitai were doing at about the same time. A lot of photos are included on the strength of their atmosphere. Nobody would want to plod from start to end of this collection of three-hundred-plus photos — you’d take it in (diverse) instalments. It’s a book full of energy, and a delight.
All the photos are in B/W; but a variety of papers are used, the particular paper chosen to match the particular story. Each section is titled in Japanese and English. An interview that runs to almost twenty pages and in which Dodo comments on each lettered section is in Japanese only; but a postscript, potted bio and so on are in English too. It’s on the expensive side for a photobook of 19×26 cm format, but then it has a lot of pages.
Hashimoto Katsuhiko. The other scenery. (Tokyo: Sokyusha). 橋本勝彦, 『もうひとつの風景』(東京: 蒼穹舍). (The English title only appears inconspicuously within the colophon; the reading of the Japanese title is Mō hitotsu no fūkei.) CiNii; here and here in Worldcat.
Another of (seemingly) dozens of elegantly packaged hardbacks from this publisher. The photographer finances the enterprise; and although there are editorial standards, a lot of these books are honourable and pleasant but no more. This one is squarely in the genre of views of untended corners of lived-in Japan, without people present. Perhaps the genre’s best-known exponent (for Tokyo) is Kikai Hiroh, but other good books include Fujita Mitsuru’s Zaisyo (the built-up countryside). (Such photos are also used for filler around photos with people in them.) Do we need yet more examples of the genre? No we don’t, but then we don’t need a lot of other photobooks either. And Hashimoto Katsuhiko has a good eye. What’s shown here is for the most part a crumbling, rusty, even grimy provincial Japan, but there’s always detail for pleasurable examination.
There are 52 B/W photographs, printed rather cheaply. (To my completely inexpert eye, the printed photos look like an educational demo of the results of the first stage of duotone printing.) I’m no fan of matching printing process to content and think the book would be more successful in tritone (of course economically impossible), but the lack of reproduction finesse does seem to add its own minor fascination.
In the back a list understandable even for Japanese and English monoglots says roughly where and when each photo was taken. And Hashimoto provides an afterword in the two languages. As for himself, we learn that he was born in Tokyo in 1942 and that he’s in a photo group named “Myaku”. Here’s a completely unrelated award-winning photo by him. For six days in October he had a small show at Nikon Salon bis (see the sole B/W photo here); I wish I’d known of it at the time, because I would have gone to see it. And this is all I know.
This is a small, unpretentious, modestly priced, and satisfying book.
Hatsuzawa Ari, Rinjin. 38-do-sen no kita (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten). 初沢亜利, 『隣人。38度線の北』(東京: 徳間書店). ISBN 978-4-19-863524-4. Some of the material on the copyright page is in English but elsewhere the book is only in Japanese. The title means “Neighbours: North of the 38th parallel”.
After his True feelings, a second photobook in one year by Hatsuzawa Ari, this time on North Korea, where he made four short trips from 2010. The book runs to 167 pages, of which pp. 5–78 are devoted to 平城 (Pyongyang) and pp. 79–153 to 新義州 (Sinŭiju), 咸興 (Hamhŭng), 元山 (Wŏnsan), 南浦 (Namp’o), 浮田 [?] and 金剛山 (Kŭmgangsan). Even in Japanese, there are no captions and there’s no other indication of whether the scene you’re looking at is (say) Hamhŭng or Wŏnsan.
Well, no matter. The neighbours north of the 38th parallel don’t always look so unlike the Japanese. They ride bikes, they frolic in the sea, they picnic, they wear Hello Kitty clothing — they tend to look rather normal as they go about their daily life. It’s a world away from the North Korea of Charlie Crane. (If the people stiffened or mugged for the camera, Hatsuzawa eliminated those photos.) This is no tourist memento but it’s sympathetic, and like True feelings it shows Hatsuzawa’s mastery of colour.
Ikazaki writes of Inaya Tol:
There is a very small and uncharted area on the Vishnumarti River, which flows behind the old royal place in Katmandu. This place is known as “Inaya [Tol]”. There are many Khasai buffalo slaughterhouses built tightly-packed in this area. Khasai people belong to the Newar, who were the earliest inhabitants [of] Nepal, and [are discriminated against].
He adds that the meat-eating Khasai are the lowest caste of the lowest class (or vice versa, or similar), but that their economic status has improved in recent years, so that members of (traditionally) higher castes/classes can now be seen employed by them.
There are no captions, in any language. There’s an afterword and a potted CV in Japanese and English, and that’s it.
The book alternates sections in B/W (printed well) and sections in colour (printed so-so). The former are more successful, but there are some fine photos in colour too.
There are dead animals (and bits thereof), live ones, and most disturbingly a live animal next to the head of a dead one, and a very small child wandering among the carnage. There’s a small amount of mild mugging by the workers, but not while they’re working: these aren’t psychopaths; they’re instead regular people doing a repellent job in a matter-of-fact way, which Ikazaki seems to view neutrally.
I picked this off a shelf because I noticed “Kimura” and sleepily mistook the book for some new collection by Kimura Ihee (whose deservedly famous colour photography of Paris has outside Japan quite eclipsed his B/W work). Wrong: this book is by a different and much younger Kimura. But it’s no disappointment. (Indeed, new collections of work by Kimura Ihee tend to be either humdrum or very expensive.)
Kodama here means “echo”, with mountain/valley connotations. (Elsewhere it’s also a surname whose meaning, if any, is unrelated.) Kimura Hajime photographed on the snowy west coast of Japan, following hunters. Clothing aside, the scenes could be from the 1960s or even earlier — emphasized by the strong compositions and high contrast, as if this were newly discovered work by Kojima Ichirō.
A major annoyance: a significant number of the photos (including the excellent one reproduced on the front cover) are split across facing pages; and because the book is (unlike, say, Concresco) bound conventionally, the viewer’s brain then has to relate two separated chunks of a photo while ignoring a substantial median chunk. (Calling all photobook designers/publishers: Don’t do this.) But enough other photos can be enjoyed uninterruptedly. And there are captions in both Japanese and English for each.
Ogawa Takayuki (1936–2008) was in New York for less than eleven months, from April 1968. Though he has long been known in Japan (p. 81 of The Observer’s Book of Japanese Photographers is devoted to him), and though CiNii reveals that he (or a namesake) provided the photographs for a 1980 book titled American antique dolls (アメリカ人形 アンティークドール), this seems to be his first real photobook. It’s quite a production, with texts by Nathan Lyons, Anne Wilkes Tucker and (very briefly) Robert Frank.
Look inside and you soon see that while it merits these texts it doesn’t need them. The book is compact (21×22 cm) and not cheap; but it’s also not exorbitantly priced and it has 120 or so excellently printed photos, which are in a sort of Ishimoto or Frank mode and (harder to pull off) are in the same league. There are no duds. This is good stuff indeed.
Visit half a dozen Tokyo photo exhibitions (something easily achieved in a single quarter of the city, in one afternoon), and chances are you’ll see at least one show of street photography. However feeble it might be, it will have more life in it than at least one of the non-street shows. And it could be very good. (One highlight this year: the first ever show by Komase Yutaka, still a student.) And then somehow the good stuff doesn’t get published. (I suppose it just doesn’t sell. People instead want little colour epiphanies, the diaristic, the whimsical, people posed to look blank, Sanai’s latest car, whatever.) Go to a photobookstore, and you’ll see that of the small selection of life-in-the-streets “street” material, much merely presents people just walking down the street toward the photographer, interacting not with the photographer or anyone or anything else, and instead just looking surly, glum or blank. The praise some of its long-term producers get sometimes seems to be for their sheer stamina; I wish them well but their work doesn’t tempt me.
But at last we have here a book of good new street stuff by somebody who’s (fairly) new. Tokyo presents 69 B/W photographs by Ōtsuka Megumi, taken from 2003 to 2012. The book design is minimal: I repeat that it’s by Ōtsuka Megumi as her name doesn’t appear anywhere on the cover or the title page (it’s only within the colophon). She was a student of Moriyama, but his influence is far less obvious than that of Friedlander. What you don’t get here are close-cropped photos of single people (surly, glum or blank) striding toward the camera. There’s always something going on, whether action or composition or both. Ōtsuka (also spelled “Ohtsuka”) has succeeded in putting out a book of Japanese B/W “street” photos that doesn’t make me long for Abe Jun’s Citizens or Kokubyaku nōto in its place. More than that, she even has photos of small kids doing the kind of mildly naughty thing (climbing up a traffic sign, two at a time) that conventional wisdom says (i) never occurs (the kids being glued to their Playstations or otherwise lobotomized) and (ii) would be unphotographable even if it did occur. (Plus she got some of her photos published in the current issue of the nervous Nippon Camera.)
Suda Issei, Fushikaden (Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa). 須田一政, 『風姿花伝』(東京: Akio Nagasawa).
In one of the good little essays masquerading as interview responses within the introductory material to the lavish 2011 “Only Photography” book on Suda Issei, Ferdinand Brüggemann rather reluctantly identifies the best section of Suda’s work. It’s the series Fūshi kaden, photographed in the seventies, serialized in Camera Mainichi from December 1975, collected in 1978 in a compact book within the popular series Sonorama shashin sensho, and in 2005 sampled within a utilitarian booklet for a JCII exhibition.
Suda was one of several photographers exploring the countryside of Japan — not a new idea (for example, the Edokko Kimura Ihee had spent a long time in Akita), but one that clearly excited Akiyama Ryōji, Naitō Masatoshi, Kitai, Takanashi, Tsuchida and others in this period as well as Suda. Suda concentrated on festivals, shrines and the like, photographing directly, clearly, and yet somehow elliptically. Hard for a lazy person such as myself to express well, so instead I’ll cop out and point you to a generous sample; and to views of the book itself. There’s variety, as you’ll soon see; but there’s no filler.
Suda not only got a volume within Sonorama shashin sensho, he also got one within the far more selective series Nihon no Shashinka, so he’s been known and respected in Japan for some time. (If he’s only recently become known in the anglosphere, it’s not for lack of advocacy. I suspect that the Euro-American obsession with Provoke is to blame.) But he hasn’t been trendy in Japan until recent years, as the price of the original Fūshi kaden book has joined those of the Sonorama shashin sensho volumes by Araki, Fukase and Moriyama; presumably bought up by people who plan to make a profit selling them to the kind of dimwit who also pays huge sums for books confidently advertised as “flawless” by a seller who admits to not having opened them to look for any flaws. (Pardon the rantlet.) The Sonorama shashin sensho books were good value thirty years ago, but the reproductions are small and poor by today’s standards. That and the high price of the Suda volume make a new edition particularly welcome.
But a new edition this isn’t. Not only does it add photos, it radically rearranges what it inherits from the older book (whose texts, in both Japanese and English, it also drops). For example, what was the first photo in the book is now the last. So think of it as a new and greatly improved selection from the same series.
The reproductions are bigger than they were in 1978, but not as big as in the “Only Photography” book, from which the printing quality differs too: the photos are glossier here and probably for this reason the blacks are slightly blacker. I hesitate to say they’re better, but even if (unlike me) you already have the “Only Photography” book they will not disappoint.
The book’s exterior is surely intended to help justify the book’s horribly high price and to impress; for me, the impression is funereal. No matter: the photographs are fascinating and the reproductions are fine; that’s enough.
There’s a short afterword by Suda, and captions (placename and year), all in both Japanese and English. There’s no explanation of what it is that you’re looking at, merely of when and where it transpired. The photos are enjoyable without this, but I’d be interested to read about them all the same. (In Once a year, itself long overdue for republication, Homer Sykes gave us photos and text.)
Tatsumi Naoya, Japan (Warabi, Saitama: Tatsumi Naoya). 辰巳直也, 『日本』(埼玉県蕨市: 辰巳直也). CiNii. The English title appears in the colophon.
I’ve already seen more than enough photos of the backs (and perhaps the fronts too) of near-naked tattooed men, so the cover of this book wouldn’t have appealed; which is perhaps why it was months before I noticed it within Sōkyūsha’s excellent bookshop. For a self-published Japanese photobook, it was remarkably large and had a refreshingly bold title, so I ignored the tattooed male and picked it up.
The book’s about 30×21 cm; it’s unpaginated but about 18 mm thick. It consists of three parts: “Nishinari 1995–2001″, “Okinawa 2003″ and “Shinjuku, 2007–2011″. Nishinari is an impoverished central borough (“ward”) of Osaka, and in this part Tatsumi Naoya presents street portraits of people who I suppose are occasional day labourers or are destitute. Not all the portraits are complete successes but enough are. The Okinawa section presents a good variety of Okinawa, in blazing colour: late Tōmatsu (more) perhaps here meets Uchihara’s Son of a bit (less). The Shinjuku section has (not quite so blazing) colour street photos of the entertainment area, concentrating on the young denizens with their chemically enhanced coiffure and painful shoes; a small percentage of duds here but the great majority have this or that kind of interest. All in all Tatsumi delivers not just volume but content and satisfaction.
PS (31 December): John Sypal has published, not his top ten, not his top three, but his top three of my top ten. I shan’t spoil the fun by divulging what they are; instead, see for yourself. As well as comment, he did what I couldn’t be bothered to do: take and provide photos of his choices (or anyway, of two of them).
PPS (31 January): And another list of favourite Japanese photobooks of 2012.