other people’s suggestions for Japanese photobooks

The other 190 or so choices for Japanese photobooks are in. I’d prefer not to comment on most, but some merit a few words.

Nicolas Codron’s list can’t decide between a book of Iwamiya’s and one of Araki’s. No comment on Araki’s book, which I don’t know; but Iwamiya’s Sado (1962) is (or would be) a good choice. Codron doesn’t illustrate it; and I don’t have a copy. (The 1977 Asahi Sonorama reworking of its content isn’t bad, and copies are plentiful and affordable.) There are also worthwhile books of photos of Sado by Kondō Tomio and Tomiyama Haruo, and probably more besides. I’d never have chosen either the book by Shinoyama or that by Nakamura, but the others are a pleasing combination of the good and (even better) the promising but totally unfamiliar to me. Don’t miss the “backstage rambling” that follows the individual write-ups.

Among Nina Poppe and Rémi Coignet’s recommendations is Sawada Tomoko’s School Days, an oddity that’s hugely more absorbing and enjoyable than any number of books of pretty self-portraits by young Japanese photographers. I stupidly failed to buy it when it was in print, but it’s one to look out for.

Marc Feustel’s list is thought-provoking. Indeed, yesterday it nudged me to go to the library of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Sorry, Dance does nothing for me and neither does Quinault, but Morinaga’s book has to be seen. Tamura’s book is good too: though Match & Co. often indulges in gimmickry (or mere gargantuanism), it doesn’t do so here.

Ferdinand Brueggeman’s recommendations include the recent Berlin collection of Suda’s — very expensive (I suppose because of the “limited edition” nonsense) but perhaps worth it.

Of the two recommendations by the person running Osiris that aren’t published by Osiris, Hara Mikiko’s book in the “Hysteric” series should be good. I bought my copy from the photographer at an exhibition of the same work, which I liked a lot, but the book turns out to be a bit disappointing. The printing looks good enough, but somehow turns out not to be: the occasional telling detail that I remember from the print on the wall is submerged in the book. This book is worth a look but Hara merits a second and better one.

Most interesting by far (to me) of what I know among Dan Abbe and Andrew Thorn’s picks is Ariphoto Selection vol. 2. The bad news: Ariphoto Selection vol. 1 is out of print. The good: Ariphoto Selection vol. 3 is coming out only a week or so from now.

Of the ten from Sōkyūsha, I’ll take Nagano’s late installment of “Distant Gaze”, of course, and also Hokkaido 1971–1976. I’d have different choices for the other eight, including Nagano’s recent collection Hongkong Reminiscence 1958 (香港追憶), Onaka’s odd little The Dog in France, Kurihara Shigeru (栗原滋)’s Rasen (螺旋) 1973-1992 Okinawa, Itō Eimei (伊藤英明)’s Nowake (野分), and Hashimoto Katsuhiko (橋本勝彦)’s Mō hitotsu no fūkei (もう一つの風景).

Among this set of not-Japanese photobooks, Asakusa Portraits is good, even if you have any (or all) of the other collections of the same series.

Among this bunch, chosen by Aya Tomoka, go for Abe Jun’s Citizens (and his Kokubyaku nōto, still in print, and illustrated and reviewed here). The Noorderlicht edition of Suzuki’s Soul and Soul is a facsimile of the annotated dummy; there’s also a facsimile (from Hakusuisha) of the finished item.

I don’t remember (or know) some of the Tosei-sha suggestions. But I’ll warmly second those for Zokushin, Min’yō sanga, Gunkan Apartments, and Zaisyo. (Copies of the first edition of Zokushin are easy to find at palatable prices, but don’t bother. This second edition has far better printing, and more photos.)

Ivan Vartanian’s Tokyo recommendations . . . hmmm, I’ll just take Suda’s Waga Tōkyō 100. Its printing quality is ho-hum but the book is essential all the same. As for any book distributed for the Nikkor Club, there are plenty of copies going cheaply.

Specifics aside, I’ve mixed feelings about the recent enthusiasm outside Japan for (mostly recent) Japanese photobooks. Yes there are a huge number of them, and the best are remarkable, and a lot contain superb photography. But a lot of those listed seem mildly pleasing (if that), and forgettable. Perhaps it’s unfortunate that early this summer I acquired a copy of Ernest Cole’s House of Bondage (which I’d known only by reputation) and then the recent Steidl anthology of Cole’s photography. Cole dealt with apartheid, and luckily no atrocity is similarly destructive in Japan; but the barriers Cole had to surmount were formidable; and, subject matter and danger of arrest aside, his work is stunningly good. I then look at a pile of recent, critically acclaimed Japanese photobooks . . . and wonder why I bother. Cole is of course an extreme; if he’s incomparable here, then how about more recent photography from outside Japan? A set of ten recent books from (say) Dewi Lewis, Lannoo, Powerhouse, Schilt or Trolley is more likely to include a couple that excite me than are the ten latest from Japanese publishers, large or small.

This diaristic, studiedly ordinary mainstream of Japanese photography that ten or more of the “specialists” like but that I rarely do (photography that might manage to illuminate the infraordinary but for me rarely does) — Is part of the reason for its critical popularity perhaps its very innocuousness? For me, it’s often just lazy and soporific.

New Yorkers (actual and honorary), I hope you enjoy some of what you see. (And there are plenty of delights that don’t appear: There’s been no recommendation of anything by Kimura Ihee, and the self-published books have strangely omitted the pair by Takiura Hideo. . . .) But if a lot of what you do see leaves you blank, you’re not alone: it leaves me blank too. This is merely Nature’s way of nudging us to investigate Finnish photobooks, Lithuanian photobooks, Turkish photobooks, and more — not instead of but in addition to good Japanese photobooks, of course.


5 Comments on “other people’s suggestions for Japanese photobooks”

  1. Breslin Sean says:

    Have you got Jun Abe’s Osaka? (in colour)

    I can’t decide whether it’s a half-arsed pile of shite or a work of complete genius.

    But based on my experiences of Osaka my heart tells me I should settle on the latter. The last photo in the book sums the city brilliantly and reminds me why I’d always choose it over Tokyo.

    • microcord says:

      Yes, I bought a copy. I bought it via email, without having first seen it. I ordered it together with Abe’s “Creatures” (or “Creaturers” as its front cover calls it).

      What a disappointment that package was. I don’t think I’ve spent more than ten minutes looking at either book.

      Something about “Creature(r)s” does have some appeal to some people: The book appears on p.157 of volume 1 of 写真集を読む (ISBN 4839820104)..

  2. eo silver says:

    give it up photography is nothing more than freezing the moment it is your experience and baggage if you will , that makes it what it is

  3. Sean says:

    e o silver, you of the false dichotomy. Why not have both– experience the ever-changing moment AND the attempt at capturing it? It’s fun that way!


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