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.
It’s been 24 years since the opening of the Seikan tunnel, linking Honshū and Hokkaidō (Japan’s two biggest islands). The tunnel’s 54 km long, making it the longest rail tunnel anywhere and over twice the length of the longest road tunnel. Planning and surveying took decades, construction started in 1971, and the tunnel opened in 1988. This Aomori government page makes the staggering claim that over time the number of workers totalled 13.8 million.
A search engine will find photographs of the construction of the tunnel. Here’s Jiji’s selection: strong on ceremony but weak on anything else. (The website of the tunnel museum offers stuffed dolls but not a single photo of construction.)
Look up 青函 (i.e. Seikan) in the OPAC of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and there are three hits. One’s for a 1988 book about the ferry (now history). The other two are for a book about the tunnel: 男たちの海峡 青函トンネル風雪20年 中田健造写真集 Otoko-tachi no kaikyō: Seikan tonneru fūsetsu 20-nen: Nakada Kenzō shashinshū. (If you’re in the library, the call numbers are P810/N31-2/1 and P810/N31-2/1a.) The title means something like: “Strait of men: 20 years of Seikan tunnel hardships: A photobook by Nakada Kenzō” (“strait” as in Hormuz, not dire). This 1988 book is a very early entry in the BeeBooks series: according to its spine, no. 21; according to the publisher’s list, no. 23. It’s tiny: 17×18.5 cm and about fifty pages. Printing quality is 1980s (some later BeeBooks would have superb printing), and some pages have as many as twelve photos (all B/W). You get the sense that the book doesn’t do the photographs justice, but sometimes the reproductions are so short of detail that you can’t be quite sure.
It’s not that there are other books and the museum’s library is simply weak in the genre of tunnel-construction photography. As far as I know, Nakada was the only photographer to have spent much time in the tunnel before its completion, his is the only sizeable collection of photos of the construction process, and this is the only photobook that exists.
Nakada very generously gave me a copy of this rare book when I visited his current exhibition. Today’s the last day of this show at JCII of a different selection of the same title (男たちの海峡 青函トンネル風雪20年 Otoko-tachi no kaikyō: Seikan tonneru fūsetsu 20-nen). The wall-space isn’t wasted, but the prints are big enough (and excellently printed). And there’s a 32-page booklet of the kind that normally accompanies a JCII show, a booklet that like the earlier book is rather too full, with as many as six photos per page. Again, some do little more than jog the memory of what you’ve seen. Gems among them: top left on p.11, top left on p.16, bottom of p.22.
Not all the photos are of work. There are perhaps one or two too many of work-related celebrations and ceremonies. But there are also good photos of family life: p.27 of the JCII booklet has two in particular: one of a couple of boys nonchalantly dragging their bags along the road and another of a mother and two young children that might be one of the high points of an early book of Araki’s.
But mostly they are of work. When Douglas Stockdale recently asked about photobooks about work, I had trouble coming up with Japanese examples. Two generations ago Japanese photographers whether international (Hamaya Hiroshi) or local (Shimizu Bukō) photographed work, but there’s little sign of this among the contemporary Japanese photobooks at London. Predictably, a visit to NADiff two days ago brought nothing related; instead, I was mostly treated to photographers artists working in lens-based media tastefully exploring and exhibiting their sensibilities (which tended to resemble each other). All very worthy, but my own tastes instead run to Yamamoto Sakubei.
Paging photobook publishers: If there were a well-edited, sensibly-sized collection of Nakada’s photos in duotone, I’d buy a couple of copies.
All the images above are copyright © Nakada Kenzō.
The recent Thames & Hudson book Street Photography Now is a mixed bag, but among its gems are panoramas of İstanbul by Arif Aşçı. I had to see the book from which they were taken.
Aşçı’s İstanbul Panorama has now been lying on my sofa for a long time, and for a simple reason: the floor seems unworthy of it, and there’s nowhere else to put it. It’s 34 cm high and 49 cm wide. Here it is with two other books; observe how it disappears into the distance. It’s thick, too: plenty of photos inside. Read the rest of this entry »
Ipy Girl Ipy popped up when I was idly looking through listings for photobooks at Yahoo Auction (in the āto shashin and not the josei tarento section, honest). I’d never heard of the book, its photographer or its model, but it was going cheap and the sample page spreads looked interesting so I sprang for it. It arrived a couple of days later. Read the rest of this entry »
Independent photobooks, yes please! After all, who’d condemn photobooks to dependence or serfdom? And hooray for The Independent Photobook, an excellent browse. But all too often I read its descriptions of new publications merely for the unintended humour. The current top four:
Some of these may be good, but I wouldn’t know because I didn’t look: the very blurb somehow managed to make each sound no more whelming than does the modish mainstream. But the other day among all the art-school stuff there appeared:
“This unique country” being Belarus.
At last, somebody (Bill Crandall) who actually spent time and effort trying to get the best photographs of something. Most refreshing. A quick look at the photographs to which this linked confirmed the good impression. Minutes later, I ordered the book. And a very few days afterwards, it arrived. Read the rest of this entry »
When Dan Abbe invited me to contribute my list of the top ten of 2011 to the 2011 street level eyecurious Japanese photobook extravaganza blowout, I was flattered but nonplussed. It was easy to come up with ten I liked, but hard to come up with more than three that thrilled (and of which no more than one was by any one photographer). Thinking that I might have forgotten this or that masterpiece and wanting to jog my memory, I took a quick look at the website of every photobook publisher I could think of. No, no masterpiece there that I’d forgotten — but there was word of a book I’d never seen but that looked good: Asakusa Zenzai (浅草善哉), by Koga Eriko (古賀絵里子). Read the rest of this entry »
1930s’ Japanese “street photography” was lively — work by Hamaya, Horino, Kuwabara, Ōkubo and others is known and reprinted. But Japanese street photography is older than that. Kumagai Kōtarō was photographing Hakodate in the mid-twenties. Read the rest of this entry »
The top ten photobooks of 2011 — everybody else is listing them, so why not me? Answer: laziness! And so instead, my top three Japanese photobooks of the year: Read the rest of this entry »
In order that we lazy people don’t have to root around for all the best-of lists and make our own best of the best-ofs, Marc Feustel has considerately done this for us. And his job isn’t over: As stragglers reach the finishing tape of posting their own best-of lists, he’ll update his tallies (or so he promises).
For now, his list starts:
I’ve never seen Redheaded Peckerwood, so no comment on that. As for Watabe’s A Criminal Investigation, it’s a lovely package for the book-fondler, but its content hardly competes with what’s in at least two other books by Watabe that now cost far less.
Still, if all this excitement results in book publication of excellent work by Watabe that hasn’t yet appeared in any book, then so much the better. More so if the publisher concentrates on what’s important and prices the result accordingly.
Perhaps best of all, a big, fat (vulgar Taschen-style) anthology of photo features run by the Japanese photo magazines — Camera, Asahi, Sankei, Mainichi, Nippon, and more — back before their enfeebled survivors nervously shied away from Japanese “street” material: features that were often by photographers whose work would never become well known but that (for me) outclass much of what’s celebrated these days. (Example by Iwaoka Gorō.) Copyright nightmares would probably rule out such a book, and it might be a commercial disaster even if it somehow did emerge (no brand names for the bewildered masses to latch on to; and insufficiently introverted or pretty); but I can dream. . . .
In a career of over 35 years, Kikai Hiroh has pursued four long-term projects, each (with rare exceptions) black and white: portraits in Asakusa (with no distracting background), urban scenes in Tokyo (with no distracting people), India, and Turkey. But while early installments of each of the first three appeared in Camera Mainichi (†1985), Turkey started later: Kikai’s first visit there was in 1994 and the earliest appearance I’ve found is in Asahi Camera of April 1997. And while each of the other three series was the subject of one or more books by the end of the century, the Turkey series got its first book only this year, with Anatolia. Here it is. Read the rest of this entry »