Buy more of it, or

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.)

Ueno eki no makuai, the 1983 editionUeno eki no makuai, the 2012 editionTsutaya’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.)

Zhang Xiao, TheySo 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.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s