Oka Tomoyuki’s spoilPosted: 07/01/2014
A botayama is a slag heap, so bota is slag — but no, Wikipedia says that the content of a “slag heap” isn’t slag; the whole thing is more properly a “spoil tip” and its content is spoil.
After explaining the word bota, the front of the obi says 石炭から石油へ、そして電子力へと移り変わってきた時代と、そこに暮らす人々をボタ山は静かに映し出す; or something like “At a time when coal has changed to oil and then to nuclear energy, spoil tips reflect the people who live there.”
The very first photo (like the very last) of this new book by Oka Tomoyuki is surely of coal. And there follow views of spoil tips. There are some dilapidated buildings, people walking over what might be spoil tips with sparsely added topsoil, people walking along country lanes, thicker vegetation, people taking naps, details of gardens, portraits. Some of the same people reoccur — surely these must be the photographer’s parents, this his brother. . . .
This hardback has 140 photos or so, each numbered. On a double-page spread in the back is a two-page memo of which photo is what — or rather, where and when. A typical example:
22 桂川町天道 1980
meaning that plate 22 is of a photo taken in Tentō, Keisen in 1980. And we’re told that the prefecture is Fukuoka when (as here) not otherwise noted. There’s never any explanation of what it is that we see, let alone any comment on it — just where and when.
But at least we have the placenames. A first glance suggests that most are in Fukuoka and the rest elsewhere in Kyūshū. Not so: a bunch of photos are from the coalmining area of Hokkaidō; and some are from such obviously coal-free areas as Okinawa and Tokyo. So instead the book seems to be a collection of whatever was important to Oka in almost forty years of photography, notably life above or near a coalfield that hasn’t been worked for over thirty years but was still being mined when he started out. It’s not in chronological order, and as constantly looking up the years of photos is tiresome the reader stops — or anyway, I stopped bothering, and instead did some more thinking for myself, noticing changing shapes of car, changing fashions and more before looking in the back.
Thanks to its format — 19 × 22 cm (and thus close to that of The Americans) — this intriguing book is very portable and I’ve enjoyed reading it on the train.
Shashin Kōen-rin (写真公園林) means “photograph park wood” (“wood” as in “this dark wood“). It’s run by the photographer Hama Noboru (perhaps best known for his giant book Vacant land 1989). On the rear of the book, the obi proudly lists two other books from the same publisher: one (by Hama) was published in 1990 and the other (by Ōshima Hiroshi) in 1987. Sales are via Sot l’y laisse (ソリレス書店), which hasn’t yet got around to mentioning Bota on its Facebook page. The book is distributed in Japan by Tsubame (ツバメ出版流通) (whose name means “swallow”).
The only biographical info I can find about Oka is on this PDF from Tsubame about the book. My translation:
— though 36ex.com doesn’t seem to mention the book or even its photographer.