the photobooks of 2014

No “best of” nonsense here. Instead, here are all of the photobooks (defined broadly) published in 2014 (narrowly) that I acquired.

pile of 2014 photobooks

(Keep in mind the proportions of the pile above: the photos below of the individual books are at wildly different scales.)

Rob Hornstra has given some handy tips on how to get on end-of-year lists. Such as:

A GOOD NETWORK (send them stuff, beautiful things, [illegible], social media)

(Or that’s what Colin Pantall says.)

No, no, all but one of this lot, I bought. Aside from books duly paid for, none of the photographers/writers has sent me a beautiful thing, honest.

Each of the books is good in its way, but I do have qualms about having acquired the whole lot: I don’t have the space. (Writing them all up here might somehow nudge me towards buying fewer next year.)

Araki Nobuyoshi, Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife

As Araki approaches 75, he’s lost his wife, his cat, his sight in one eye, and his house; he’s come through a bout of cancer; and his sense of mortality is acute. But he still seems energetic and satyric. So he’s a lovable-old-rogue national treasure. (The type isn’t rare in Japan, but previous national-treasure photographers have tended to devote their later years to creating somniferous series of Buddhist statuary and so on.) This year Araki’s had a big show at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Niigata City Art Museum, and (Ginza) Shiseido Gallery, which is about as good as it can get as long as the already clean, fresh and well-appointed Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is inscrutably “closed for renovations”. I haven’t yet seen the show, but here’s its book.

According to Wikipedia, ōjō means “rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha” (not to be confused with the Pure Land of Sanrio); those in search of naked ladies will be seriously disappointed. But we do get about three hundred pages of photos, followed by sporadically interesting texts (Japanese and English). Of course there’s Yōko; there are stages in the life of Araki’s cat; the toy-strewn roof, and other series one might expect. There’s some (not enough) of the very early Ginza hipshots. There’s a large chunk of not-so-special photos of people sitting in the train. There’s Tokyo seen through smashed glass. (Apparently the Master smashes a lens annually to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima, or something. I don’t understand how both a broken lens element [or filter] and much of a townscape could simultaneously be more or less in focus on 24×36 mm; but I have worse things to smash with a hammer and so I’m not going to experiment.) And there are other pleasures. And plenty of the totally humdrum. (There’s a photo from last year of Araki with Umezu Kazuo. Yes I know what the hand contortion refers to, and it’s good to see old boys enjoying themselves, but . . . that’s it.) However, with Araki, it’s “the greater the quantity, the more arākist”. Or so I’m repeatedly instructed.

Well, disregard any content that doesn’t float your boat, and enjoy what does. And don’t rush to dispose of your other Araki books. Naked ladies aside, I infer that images of the world outside Japan aren’t thought suitable for the afterlife, or for whatever reason we get nothing of Seoul, from where, unburdened by celebrity, Araki has been able to bring back good photos.

Araki Nobuyoshi, Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife

Araki Nobuyoshi = 荒木経惟. 往生写集 = Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife. Tokyo: Heibonsha. ISBN 978-4-582-27811-8.

Kikai Hiroh, Seken no hito

The bunkobon format (A6, or 105×148 mm) isn’t obviously suited to photobooks. Still, some of the various bunkobon publishers give it a try now and again. And the few examples can be long-lasting: all four volumes of a Chikuma set on the Japanese photos of Kimura Ihei are still in print 19 years after publication.

Here’s the first bunkobon by Kikai: more photos in the series variously titled Kings, Persona and Asakusa portraits than ever before gathered in a single book. (The title this time around means “people of the world”, or more precisely those of the loka, whether singular or plural.) It has close to four hundred photos; and while there’s no real black in them the printing is detailed, so the book is no mere novelty. If you want maximum Kikai portraiture per yen or gram, this is the book for you. I enjoy dipping into it and encountering photos I’ve not seen elsewhere. For example, of a girl with a zip-fastened bag in the shape of a hand grenade — yes, in Japan even a hand grenade may be kawaii — and, mysteriously, the character 魃 (hiderigami, a demon of droughts), tattooed on the back of her hand, staring at the camera.

As usual the photos are all captioned; unsurprisingly there’s not a word of English in the book.

Kikai Hiroh, Seken no hito

Kikai Hiroh = 鬼海弘雄. 世間のひと (Seken no hito). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō. ISBN 978-4-480-43156-1.

Hara Mikiko, These are days

These are days is just the second collection by Hara Mikiko. Could it be a response to Ishiuchi Miyako’s cromulently titled One days? Whatever Hara was thinking of, we get 25 colour photos from her 6×6 Super Ikonta rangefinder, well printed but in a stapled booklet and priced to go. (Another publisher would have given it a cloth cover, added “limited, numbered and signed” mumbo-jumbo, and trebled the price.) Most of the photos are in the “outtakes from something that might be interesting” genre: straggly plants, people with their eyes closed, the out of focus: Tokyo’s photobookshops have tons of stuff that looks like this and is negligible; but maybe because Hara takes her time and is selective, it starts to work here.

Hara Mikiko, These are days

Hara Mikiko = 原美樹子. These are days. Tokyo: Osiris. ISBN 978-4-905254-04-1.

Ogawa Yasuhiro, Shimagatari

Ogawa Yasuhiro is best known for Slowly down the river. His new book, Shimagatari (“island tale(s)”) looks very different: it’s in black and white, it’s of more or less depopulated places, and with its near-black expanses and tilted horizons it could have come from the 1970s. Ogawa is drawn to the islands; and what with economic gloom, rural depopulation, the decline of fishing, and perhaps also the recent appetite of the book’s editor (Sokyusha’s proprietor) for photos of decaying provincial Japan. But unlike the monotonous majority of recent books of decaying provincial Japan, this one took almost a decade to create and shows great variety. For each of the circa 65 photos, island and year are specified; but there’s almost no other explanation, leaving the reader (or this reader) eager for more information. And also eager to visit some of these islands.

Ogawa Yasuhiro, Shimagatari

Ogawa Yasuhiro = 小川康博. 島語り = Shimagatari. Tokyo: Sokyusha. ISBN 978-4-904120-43-9.

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto 5

Each “volume” of Ariphoto selection is a large-format (somewhere between B4 and A3) booklet of twenty pages, one excellent B/W photo on almost every page. The first two are of Tokyo (mostly Shinjuku) street portraiture, the third took a diversion to Tibet, and the fourth came back to Shinjuku. (All four are now sold out.) But now Ariphoto selection 5 depicts Okutama, Tokyo’s fairly wild west — primarily, its insects. The insects (and the occasional spider, etc) are shown close up, in detail; but it’s further from conventional insect photography (or Larry Fink’s mantis photography) than from the explorations in pattern by the restless Yasui Nakaji. For anyone who appreciates B/W and has at least a little curiosity about bugs. As always, you could buy two copies, cut the pages apart, and frame them.

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto 5

Arimoto Shinya. Ariphoto selection 5. Tokyo: Totem Pole Photo Gallery.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline

In 2011 Zhang Xiao won the Prix HSBC, bringing with it Actes Sud’s publication of the book Coastline. For this series he went all along the coastline of China (or so I’ve read). Some photos are of townscapes that aren’t obviously close to the sea, but these are a minority. As “the Chinese” are often depicted toiling away (when not lost within more or less surreal cityscapes), it’s refreshing for Chinese people to be depicted doing nothing in particular.

Though the Actes Sud Coastline is still in print, along comes a new and larger book of the same title. The earlier Coastline gives you about forty photos for an RRP of €25; the later 118 for $65. There’s a lot of overlap; either one book should be enough.

The sunshine is muted, whether by loess or smog, and the colour balance is slightly pinkish. The photos tend toward seaside “street”, with indecisive moments aplenty. There are some very odd scenes indeed, for a example one with a dozen or so model elephants and hundreds of model bison seemingly abandoned in a park.

The new book is “Swiss bound”: this is supposed to “look handmade yet totally refined”, but to me it just looks like a regular hardback whose front endpaper someone has sliced with a box cutter; I wonder how well the book will last if shelved vertically. That matter aside, it’s a very handsome package.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao. 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline. Sham Shui Po, Kowloon: Jiazazhi Press. ISBN 978-988-12631-5-5. Book of colour photographs, no captions. With a booklet containing texts in both Chinese and English.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸線 = Coastline

When Zen Foto Gallery (Roppongi) gave Zhang a show (September–October), it published a booklet to accompany this. I bought the Jiazazhi Coastline at the show. But then, because I’m either an idiot or (shudder) a collector, I also bought this booklet, whose content is anyway in the book. Its circa 35 pages present about 26 photos. The photos across double-page spreads survive this fairly well. Printing is good too, so it’s a decent substitute for one or other of the Coastline books.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸線 = Coastline

Zhang Xiao. 海岸線 = Coastline. Tokyo: Zen Foto Gallery. Texts in Japanese, Chinese and English.

Jens Olof Lasthein, Home among black hills

Jens Olof Lasthein is the master of colour panoramic “street” (which can be sampled within the patchy but worthwhile Street photography now). Here’s his report from Charleroi, whose fabric remains much as I hazily remember it, where times are hard but where the streets and bars remain full of life.

Lots of photos here: I’m not going to count. As in Lasthein’s Moments in between and White Sea, Black Sea before it, every photo is split across two pages. The photos survive the mistreatment; but quite why a photographer and three respected photobook publishers (Journal, Max Ström, Dewi Lewis) would agree to screw up photos in this way is a mystery. And similarly to its predecessors, this book has saturated colours. It comes with diary entries by Lasthein and an essay by Mano Calvo (the Charleroi restaurateur?), all worth reading.

All those brick terraces — I suddenly think of Byker, and how the new photography in Byker revisited is virtually all indoors. What would Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen say about this book? Now there’s a photography talk show I’d attend.

Or rather, I’d attend it if it were held in Tokyo — and I see no prospect of that. Lasthein writes that “This project came into being during a residence initiated by Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi. . . .” The Museum of Photography, Seoul adds that Lasthein exhibited there in 2008; and as this new book has texts in Swedish, French, English and Korean, presumably there’s a new exhibition there too. So the Charleroi museum and the Seoul museum differ from Tokyo’s timid photo museum, where (when it’s open at all) photography by foreigners seem to have to be of Japan, very famous, by the dead, prettily dull, or some combination thereof.

Jens Olof Lasthein, Home among black hills

Jens Olof Lasthein. Home among black hills. Stockholm: Journal. ISBN 978-91-981253-6-8. Text in English, French, Swedish and Korean.

Derk Zijlker, Souvenir de Charleroi

We’re among black hills again. “Charleroi was voted ‘ugliest city in the world’ in 2008 by readers of a Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant”, starts Derk Zijlker. This of course drew him to Charleroi, which he found himself liking more and more. Souvenir de Charleroi combines townscapes, street portraiture, and yes, “street”, for a total of about eighty photos of this remarkable city and its outskirts. But even in the “street”, Zijlker keeps his distance, so this book complements Lasthein’s bulkier one. A (well printed, colour) photo per page, which is how a far greater percentage of photobooks should be — if the photos are worth looking at, as they definitely are here. Lots of little pleasures here: one of my favorites is simply of a man enjoying a cig as he props up the « taverne de la place ‹Chez les Belges› ».

Derk Zijlker, Souvenir de Charleroi

Derk Zijlker. Souvenir de Charleroi. Amsterdam: Derk Zijlker. ISBN 978-90-822856-0-4. No captions, texts in French and English.

Adam Lach, Stigma

Stigma is a compact book about a group of Gypsies from Romania living in scrubland in suburban Wrocław. (Maybe there’s a desire to avoid confusion with “Romania” and “Romanian”, often mentioned here; but for whatever reason “Gypsy” is the term consistently used in the book, so I’ll use it here.) They’re in Poland because they heard it’s possible to make a living there; even when this turns out to be largely untrue, and even though they’re stigmatized by Polish Gypsies as well as other Poles, life is still better than in Romania. (Reality check from Wikipedia for those who associate Romania with sunbathing on the Black Sea: while the record low in Wrocław is −29°C, that in Iași is −36°C.)

The book has about 48 colour photos; a couple of these take up double-page spreads but most occupy a single page. There are individuals, groups, interiors, people within their self-made huts, the huts’ insides and outsides, and more: it’s well rounded. A few photos are, by the more obvious criteria, boring. (Part of a tree at night, with a couple of lights in the distance. Er, yes.) Perhaps it’s the colours, perhaps it’s the editing; but for whatever reason, they’re all more or less absorbing and (unusually!) don’t strike me as mere filler.

The Gypsies’ circumstances are pretty miserable. Their ramshackle huts stand on what looks like wasteland. (Have there been chemical spills there?) A man holds up a rat by its tail. A baby’s cot is a very used Ikea bag. But the Gypsies get on with life. Misery isn’t on display.

The photos alternate with first-person accounts by the Gypsies (transcribed by Lach himself, Darek Koźlenko and Katarzina Dybowska). Their lives may not be solitary, but they sound intermittently nasty and brutish. It’s these accounts that explain the book’s blunt title: the Gypsies are despised for not working (and because of other stereotyping), want to work, but can’t get work because they’re despised. (And they may be incapable of the kinds of work that are on offer, having had little or no experience of anything like it. Cf the plight of some of the North Koreans who’ve made it to the South.) There’s plenty of food for thought here.

The printing here is excellent. (Credit where it’s due: Chromapress.) Physically, the book is elaborately assembled, with gatefolds and a patched-up cover. (Credit again: Poligrafia Bracia Szymańscy.) Good, but I hope the material comes out later within an edition of thousands rather than hundreds, so that more people can read it.

Adam Lach, Stigma

Adam Lach. Stigma. Warsaw: Adam Lach. ISBN 978-83-939574-0-8. Text in English. (There’s also a Polish-language edition.)

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger, Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria

Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria are cultural learnings of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic for make benefit glorious kickers of start at, and you too. Writer and photographer examine a sliver of a smallish nation . . . yes, it does sound familiar:

Transnistria Abkhazia
Quasi-nation Area 4,162 km² 8,660 km²
Population 505,000 243,000
The easternmost westernmost
part of Moldova Georgia
but friendlier to Russia Russia
Major language Russian Russian
Major ethnicity neo-Soviet Abkhazian
Book Title Back in the USSR Empty Land . . .
Pages 146 272
Photos a lot 102
Writer Rory MacLean Arnold van Bruggen
Photographer Nick Danziger Rob Hornstra
Top billing writer photographer
Price £20 €35

Although the two are very different in tone, as is evident from the very start:

Sunlight sparkles off the broad Dniester River. Grapes glisten in verdant vine terraces above Kamenka. Smugglers’ tracks wind across the snow and into silent woods. Patriotic oligarchs in Gucci tracksuits hunt wild boar with ak-47s. A springtime breeze loosens the blossoms from the apricot trees, scattering them over Russian peacekeepers guarding old Soviet munitions dumps. At the Che Guevara High School of Political Leadership the party faithful learn how to launch ‘spontaneous actions’ while sustaining the half lotus yoga position.

The book is enjoyable if perhaps overly sprinkled with “patriotic Soviet captions approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the 60th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution” and related jocosity. As we proceed, the quasi-nation sounds less like Abkhazia (or the much-photographed Nagorno-Karabakh) than Northern Cyprus. An elegant map at the front is marked with approximate directions and precise distances to Moscow, Monaco and Harrods, these being major destinations for the minority to whom the cash flows. And the photos? Townscapes, interiors, portraits: a portrayal of Transnistria that seems well rounded (though I’m not qualified to judge).

We read more than once that Transnistria is no North Korea. But the text doesn’t mention Danziger, or what the pair have done or plan to do together. I learn from the interweb that they’ve recently been to North Korea and had an exhibition of the results, for which there’s a catalogue: worth looking out for.

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger, Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger. Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria. London: Unbound. ISBN 978-1-78352-062-6.

Christopher Herwig, Soviet bus stops

There’s something of a boom in photobooks of Soviet and (sometime) satellite architecture: Cosmic communist constructions photographed, Soviet modernism, Spomenik, Ostalgia, and more. Does the world also need a photobook that limits itself to Soviet bus stops? Yes of course it does, when the book is Christopher Herwig’s Soviet bus stops. Curious, eclectic, energetic — what Martin Parr is to photobooks, Herwig is to Soviet bus stops. While enough material for a fine photobook can be amassed in just one evening, for a project like this to be done well you need time, experience and knowledge. Herwig has travelled widely and found a great variety of bus stops; the book is amply sized and the better for it. He often gives both a frontal view of the bus stop and a view from a different angle, the combination making the bus stop a lot easier to imagine. Good design, good printing. There’s an excellent introduction by Vera Kavalkova-Halvarsson, about whom I know little but who should be invited to introduce more photobooks as well.

The book was already described as out of print when I first heard about it. I sent Herwig polite mail about it anyway, and months later was informed that a few more copies were available after all. Now it’s out of print again; but Herwig writes: “FUEL publishers are working on designing the next edition with hopes to have it in shops and available online by the fall of [2015].” The new edition should have Russian as well as English text, or anyway the photos should be known where they might have an effect (ideas).

Christopher Herwig, Soviet bus stops

Christopher Herwig. Soviet bus stops. Brooklyn: Christopher Herwig. ISBN 978-0-692-02905-3.

Homer Sykes, This is England

Homer Sykes’ 1977 book Once a year merits an augmented reissue from Steidl or similar; until that happens, his earlier work trickles out from Café Royal Books and now also in This is England from Poursuite, to accompany the exhibition he richly deserved in Britain but instead had in France. Sykes’s England (1970–1982) on show here is richly peopled and full of action (once-a-year rituals, of course, but also demos, parties, Bay City Roller appreciation): I wouldn’t want to live there, but I’d enjoy a visit. No duds in this stapled booklet of about thirty photos, and no design gimmickry; the design gets the job done in the most efficient way. Good, but something more lavish is deserved.

Homer Sykes, This is England

Homer Sykes. This is England. Paris: Poursuite. ISBN 978-2-918960-77-5. No text; captions in French only. (Perhaps I read somewhere that some copies had captions in English only, and perhaps I just think I did.) Already out of print.

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi, 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday

Yanai Yasushi’s Palm Sunday is an unassuming book of photos of sleepy suburban Fukushima City (and occasionally Kōriyama), from March to June 2012, in square-format black and white. This was just one year after disaster hit a nearby nuclear power plant. Yanai’s insomnia led to early-morning walks, and he found himself photographing views with palm trees, planted at a more optimistic time. There’s no palm monomania here, though: there are palmless views, there’s a close-up of a snail, and more. Captions (place and month only) and a short text in Japanese only. Printing quality is decent and the price is low; a quiet book for a quiet mood.

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi, 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi. 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday. Fukushima: 青蛙舎.

M Bruce Hall, Promised land

Promised land (title by Chuck Berry) brings street photography in LA, 1981 to 1992, by M Bruce Hall, as introduced by Blake Andrews. From Blue Sky Books, as again introduced by Blake Andrews. We read: “These titles are not available in any store or other online retailer—only through Blue Sky.” Or rather, only through MagCloud. Which in turn has become part of Blurb. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the 44 or so photos here are indifferently printed. It’s an odd collection of photos that do and don’t do something for me. The cover photo isn’t one of the strongest: there are enough photos inside that could be by Frank or Winogrand to make this a keeper.

M Bruce Hall, Promised land

M Bruce Hall. Promised land. Blue Sky Books 7. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Mary Berridge, On the eve

About 41 colour photos from 1998 of Moscow and environs, by Mary Berridge. The Soviet Union isn’t long gone, the Russian economy will soon collapse; there’s not a mobile phone in sight, and many of the people here stand, sit, wait, rest, or sleep. Quiet and satisfying street work here, with some surprises (eg an ancestor of Borat’s bear): it didn’t make much of an impact when I first saw it; but the more often I return to it, the more I enjoy it.

Mary Berridge, On the eve

Mary Berridge. On the eve. Blue Sky Books 35. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Proms

About 68 B/W photos by Ken Graves and Eva Lipman of teenagers at proms. A wondrous pre-cellphone world where (I infer) adults could take photos of kids dancing, snogging, and passing out without anyone calling the cops on them. Some photos are more Winogrand, some are more Fink; whichever, every one is a delight. They merit duotone or better, but for now MagCloud will have to do.

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Proms

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman. Proms. Blue Sky Books 23. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Calin Kruse, You scared the shit out of me, so I'm leaving

The title You scared the shit out of me, so I’m leaving is nowhere explained in Calin Kruse’s collection of photos of one or more strip clubs (and their surrounds) in an unidentified “hick town”. There are 44 or so spiral-bound leaves, so that almost every double-page spread either has one photo on the left and another on the right, or has a single photo broken across the middle — the break somehow not damaging the effect. (Once there’s a seeming parody of censorship, where a break neatly replaces a vulva.) There are no captions, except that a couple of signs (in German) are obligingly given English translations. The girls don’t look unhappy; the viewers aren’t always bedazzled but they’re well behaved (this is far from Meiselas’ Carnival strippers). The surroundings are grotty, as strip club surroundings always seem to be — and I’m puzzled by Kruse’s talk (both inside the handsome cover and on the web page) of “smooth smugness” and “family idyll” in the daytime. (Still more by his talk of “bigotry”.) The collection could have been slimmer, but there are some arresting photos.

Calin Kruse, You scared the shit out of me, so I'm leaving

Calin Kruse. You scared the shit out of me, so I’m leaving. Leipzig: Dienacht.

Clément Paradis et Romain Gavidia, Condamné à marcher seul

Clément Paradis provides the photos and Romain Gavidia the prose-poem for Condamné à marcher seul (“sentenced to walk alone”). The prose-poem is in French; but to aid the undereducated such as myself, it’s englished at the back.

Let’s go in, for oysters. These normally have a disastrous effect on me, but not here. Existentialism, or something like it, is alive if not completely well. Fuelled by booze, coffee and coffin nails, Gavidia’s narrator manages to get through the zombie-populated day, in the race against death. The black is very black; most of the photos are a little blurry. Yet a bottle of Martiniquais rum (“50% vol.”) is rendered in horrible clarity. My head is throbbing and tonight I think I’ll go to bed early.

Clément Paradis et Romain Gavidia, Condamné à marcher seul

Clément Paradis and Romain Gavidia. Condamné à marcher seul. St-Étienne, Loire: Timeshow Press. ISBN 979-10-97253-01-1.

Arjan de Nooy, Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen

Look in the index to the hefty and seemingly authoritative volume Dutch Eyes: A critical history of photography in the Netherlands, and we see the filmmaker Jan Jansen (1904–1979); but the next name is the groovalicious Cor Jaring (b. 1936): the remarkable Pep Jansen (1931–1969) goes unmentioned. Kudos to Arjan de Nooy for rescuing this figure from obscurity, in Party photographer. The hedonistic hollandosphère does not end with Billy Monk: whether using a Land camera, Hasselblad or just a bakelite 127, the protean Jansen had a knack of capturing the Dutch at their most riotous (or sated).

Twenty-eight or so photos by Jansen, three of Jansen at work. The essential filler for the stocking that doesn’t already decorate your Festivus pole.

Arjan de Nooy, Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen

Arjan de Nooy. Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen. The Hague: De Nooy Collection.

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse, Same old story

Tony Fouhse is best known to us non-Canadians for his blog “drool” (dubbed “dead” since September, but with old posts that are very much alive). He’s put out a number of slim photobooks; Same old story is unusual among them in showing older work, and being in B/W.

“These photographs were taken in Toronto, 1981–83” — and this is all that we’re told. I’d long lazily assumed that “America’s coonskin cap” was a placid expanse of sanity, but the photos show that Toronto strangeness long predated Rob Ford.

It’s a very slim paperback, but you get 29 photos, more than in some arty hardbacks. And there’s a story, too, by Cindy Deachman. Being utterly unfamiliar with Toronto, I don’t know to what degree the style reflects the language as spoken there and to what it’s stylized (cf Henry Green); I had to read the first page a couple of times in order to make sense of it but thereafter the lect clicked and I could enjoy it. Do the photos and text serve each other (even indirectly)? For me, no; but I enjoyed each independently, so no matter.

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse, Same old story

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse. Same old story. Ottawa: Straylight Press. ISBN 978-0-9691684-5-4.

Chris Steele-Perkins, A Place in the Country

I heard some time ago that Chris Steele-Perkins would publish a photobook on the Holkham Estate; the name didn’t ring a bell and I vaguely supposed that this was the kind of estate that might have appeared in Survival programmes. But it’s instead that of Holkham Hall, a Palladian pile in Norfolk.

The front cover is somewhat staid, showing a tree that has just shed its autumnal leaves — ah, no, those aren’t leaves but deer. So that must be quite a tree. The house is of similarly giant scale; it’s not run by the National Trust or similar but instead by a Viscount and Viscountess, presiding over a number of teams for the maintenance and running of this and that: the fabric of the house and estate, of course, but also functions. Horses aren’t as prominent as I’d feared, but shooting and killing certainly are. (The squeamish should turn the pages carefully.) There are a number of more or less posed group portraits, done very well; but I prefer the far less formal material — particularly those of the public, at or near the beach.

Chris Steele-Perkins, A Place in the Country

Chris Steele-Perkins. A Place in the Country. Stockport: Dewi Lewis. ISBN 978-1-907893-62-8.

Alexis Maryon, The Bristol estate

The Bristol Estate was put up on a hill behind Brighton in the mid-fifties; it looks rather like a trial run for campus accommodation a decade later, with added allotments. Alexis Maryon photographed it, and the result (spiral bound, fifty or so B/W photos, one per page) is out from Fistful of Books. You might expect that high-density low-income housing would look squalid and miserable but if so then you’d be wrong. It doesn’t even look shabby. Kids running around, people shopping and eating, congas outdoors: it’s pretty lively and friendly-looking. Nothing particularly stunning here, just a good-natured portrait of a place. While the printing looks zine-ish at first glance, it’s actually pretty good. I hope that a future Fistful of Books includes a collection of Maryon’s Newhaven photos.

Alexis Maryon, The Bristol estate

Alexis Maryon. The Bristol estate. Castle Douglas, Galloway: Fistful of Books. No captions.

Ken Grant, Flock

Ken Grant’s 2002 book The close season is still in print after 14 years (I think even remaindered), suggesting that Dewi Lewis overestimated the intelligence of the “photobook buying public”. This year two publishers bravely put out a new book of his work anyway.

Hereford had Britain’s last urban livestock market (we read), and when in 2009 Grant heard that it would close (in 2011) he started to go there and photograph it. Flock is the result. Many of the sixty-plus photos show people looking at the merchandise. (Poultry are particularly prominent.) There are splendid faces here. We also see auctions and sales, and the wider scene.

The working market has now moved out of town; and, to quote the “developer” of what’s now capitalized as the “Old Market”, once “developed”, this site “will include a Debenhams department store, six screen digital Odeon cinema, Waitrose food store and a variety of shops and restaurants.” Which sounds to me like a very last-century kind of gentrification.

The book is well produced, with good colour — except on a very few pages (half a dozen or fewer), where the colour is slightly odd. But maybe that was the way it looked.

Ken Grant, Flock

Ken Grant. Flock. Dublin: Artist Photo Books. ISBN 978-0-9927485-2-4.

Ken Grant, No pain whatsoever

With about fifty square B/W photos of Liverpool and Birkenhead (1986–2010), Ken Grant’s No pain whatsoever is a lot closer than Flock to The close season. Liverpool’s industry and port are just about dead, and whatever is driving the city’s economy doesn’t seem to be hiring. (“In 2007,” Wikipedia helpfully tells us, “over 60% of all employment in the city was in the public administration, education, health, banking, finance and insurance sectors.”) And so there’s an unemployed class: fishing, waiting, burning plastic off wires to sell the copper (also in Peter Marlow’s Liverpool: Looking out to sea), smoking, catching rays, spending time with the family. The portrayal is sympathetic but clear-eyed. No captions and minimal text. (And if it worries you, the cover material is designed to pick up grease from your thumbs.)

Get a copy, and also one each of The close season and Marlow’s Liverpool while you’re about it.

Ken Grant, No pain whatsoever

Ken Grant. No pain whatsoever. Stockholm: Journal. ISBN 978-91-981253-5-1.

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The photobook: A history 3

The first two installments of Parr ’n’ Badger were to photobook books what those of The godfather and Pirates of the Caribbean were to mafia and pirate flicks. Could the enterprise escape the Curse of the Third Episode?

It could. Parr’s combination of curiosity and (I infer) wealth led to new directions for exploration. The format is the same as it was in the first two books; if you liked it there, you’ll like it here too. A lot of the book is devoted to recent stuff that I thought had already had its fifteen minutes in the blogosphere, but enough of it hasn’t been. No matter how repellent the material (and right-wing propaganda is conspicuous here), Badger can be depended on to provide an interesting little read. (Not that the pair lack taste: this time, they include Takanashi’s Machi.)

Read more carefully, and one does start to wonder: Why mention all three editions of Gōzu Masao’s self-published In New York (p. 163) but not the bigger New York? If “It is difficult to see A Criminal Investigation being made in the same way had it been published in 1958–59″ (p. 163), then how is the book “a perfect re-creation of a 1950s or 60s Japanese photobook” (same page)? (It’s nothing like any 1950s or 60s Japanese photobook I’ve ever seen.)

Let’s not niggle, but don’t let the enthusiasm go to your head or anyway to your credit card.

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The photobook: A history 3

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. The photobook: A history 3. London: Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-6677-2.

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds, 10x10 Japanese photobooks

Twenty “specialists” were each asked to nominate ten Japanese photobooks for display either at ICP or on the interwebs. A couple of years later, the book of the show came out. For this, each of the twenty was asked to nominate one out of their ten as the superlativest.

So twenty books are profiled here. Two are by Moriyama (and about one and a half of these are American); none is by Araki or Suda. Whew, other people have inscrutable tastes: out of the twenty books profiled, fewer than half say anything to me. But a number are often praised, so clearly it’s my sensibilities that are at fault.

And some of the selections are most definitely worth exploring. A special tip of the hat to Nicolas Codron; while his ten aren’t all to my taste, none is expected, Iwamiya Takeji’s Sado (1962) is superb, and two obscurities I’d not heard of were easily worth the small sums I paid for them when they turned up at Yahoo Auction (and, predictably, nobody else bid for them).

In the back are an interesting interview with Hagiwara Akira and a perceptive essay, both of these in both English and Japanese. Book design and production are excellent.

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds, 10x10 Japanese photobooks

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds. 10×10 Japanese photobooks. New York: 10×10 Photobooks. ISBN 978-0-692-20866-3.

Miloň Novotný, Londýn 60. let = Sixties London

Miloň Novotný is perhaps best known as co-photographer of New York (1966); his book Londýn first came out (from Mladá fronta) a couple of years later. Eight thousand copies were printed, the new book’s chronology tells us, and they flew off the shelves. Presumably this retitled 2014 edition is closely based on the original, but aside from two or three obvious additions the relationship between old and new isn’t clear. The new book has about 68 B/W photos of London, one per page. There are Londoners avoiding the rain, enjoying the sunshine, people shopping in Carnaby Street (not quite yet a tacky tourist trap), gents wearing bowlers, nutters at Hyde Park corner, a pearly king, cricket, and the other expected subjects; but these are deftly done and there’s a lot more besides. (And can this be Georges Perec in the second photo?) Unfortunately there’s no mention of how Novotný was able to visit London; I wonder if other Warsaw bloc photographers were also given a fairly free rein in the west and produced comparable collections that are ripe for discovery.

Miloň Novotný, Londýn 60. let = Sixties London

Miloň Novotný. Londýn 60. let = Sixties London. Prague: Kant. ISBN 978-80-7437-122-6. Placenames as captions; with a long essay about London by A G Hughes and a chronology, each in both Czech and English.

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara's photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years

A highlight of the year was the Kuwabara Kineo show at Setagaya Art Museum. A generous selection of photos from the thirties to the nineties (with breaks when Kuwabara simply wasn’t taking photos), presented intelligently and with informative texts (very conveniently for my challenged and lazy self, in English as well as Japanese).

Here’s the book of the show. It’s compact; it isn’t the photobook that Kuwabara deserves. (A two-volume set that came out this year has a good selection of photos but [pace John Sypal] wretched design; and, if this matters, its captions and text are in Japanese only.) Still, the book of the show is (bilingually) informative and the plates aren’t impossibly small. When a good photobook does come out — or if you snag one or both of Tōkyō Shōwa jūichinen (Tokyo 1936) and Manshū Shōwa jūgonen (Manchuria 1940) put out by Shōbunsha in 1975 — then this will be a good reference companion.

This book was never retailed in the normal way; it’s available from the museum’s own shop: write to samshop○, replacing “○” with “@”. (Although there’s likely to be an assumption that the would-be shopper reads and writes Japanese, has a Japanese address, and has a Japanese bank account.)

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara's photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara’s photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years. Tokyo: Setagaya Art Museum.

So there you are. I hope that some seem appealing. Whether you buy two or twenty, I hope they live up to the promise.

Back to Rob Hornstra. Another good idea of his is the most overrated photobook of the year. I’d have at least one contender for this, but I’d concede that Quitonasto form Chanmair Mao Tungest did at least manage to make an impression on me. (Several impressions, one of them being that its aroma didn’t start to resemble that of the original.)

Ah, Quitonasto form Chanmair Mao Tungest doesn’t seem to have made that many best-of lists. Well then, the most overrated photobook of the year 2013: The holy bible. An amusing idea, executed without flair. (Anyone with an urge to rework an existing book might take a look at A humument for inspiration.) Still, the fact that Quitonasto and The holy bible made some impression(s) puts them ahead of a lot of polite, earnest photobooks that I picked up, flicked through and quickly put down at Tsutaya (Daikan’yama), Sōkyūsha, or elsewhere. The front covers of some of them appear in best-of lists.

I’m not eager to knock photographers (or photo-appropriators). But yet Anouk Kruithof’s « BUMMER! » is inspiring. So here’s my bummer: designs that screw up what could have been good photobooks. As one example, I give you Sawatari Hajime’s Showa 35, Japan = 昭和35年日本. It has an elegant cover (if this matters). Internally, over half of its double-page spreads are of single photos, every one of which is pretty much ruined by the gutter. (For examples on web pages that you’d expect to depict books flatteringly and appealingly, see here and here.) Which is a great pity, as the designer hasn’t managed to trash the photos to a point where you wouldn’t realize that the twenty-year-old Sawatari shows the Japan of 1960 as you’ve never seen it before.

And next year? Great things in the world of the introspective, revealing photobook! “Rizzoli to publish a book of Kim Kardashian selfies”; about which the Artist writes: “I mean every girl takes full pictures of their ass in the mirror… I might share some of them.”

Other 2014 lists here at Phot(o)lia. (And not to be missed: “The year in photobooks”.)


swell photobooks of 2013

Approaching the end of another year: it’s the season for photobooks roasting on an open fire, and lots more mutual encouragement to acquire more stuff and make the year’s consumption more conspicuous. I’m tempted to do a world survey, but I haven’t seen enough of what my fellow bloggers prattle about, let alone of the many more books that largely go unmentioned but that sound interesting (example). So I’ll do a _Valerian and look at Japan and not sekai (as the rest of the world is called hereabouts).

I thought that Abe Jun’s Black and white notebook 2 came out this year, but its colophon tells me December ’12. So that’s out. I solemnly swear that all the below are from 2013, honest. (Except for one that might be older than you are, but this is clearly so identified.)

Onaka Kōji, Lucky cat

Onaka Kōji, Lucky cat
Onaka Kōji, Lucky cat
Onaka Kōji, Lucky cat
The lucky cat of the title is the maneki-neko; but fear not, there are only two of these in the book. Both are distinctly old and worn, as is just about everything else depicted in this collection of musty and rusty nooks of Japan, each somehow with its attractions.

Plenty of photos of this here at Onaka’s site, here at atsushisaito’s, and here at Josef Chladek’s. Here’s a video flip-through of the book.

Onaka Kōji (尾仲浩二). Lucky cat. Matatabi Library. No ISBN. I think “Matatabi Library” means Onaka. (Trivia lovers: matatabi means this.) Anyway, the book is available from the man himself (rather stiff postage charges) as well as booksellers.

(For this and the other books below, potentially helpful booksellers are linked to at the bottom of this post.)

Adou, Samalada

Adou, Samalada
Adou, Samalada
Adou, Samalada
Adou was a new (Chinese) name to me when I saw a show of his work this year at Zen Foto Gallery (Roppongi). The prints were big and murky (neither of which normally attracts me); S(h)amalada (here) looked bleak, but the photographs were compelling all the same.

You can see them on Adou’s site and also here at M97 Gallery (Shanghai).

Adou (阿斗). Samalada = 沙馬拉達. Zen Foto Gallery. ISBN 978-4-905453-28-4.

The booklet (shown above) from Zen seems to be at least the third major publication of these photos: they have also constituted one volume out of the five of a boxed set, Outward expressions, inward reflections (外象, here); and earlier this year the larger half of a book, Adou & Samalada (阿斗 · 沙马拉达, here). I haven’t seen the former, but the printing in the latter is so different from that in the Zen booklet that somebody (and not only a collector fetishist) might actually want both. If (more sensibly) you want just one, perhaps get the Zen version if you’re in Japan, one of the two Chinese versions if you’re in China, and compare airmail charges etc if you’re elsewhere.

Suda Issei, Early works 1970–1975

Suda Issei, Early works
Suda Issei, Early works
Suda Issei, Early worksHere’s one for you rich people! Yes, over two hundred photos taken by Suda in his early thirties (and thus allowing for at least one volume of very early works). A lot of these appeared in photo magazines at the time. So let’s correct the above: this horribly expensive book is for the middle-income, the rich being able to afford places large enough to house complete runs of 1970s’ Asahi Camera and its rivals. Some is rather “street”, a lot is close to Fūshi kaden. Most is 35mm (or anyway isn’t square). Not every plate is of a five-star photo, but enough are, and the reproduction is excellent.

As if there weren’t already enough gimmickry in the wacky world of photobooks, this one comes with a choice of five cover photos.

Suda Issei (須田一政). Early works 1970–1975. Akio Nagasawa. No ISBN.

The same publisher recently decided that its Fūshi kaden wasn’t expensive enough already, and raised the price by 50%. That might happen with this book too.

Suda Issei, Fragments of calm

Suda Issei, Fragments of calm
Suda Issei, Fragments of calm
Suda Issei, Fragments of calmThe Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is of course a wonderful institution but it has recently taken to devoting an entire floor to this or that exhibition of overly reproduced or modishly boring photos. But now and again it has an excellent exhibition of the first-rate; and this year’s big Suda show was one. (With a modest entry price too.)

And here’s the catalogue. The idea seems to have been that of a tolerably good package of decently sized plates, held down to a very palatable price. So many pages are rather cramped, the printing quality is distinctly twentieth-century, and the result would never win any photobook award. Don’t complain, because you get decent reproductions of over two hundred good photos at a keen price.

(For those interested in these matters: Suda seems to have signed hundreds if not thousands of copies, which, as is normal in Japan, go for the list price. Indeed, a recent book by Suda that doesn’t have his signature might be a “collectibly” rare variant.)

Here’s a video flip-through of the book.

Suda Issei (須田一政). Fragments of calm = 凪の片. Tōseisha. ISBN 978-4-88773-145-5.

Hara Yoshiichi, Tokoyo no mushi

Hara Yoshiichi, Tokoyo no mushi
Hara Yoshiichi, Tokoyo no mushi
Hara Yoshiichi, Tokoyo no mushiThe title means something like “eternal insects” or “insects from the realm of the dead”, and a prefatory note by Hara says he’s heard stories that after death people are transformed into insects. There follow photos incorporating insects, photos of (a non-entomologist human’s idea of) an insect’s view of the human world, photos alluding to birth and to death, photos of models of the human world at a (large) insect’s scale, and more. The religious may make sense of this; I just enjoy the results in my atheistic way.

There are plenty of photos of this book here on Josef Chladek’s site and here on atsushisaito’s.

Hara Yoshiichi (原芳市). Tokoyo no mushi = 常世の虫. Sōkyūsha. No ISBN.

Nuno Moreira, State of mind

Nuno Moreira, State of mind
Nuno Moreira, State of mind
Nuno Moreira, State of mindThis book is going to puzzle whichever poor librarian is the first to provide Worldcat with a record for it: no publisher is specified, let alone place of publication. Actually it’s published by its creator, who (mostly) lives in Tokyo; so despite its Portuguese ISBN it’s at least as Japanese as it is Portuguese or anything else.

It’s a collection of “solitary moments of disconnection” (in the photographer’s words), or perhaps of indecisive moments (not his words). We see individuals thinking, individuals not thinking, scenes likely to start one thinking — yes, it’s free-ranging. There’s even the occasional crowd, though the individual seems in a pocket of space within it. And many pleasing plays of light and shadow.

Many photos from the book here; and here’s a video flip-through of the book.

The printing could be better, but it does the job. (Certainly the book makes a refreshing change from the piles of exquisitely printed books of boring photos.)

Nuno Moreira. State of mind. Self-published. ISBN 978-989-20-4151-3. Available from the man himself.

Suda Issei, Waga Tōkyō 100

Suda Issei, Waga Tokyo 100

Looking a bit tired, with its dated cover design? Well yes — it’s over thirty years old.

And yes, it’s Suda again. The title can be loosely translated as “a hundred views of my Tokyo”. More square B/W, from shortly after what’s in Fūshi kaden, and similar to that and almost as good. The book shown above is printed well for its time, there are seemingly thousands of copies available, and (other than from the dealers with the slickest websites) these are cheap.

Or so I had thought. But I now realize that copies now cost about three times as much as they did just three years or so ago when I bought mine. (At hermanos Maggs, ten times as much.)

And so it makes sense for a new edition to come out. But this is a bit on the pricey side. If I lost my copy of the old one I don’t know which edition I’d replace it with. For those who don’t happen to be in Japan, a copy of the new edition (details below) would be easier to obtain than a reasonably priced copy of the old one.

The new edition is a kind of hardback/paperback hybrid. (Unkindly, it’s like a hardback whose front hinge has been neatly sliced through.) It’s shorn of a lot of the (Japanese) text of the first edition, but it has some new text in Japanese and English. And it’s well printed. The plates are (trivially) smaller than those in the original. Although the sequence of plates is different, I think that the same hundred are used in both.

Suda Issei (須田一政). Waga Tokyo 100 = わが東京100. Zen Foto Gallery. ISBN 9784905453314 (I think). The price is being held down for some time, whereupon it will jump 25% or so (to about half of the current price of Early works 1970–1975).

Watabe Yūkichi, Stakeout diary

Watabe Yūkichi, Stakeout diary
Watabe Yūkichi, Stakeout diary
Watabe Yūkichi, Stakeout diaryYou know the story, or bits of it: For twenty days in 1958 a youngish photographer was allowed to photograph two cops hunting for a suspect in a grisly murder; some of the resulting photographs were published in a magazine in 1958, they were then largely forgotten; somebody bought prints half a century later and turned them into the only non-Japanese book by this “unknown” photographer; the book was much feted outside Japan (and an unusual and expensive import within).

Well, here’s a Japanese edition, from prints freshly made by Murakoshi Toshiya; and from a brand new publisher, Roshin Books. It has a larger format than A criminal investigation and contains photos that aren’t in that; and the package doesn’t try so hard to be remarkable but I prefer it. “Landscape” photos are either broken across the gutter or squeezed into half a page; I’d have been happier if they’d been rotated to fill the single page. But a large percentage are “portrait”, and this is a fine book.

Plenty of photos of this are here at atsushisaito’s site, and here’s a video flip-through.

This book too has front cover variants. All variants of the regular version are sold out (at Roshin, if not necessarily at retailers), but Roshin still has copies of the version that comes with a print.

Watabe Yūkichi (渡部雄吉). Stakeout diary = 張り込み日記. Roshin Books. ISBN 978-4-9907230-0-2.

I’m looking forward to the appearance in January of Roshin’s second book. (And I wonder if there’ll be a second book from Plump Worm Factory, publisher of Murakoshi’s Prayer & bark.)

Kai Keijirō, Shrove Tuesday

Kai Keijirō, Shrove Tuesday
Kai Keijirō, Shrove Tuesday
Kai Keijirō, Shrove TuesdayThe photos here are alarming. They’re obviously of somewhere in Britain. There are many young and middle-aged heads glaring, gasping for breath, or just looking lost; they’re all male, many are shaven, they’re all “white”. Yet there are no flags of Ingerland and so it can’t be the EDL.

It’s sport(s), but far from what you might see on the telly. It is instead the Shrovetide football match of Ashbourne (Derbyshire): one of the most physical of Britain’s quaint provincial customs. Just good testosterone-powered fun! Somewhere in the middle of all this, there must be a ball — though since most of the players themselves are just blindly following other players (and trying to infer who’s on which side; there are no uniforms), perhaps there isn’t after all and instead it’s far away.

All very exciting, and I hope that Kai follows it up with more revelations of the exotic occident (but pauses before his camera or head collides with a boot).

Photos here, review here.

Kai Keijirō (甲斐啓二郎). Shrove Tuesday. Totem Pole Photo Gallery. No ISBN. Available from TPPG if you go there in person.

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto selection vol. 4

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto selection vol. 4
Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto selection vol. 4
Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto selection vol. 4The fourth fascicle of . . . I don’t quite know what, after the third (of Tibet) showed I was wrong to think it was Tokyo.

They’re probably not fascicles at all, and should be enjoyed independently. And enjoyable they are. They’re “street”, street portraits, things seen in streets. In the first three photos in vol. 4, an elderly, heavily bejewelled gent fishes change from that relic of the last century, a payphone; a contortionist performs in mufti, no, she’s just a normal girl trying to shake a tiny stone out of her boot; a young transsexual happily displays her new breasts to a friend (out in the street, in daylight). True, there aren’t many more photos, but each is big and well printed.

Arimoto Shinya (有元伸也). Ariphoto selection vol. 4. Totem Pole Photo Gallery. No ISBN. Available from TPPG if you go there in person, or from the man himself over the interweb. Or from PH, which still seems to have copies of vol. 3 (out of stock elsewhere).

Kurata Seiji, Flash up

Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Such an opulent slipcase. It looks like a lot of the big photobooks from the sixties that gather dust in Tokyo’s used bookshops: you see a familiar name on the spine — Iwamiya or Midorikawa, perhaps — and look inside to discover that it’s all about Japanese gardens, is in muddy colours, is deadly dull, and cost 38,000 yen (of 1960s money) when new. (Did companies buy them up to hand them out as trophies?)

But a gaudy kind of opulence is appropriate here. Cabaret packaging, indeed (preferably reeking of old cigarette smoke). Because it’s for:
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Yes, this is a long overdue second edition of a boss photobook. (Don’t recognize the title? Check your Parr ’n’ Badger, I:305.)

Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash up
Kurata Seiji, Flash upNo blurring or other Provoke-ative devices here; instead, it’s a 6×7 or 6×9 and flashgun used fluently in Weegee/Moriyama territory, delivering more immediacy and happy surprises than most photographers can manage outdoors in daylight. The most Weegee-like photos are gruesome but the others are among the most enjoyable photos anywhere.

And more prints, and bigger ones, than you’ll find in the first edition. Which anyway costs about twice as much as this second one costs — which is a lot, but justifiably so. (NB the new edition is so big and heavy that postage could be considerable.)

Plenty of photos of this here at atsushisaito’s blog.

Kurata Seiji (倉田精二). Flash up. Zen Foto Gallery. No ISBN.

Plus special pats on the back for three books that I didn’t buy and therefore can’t plonk on the rug in front of my camera:

Watanave Kazuki, Hito. The title means “people” (or “person”), and the book follows pigs from happy life to merchandise: in colour, with all that this entails. It’s neither sensationalist nor sparing, and comes with thoughtful afterwords (in English as well as Japanese) by two of the men whose work is depicted. Here it is at atsushisaito’s blog. An admirable book, one I’d recommend for any library, but (sorry) not one I’d often want to look at, and so space constraints rule it out.

Watanave (Watanabe) Kazuki (渡辺一城), Hito (人). 4×5 Shi no go. ISBN 9784990559816. According to a page within the website of the publisher (a group or company of four photographers), the address to ask about it is contact [at]

Kōriyama Sōichirō, Fukushima. Straight but thoughtful documentary photography of the effect (social and only indirectly medical) of radiation in Fukushima. Slim, but well done, informative, excellently printed, and modestly priced. I’m not getting a copy only because I OD’d on similar (if mostly inferior) books last year, and because plenty of libraries here should have it.

郡山総一郎, Fukushima × フクシマ × 福島. 新日本出版社. ISBN 978-4-406-05673-1.

I don’t remember Kōriyama’s book as providing English captions, but there are hints here that it does (and that it has an alternative title, Fukushima black rain).

Shiga Lieko, Rasen kaigan: Album. The ghost of Nickolas Muray appears to the young Naitō Masatoshi, prods him to watch Eraserhead and gives him some bricks of infrared Ektachrome. Or something like that. This book, which you’ll have read about already, has some fascinating photos (the ash or snow covering the car interior, the glittering disposable plates, etc). I suppose it’s something like a feature film on paper . . . but a feature film fits handily into a DVD (or of course a few square nanometres of a hard drive) whereas this is a considerable slab of dead tree. And while I might flick through the (many) photos of stones, I wouldn’t want to examine them. Also, when I open the book wide to get a good view of the photos across double-page spreads, the spine makes an ominous cracking sound. But yes, the best of it is very good, so I look forward to Shiga’s Greatest hits.

There are some patterns here:

  • Every one of the book(let)s above is published in Tokyo (except perhaps Lucky cat). Seigensha and (I think) Foil are based in Kyoto, but recently haven’t excited me. Vacuum Press (Osaka) has been quiet, Mole (Hakodate) is either dead or long dormant, and I haven’t noticed anything new like Kojima Ichiro photographs (nominally published in Tokyo but really a production of Aomori).
  • Mostly B/W. This is odd: Most of the new non-Japanese books that interest me are colour.
  • Overwhelmingly by men. Very bizarre, as plenty of the new non-Japanese books that interest me are by women.
  • Mostly by old geezers (if not necessarily old when they took the photos). Really sad, this. I do see some excellent little shows by young photographers.
  • Skewed toward one photographer, Suda. If any septuagenarian Japanese photographer merited a raise in exposure, it was him. I don’t begrudge him it at all. Still, it’s amusing to see the star-making system in action. (And of course I’ve added my unimportant croaks to the chorus.) This year there’ve also been two other books by Suda that I haven’t mentioned above, and in the next few weeks there’ll be Tokyokei and, I believe, one more. Good! But . . . enough for now? Attention Roland Angst: Could you now please (re)discover Nagano Shigeichi?

Again inspired by _Valerian, some (more) words on books I didn’t buy:

Araki seems to put out a new book every couple of weeks, and I only look into a copy in a bookshop if its cover is both unfamiliar and arresting. Some I didn’t notice at all. Shi-shōsetsu (死小説, perhaps also titled Death novel) would have been one of these. I normally don’t bother looking at anything by Moriyama unless somebody is particularly enthusiastic about it, but View from the laboratory (実験室からの眺め, on Niépce) looks interesting and I look forward to examining it. Kawauchi’s Ametsuchi seems to have some good material, but I wasn’t much tempted even by a pile of half-price copies (here) of the Japanese edition, in part because this shares the perverse design of the Aperture version.

And then there are — I infer from word of Einmal ist keinmal — more books whose existence I haven’t even noticed.

Plus my taste is probably defective.

If you’re in Japan, you’ll probably already know where to look for books; if you aren’t, duckduckgo for them. If you want new books to be sent out of Japan, aside from tips above there’s Shashasha, Flotsam and Book of Days (none of which I’ve bought from), and Japan Exposures (which I have); if you want used books there’s Mandarake.

You’ll find more “best of 2013” lists here.

PS (28 Dec): A disproportionate number of the most rewarding among these are by some bloke in Eugene. And among them — well, see for yourself.

great photobooks of 2013 that I didn’t buy

Carolyn Drake, Two rivers. Apparently promoted via Kickstarter during one of those long periods when I avoid Kickstarter because the last screenfuls I saw were too dreary. Now that I learn of it, just months after publication, already out of print. This is a great shame as the subject is most interesting and what JPEGs I’ve seen of the photos look excellent. I hope Drake follows the Sochi Project in bringing out a second edition — perhaps a regular paperback so as not to upset collectors thrilled by the (artistically!) wrong-sized cover of the first edition.

Kurata Seiji, Flash up. The original is a routine sort of paperback that contains the most enjoyable photos ever of this (rather overdone) sleaze genre. (Don’t be put off by the front cover of the original, which oddly has one of the least interesting photos in the book.) One of my rare intelligent bookshop decisions decades ago was to buy it when it came out. My copy resides in an actual bookshelf with glass doors, and when I want to look at it I have to shovel piles of other books off the floor in order to open and close these doors. I haven’t seen the new edition, which may be worth its high price; but I think I’ll just keep on shovelling.

Martin Kollar, Field trip. Though I was disappointed by Kollar’s Cahier I liked his Nothing special. JPEGs of the content of the new book looked intriguing and I recently came across a copy. The photos are just as good as I’d hoped. A lot are mystifying, which is fine with me. But for the price, I want explanations after I’ve enjoyed the mystification. True, explanatory text isn’t a trendy notion; but David Goldblatt for one provides explanations and these don’t seem to deter potential buyers or indeed award committees. If Kollar rectifies the omission (and all this needs is a web page), then I’ll buy a copy.

Seto Masato, Cesium 137Cs. Anthropomorphic branches and other mysteries of the freshly irradiated forest, a fascinating example of a kind of book that usually holds little interest for me. Expensive, but yes I can stump up the cash. It’s B4 format, which may well be justified — but I’ve simply run out of niches for the storage of books that big. ….. PS There’s currently a 20% discount if you buy the via the internet from Place M and a 30% discount on the book if you buy it at Place M.

Suda Issei, Waga Tokyo 100. Good stuff in this book, but I have one of the thousands of copies of the original, whose printing quality is tolerable.

Zhang Xiao, Shangxi. I bought Zhang’s two previous books and enjoy them both. I don’t know how many photos there are in this third one, but the photos I’ve seen of it make it look slim, and its RRP is $75 even before postage is added. And it’s got an (artistically!) wrong-sized cover. Zhang kindly provides thirty of the photos on his website, so I’ll enjoy them there. For his fourth book I hope he returns to Jiazazhi, which did a very handsome job for his They, and which sent me a copy efficiently and inexpensively.

a tassel for Kassel

The Photobook Award 2013 contenders are selected by a jury comprising renowned photography experts from around the world. Some of the choices are good, but some of the others . . .  oh dear.

Photobook selection is more important than etiquette, so I gatecrashed:


Yes, Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, The secret history of Khava Gaisanova and the north Caucasus. Or if you’re lucky enough to be able to read Dutch, then their De geheime geschiedenis van Khava Gaisanova en de Noord-Kaukasus instead, with a €5 rebate.

Buy it, read it. It has lots of Arnold’s excellent text. Yes, though some of my distinguished co-jurors choose books suitable for adorning bedside tables in department stores (and Machiguchi congratulates himself with a book designed by Machiguchi), this book requires actual reading. You know you can do it for book-books, you can do it for photobooks too.

top Japanese photobooks of 2012

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.)

Big omissions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?)

The order of what follows is merely alphabetical by photographer. I give Worldcat and CiNii links where I could find them; if I don’t give an ISBN then there isn’t one. I also give tips on where to buy. (I know the people who run Japan Exposures, but not well. I have no relation whatever to Bookofdays or Flotsam.) Where there’s no particular tip, you could try this service.

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.

Available directly from the photographer (as is vol. 2).

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.

The book is here at its publisher, and here at Sōkyūsha; if you’re outside Japan, it’s more simply available from Japan Exposures or from Bookofdays.

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.

Here’s the announcement from Sōkyūsha.

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.

If Hatsuzawa’s book interests you, look also for Watanabe Hiroshi’s Ideology in paradise (パラダイス・イデオロギー): Watanabe’s cooler approach complements Hatsuzawa’s warmer one.

Ikazaki Shinobu, Inaya tol (Tokyo: Sokyusha). 伊ヶ崎忍, 『Inaya tol』(東京: 蒼穹舍). CiNii; here and here in Worldcat.

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.

Here’s the announcement of the book at Sōkyūsha. It’s available from Japan Exposures.

Kimura Hajime, Kodama (Tokyo: Mado-sha). 木村肇, 『谺』(東京: 窓社). ISBN 978-4-89625-115-9. CiNii, Worldcat.

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.

Here’s Kimura’s page about his book.

Ogawa Takayuki, New York is (Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa). 小川隆之, 『New York is』(東京: Akio Nagasawa). Worldcat, CiNii.

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.

Here’s the book at its publisher’s website. There’s a helpful write-up on its sales page at Japan Exposures.

Ōtsuka Megumi, Tokyo (Tokyo: Sokyusha). 大塚めぐみ, 『Tokyo』(東京: 蒼穹舍).

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.)

Here’s the book at Sōkyūsha.

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.

The title? Brüggemann explains, but this, this and (for you readers of Kurdish) this will give hints.

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.)

Here’s the book at its publisher. It is also available from Japan Exposures.

Suda publishing has recently been on an (overdue) roll. During the last few weeks there have been one and a half other new books by him: Rubber (colour, and very different from Fūshi kaden); and as an appendix to Fūshi kaden, 1975 Miuramisaki. The latter presents a grand total of six (6) photos, all of that one famous snake. Reproduction is superb; price is high. I was sorely tempted, but I already have too many photobooks (each with more than six photos) and so my ten-thousand-yen notes stayed in my pocket.

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.

Samples of the photos are here on Tatsumi’s site. Here’s the book at Sōkyūsha. It’s also available in various other [physical] bookshops in Japan (listed on Tatsumi’s site); via the internet from Flotsam Books, which takes PayPal but says nothing about sending anything outside Japan.

Want more, better-informed lists? A pile of them are conveniently linked from this Phot(o)lia post. Among them, I only notice one that’s (mostly) devoted to Japanese books: Mark Pearson’s, within (and about two thirds the way down) the BJP listorama. (Intersection of his list and mine: zero books. Indeed, I hadn’t even heard of four of his ten choices, so you now have some idea of the depth of my ignorance.)

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.

twenty-plus reasons why I can’t give you a “top photobooks of 2012” list

Yes it’s “let’s congratulate ourselves on our acquisitions” season. But perhaps I shouldn’t make my own list. There are probably enough already, and every additional list might bring more grief to Marc Feustel. Plus I haven’t seen anywhere near enough of the books I already know that I want to see. (This year, I haven’t even once ventured into any bookshop outside Japan.) So here’s my pretty useless these look interesting but NB I haven’t actually examined any of them list for the year.

Feel free to click on any link. Rest assured that none goes to Amazon, the Book Depository (i.e. Amazon), Abebooks (i.e. Amazon), Shelfari (i.e. Amazon), or Junglee (i.e. Amazon). (Because no I’m not, and don’t want to be, an “affiliate” of Amazon or any other corporation.) Although some of the links do go to publishers that may have become divisions of Amazon while I wasn’t looking.

Copies of two of the above are already on their way to me (from Canada and Poland). And I hope to see more of the others in the new year. So far as I can judge from little JPEGs, they’re all quite a bit more rewarding than some of last year’s top of the critical pops and than over 90% — but not all! — of the photobooks and -zines coming out of Japan.

ten Japanese photobooks for ICP

Your standard 10x10 header

What I look for in a photobook are . . . good photos, well reproduced, with (if appropriate) text that’s illuminating, intelligent or both. I also appreciate books, and no a good photobook isn’t just the sum of its photos and text, and yes some excellent photobooks have been made out of somewhat humdrum photos. I’m not against innovation in photobook design, old (I enjoy Ipy Girl Ipy) or new (I enjoy Socotra). But I’m primarily looking for photos worth lingering over. And though Jörg Colberg writes of “how the medium ‘photobook’ has moved way beyond the simple gallery-show-on-paper format that was so prevalent not that long ago”, a “simple gallery-show-on-paper format” strikes me as the best one for most of the photos that I want to look at. (By contrast, the much-lauded design and packaging of Diamond Matters, say, is mildly diverting for a couple of minutes and no doubt is good cocktail-party chat fodder, but to me it detracts from the photos and the whole book-as-jewel metaphor seems pitched to those who appreciate the obvious.)

So what you get below are, primarily, swell receptacles of photos I enjoy. Mindlessly ordered by height, here they are:

ten from Japan

We’ll start at the top of the pile and work downwards. Read the rest of this entry »