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.
There are indeed plenty of inexpensive copies of this book in Japan. (Try for example a search in Mandarake for “Wakamatsu”.) But it will never be easy to find elsewhere. After Steidl’s “Protest box“, perhaps one of these indefatigable German publishers could produce a “Japanese girlfriend box” (wives welcome too): books by Araki, Fukase, Ueda, Wakamatsu, and more.
The anglophone photobookosphere may have been excited about the Watabe collection A criminal investigation (sample), but to me the packaging seemed over the top. And it was expensive.
The recent JCII exhibition of Watabe’s sea photographs made me hope that this material would soon appear in a book that would do it justice. And I wondered what other series might lurk in the camera magazines of the 1950s and 60s.
First, surprisingly, we have a reinvestigation of that criminal investigation: 張り込み日記 = Stakeout diary, the debut of atsushisaito‘s Roshin books. The book is coming out in September but you can see a little jpeg of one hundred plates from among which seventy will appear in the book. There will be text in English as well as Japanese. Here‘s the regular edition. Each of the hundred prints (by Murakoshi Toshiya) is sold with book and slipcase as a “special edition“. First come, first served for the photograph selection (I bagged no. 19), and the prices for both the regular and the special edition are reasonable too.
I long dismissed Daikanyama as just yet another area for elaborate courtship rituals, where young chaps take young gals to buy frocks and have lavish meals. But I kept hearing good things about the branch there of Tsutaya (book/fun shop) and therefore yesterday, as a compromise between (A) doing useful work and (B) going to faraway Morioka (for the Watabe show), I went to take a look and if possible do my duty as an obedient consumer and help the nation’s moribund economy.
The Daikanyama branch of Tsutaya has a lot of photobooks. There are new ones, and there are used ones. The used ones are uniformly labelled “vintage”, even when they’re as recent as 2008. The “vintage” books are in reach or out of reach. Those in reach are amusingly expensive. Those out of reach are hilariously expensive.
Now that I duckduckgo the shop, I see that it:
- serves as the anchor for the upscale Daikanyama T-Site shopping complex
- has a luxuriously appointed lounge-bar area on the second floor
- has individually curated specialty departments
I’m a sucker for luxuriously curated upscale anchors, and so I looked at the new books too. Odd: it felt as if I’d landed on Planet Photo-Eye, or anyway Planet The Top Half of This Page. There were plenty of the books that US bloggers fawn over but I’d not seen before. Some of these were good, too: a small book by Alec Soth elaborated on the best (B/W) ingredients of his yellow anthology From Here to There, and the label on the sample copy was marked with a reasonable ¥1750, too. Eh, what, ¥4750 on the shrink-wrapped copies? Perhaps not then.
Oh noes, now I see that Photo-Eye says that this book is unavailable and amazon.com has it at $127; so I missed a chance to get something rare and collectible!
If I missed a bargain or three in this luxuriously curated upscale photobook shopping complex, I blame the powerfully repetitive piano noodling going on most of the time. (The short breaks were for powerfully repetitive other-instrument noodling.) This must be Usen’s recommended easy listening for the book-shopping hipster. (Kinokuniya’s muzak seems more suited to hospice waiting rooms.)
What with this aural slime, I wasn’t in a receptive mood for hip photobooks, and escaped to the next building. This was gloriously muzak-free. Even the lack of photobooks was refreshing at first, but when that sensation dissipated I looked upward and saw a promising cover. And yes, it was a photobook worth looking at.
Iijima Kōei (飯島幸永)’s Kanryū: Tsugaru no onna / Echigo, sekka ujō (寒流 津軽のおんな/越後・雪下有情). The main title means “cold [sea] current” and it’s a collection of older, B/W photos of snowbound Tsugaru and Niigata, particularly of girls and women there. (Many of the adult males would have departed for seasonal work elsewhere.) The editing could be a little tighter (and there are no captions or other text in any language other than Japanese), but it’s impressive. Iijima’s website needs updating (it doesn’t mention this book, published late last year), but it does have a set of images that would appear in the book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-7791-1810-4; CiNii.)
Tsutaya’s copies of Kanryū seemed slightly bowed so I didn’t buy. But the book reminded me of another I’d wanted to see: the late 2012 reissue/reworking of Motohashi Seiichi (本橋成一)’s 1983 book Ueno eki no makuai (上野駅の幕間). The title means “Intermission at Ueno station”, and it’s full of, yes, B/W photos of Ueno station. Rail fans will revel in such things as the labelling with metal plates of departure platforms, but even the rail-unenchanted will see how different this is from present-day Tokyo stations, what with giant baskets, alcohol- and tobacco-fuelled picnics on the floor and so forth. Motohashi seems to have been hugely energetic for this ample book, photographing everything from uniformed ceremony to one worker taking a leak from a platform down to the track. It’s from a time when quantity meant more than formula or repetition. I haven’t compared it with the original but the printing is at least as good and a copy of this costs a lot less than does a copy of the older book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-582-27795-1; CiNii.)
So I bought Ueno eki no makuai, and enjoyed it on the way home. But I felt a little sad. I’d got most enjoyment out of a couple of books of photos taken before most of Tsutaya’s customers were even born. Did nothing appeal among what was new (and perhaps unimaginable thirty years ago)?
The doorbell rang and help arrived from China: my copy of Zhang Xiao (张晓)’s They (他们). Zhang, from the northeast of China, was living in Chongqing in the southwest, when he took the (uncaptioned, unexplained) photographs here. Apparently they’re all taken with a Holga, and with no trickery. It would have to be an extraordinarily well behaved Holga, and certain phenomena seem preternatural even by urbanizing Chinese standards. So I’m not sure what’s going on here. But there’s a contrast: while I don’t know what’s going on in a lot of the photos in books on display in Tsutaya, I generally couldn’t care less; here, the misty, oneiric scenes are odd indeed, and whether they’re real or fake they fascinate.
There’s a lot from this series available on the web: here and here, as well as Zhang’s site. See for yourself. And reading material here and here. The book is published by Jia Za Zhi Press in Beijing and very handsomely done it is too. The publisher writes about it here and here; you can order it by email from them (as I did) or from Bigcartel (here), and it’s said to be available from some retailers.
I’d not heard of the book, the series or the photographer till a couple of weeks ago. (I must have missed this at Eyecurious.) Though Zhang’s CV lists a lot of exhibitions and awards, it doesn’t mention any book. They isn’t his first; there’s also Coastline, published by Actes Sud in 2011. I wonder if there have been more.
It’s been 24 years since the opening of the Seikan tunnel, linking Honshū and Hokkaidō (Japan’s two biggest islands). The tunnel’s 54 km long, making it the longest rail tunnel anywhere and over twice the length of the longest road tunnel. Planning and surveying took decades, construction started in 1971, and the tunnel opened in 1988. This Aomori government page makes the staggering claim that over time the number of workers totalled 13.8 million.
A search engine will find photographs of the construction of the tunnel. Here’s Jiji’s selection: strong on ceremony but weak on anything else. (The website of the tunnel museum offers stuffed dolls but not a single photo of construction.)
Look up 青函 (i.e. Seikan) in the OPAC of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and there are three hits. One’s for a 1988 book about the ferry (now history). The other two are for a book about the tunnel: 男たちの海峡 青函トンネル風雪20年 中田健造写真集 Otoko-tachi no kaikyō: Seikan tonneru fūsetsu 20-nen: Nakada Kenzō shashinshū. (If you’re in the library, the call numbers are P810/N31-2/1 and P810/N31-2/1a.) The title means something like: “Strait of men: 20 years of Seikan tunnel hardships: A photobook by Nakada Kenzō” (“strait” as in Hormuz, not dire). This 1988 book is a very early entry in the BeeBooks series: according to its spine, no. 21; according to the publisher’s list, no. 23. It’s tiny: 17×18.5 cm and about fifty pages. Printing quality is 1980s (some later BeeBooks would have superb printing), and some pages have as many as twelve photos (all B/W). You get the sense that the book doesn’t do the photographs justice, but sometimes the reproductions are so short of detail that you can’t be quite sure.
It’s not that there are other books and the museum’s library is simply weak in the genre of tunnel-construction photography. As far as I know, Nakada was the only photographer to have spent much time in the tunnel before its completion, his is the only sizeable collection of photos of the construction process, and this is the only photobook that exists.
Nakada very generously gave me a copy of this rare book when I visited his current exhibition. Today’s the last day of this show at JCII of a different selection of the same title (男たちの海峡 青函トンネル風雪20年 Otoko-tachi no kaikyō: Seikan tonneru fūsetsu 20-nen). The wall-space isn’t wasted, but the prints are big enough (and excellently printed). And there’s a 32-page booklet of the kind that normally accompanies a JCII show, a booklet that like the earlier book is rather too full, with as many as six photos per page. Again, some do little more than jog the memory of what you’ve seen. Gems among them: top left on p.11, top left on p.16, bottom of p.22.
Not all the photos are of work. There are perhaps one or two too many of work-related celebrations and ceremonies. But there are also good photos of family life: p.27 of the JCII booklet has two in particular: one of a couple of boys nonchalantly dragging their bags along the road and another of a mother and two young children that might be one of the high points of an early book of Araki’s.
But mostly they are of work. When Douglas Stockdale recently asked about photobooks about work, I had trouble coming up with Japanese examples. Two generations ago Japanese photographers whether international (Hamaya Hiroshi) or local (Shimizu Bukō) photographed work, but there’s little sign of this among the contemporary Japanese photobooks at London. Predictably, a visit to NADiff two days ago brought nothing related; instead, I was mostly treated to photographers artists working in lens-based media tastefully exploring and exhibiting their sensibilities (which tended to resemble each other). All very worthy, but my own tastes instead run to Yamamoto Sakubei.
Paging photobook publishers: If there were a well-edited, sensibly-sized collection of Nakada’s photos in duotone, I’d buy a couple of copies.
All the images above are copyright © Nakada Kenzō.
The recent Thames & Hudson book Street Photography Now is a mixed bag, but among its gems are panoramas of İstanbul by Arif Aşçı. I had to see the book from which they were taken.
Aşçı’s İstanbul Panorama has now been lying on my sofa for a long time, and for a simple reason: the floor seems unworthy of it, and there’s nowhere else to put it. It’s 34 cm high and 49 cm wide. Here it is with two other books; observe how it disappears into the distance. It’s thick, too: plenty of photos inside. Read the rest of this entry »
Ipy Girl Ipy popped up when I was idly looking through listings for photobooks at Yahoo Auction (in the āto shashin and not the josei tarento section, honest). I’d never heard of the book, its photographer or its model, but it was going cheap and the sample page spreads looked interesting so I sprang for it. It arrived a couple of days later. Read the rest of this entry »