a pile of 2015 photobooks


Lists of the photobooks of 2015 — you’ve already glanced at fifty; one more can’t hurt you. Here’s what I acquired during the year. And with one exception, I’m glad I did.


History travels badly. A booklet of miscellaneous photos by Inge Morath, interspersed with short and somewhat enigmatic quotations from her diaries. Too many of the photos are “landscape” format, so they’re either broken across the centre or (thanks to the generous margins) too small. Well, it’s a mood piece: go through this in the train and you’ll want to look through a larger book of her work in the evening. The title is a bit of a mystery: the text on the cover suggests that it’s from Tennessee at a time when Estes Kefauver was being encouraged to run as Governor, but this was an episode that even the omniscient Wikipedia hasn’t heard of. This minor mystery is a good opening for a booklet whose photos all have at least a touch of obscurity about them. It makes me want to dig out my copies of two of her other books.

Disclosure (tip of the hat to Pete Brook for this sterling idea): A friend nudged me into a crowdfunder for Danube revisited, and this was the goodie I later received.

Inge Morath, edited by Olivia Arthur and Lurdes R Basolí. History travels badly. London: Fishbar. ISBN 978-0-9569959-6-4. (Careful: this booklet seems to share its ISBN with a different book, Sudden flowers. The Morath booklet reviewed by Gabriela Cendoya.)


Let’s get the major disappointment out of the way first: For Isle of Man revisited, Chris Killip hasn’t revisited the Isle of Man. Instead, he and Steidl have revisited Isle of Man: A book about the Manx (1980), whose printing was about as good as anything I’ve seen from 1980 but whose page design was afflicted by lavish margins that of course resulted in small reproductions.


That’s the earlier book on the left. Below, the pair are the other way around:


The reproductions are warmer in the older book, and in this example the older reproduction has more contrast and drama as well. So the fan of early Killip will probably want both books.

The new book brings thirty more photographs (says Killip; I haven’t counted), all reproduced much larger and of course to Steidl’s usual high standard. Here’s the Isle of Man as it was in the early seventies, but to my uneducated eye a lot of the photos could have been taken in the fifties or indeed the thirties. (Now that the island’s a tax-dodgers’ haven, I’d guess that it has all the authenticity and allure of Liechtenstein, though with duller weather.) Killip may have used the same kind of camera he later used for In flagrante; but here, as you might expect from the subject, the results resemble that book less than they do the work of Hölttö or at times even Inha.

Disclosure: Nothing. I looked at Steidl’s website (for the first time in months), and there it was. I ordered it from some company selling through the “Abebooks” arm of Amazon.

Chris Killip, Isle of Man revisited. Göttingen: Steidl. ISBN 978-3-86930-959-0. (Steidl’s page about it; review by Marc Pussemier; Killip talks about this and three other books coming out from Steidl.)


Childhood days. Suda Issei’s archive continues to be mined for bookfuls of excellent stuff . . . as well as items for the completist. In this collection, of early photographs of children, not every photo is strong, but enough are. It’s not only for completists. As is normal for this publisher, the book costs about three times as much as you’d expect. (Worse, as its stock of a book goes down, this publisher tends to jack up the price.) But the printing matches that of Early works 1970–1975 (published two years earlier): it’s as if you’re looking at a bound set of (small) photographic prints. Slimmer than and not quite as good as Early works, but not-quite-top-level Suda is still worth looking out for.

Disclosure: Nothing. I’d heard of it somewhere (I forget where); I went to some photobook fair (my one time in the whole year) and saw it there and bought it. (Also there was his inanimate fetishism book Rei, which tempted me no more than his earlier book Rubber did.)

須田一政 = Suda Issei. Childhood days. Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa Publishing. (Captions [place names and years] in roman script; afterword in Japanese and English. With one cover and with another cover at Shashasha; with one cover and with another cover at Nagasawa. Though Japan Exposures doesn’t have this, it does have other books by Suda that elsewhere are more expensive or simply unavailable.)


I stupidly didn’t get a copy of Viktor Kolář’s Ostrava when it came out five years ago; at the time of writing, the only copies at Abebooks are each $712 (plus $75 airmail) from some outfit calling itself “Book Deals”. And so I bought Kolář’s Human, a smaller collection of photos from the Ostrava series, and published by Only Photography, whose proprietor has excellent taste in photography. If you don’t already know Kolář, then look here; for me he was one of the main reasons to buy the book of In the face of history (I couldn’t see the show).

The book delivers about sixty photographs, printed very matt(e) and making excellent use of the page (adequate but narrow margins). Once it’s lying open on the desk, it’s excellent.

Otherwise, though . . . the book is an almost perfect rectangular cuboid, bound with one slab of cardboard at the front and another at the back. The slabs aren’t coated and will attract greasy thumbprints. If you drop the book, the lack of any overhang means a lack of impact absorbance, so what’s bound is more likely to be damaged — indeed, I saw another copy that had been dropped and the stitching at the back was coming undone. Memo to book designers: binders had mastered the art of constructing a codex by the 18th century (indeed, probably much earlier, but I haven’t examined any examples); most innovations since then have been degradations (tolerable if the degradation is minor and the saving great); go ahead and innovate if you want, but a bulky, inflexible front and back cover trimmed flush with the pages is just stupid.

Still, the content excuses the odd packaging choices. Kolář’s heroes were Cartier-Bresson, Davidson and Koudelka; and achievement matches aspiration. There are unexpected little delights here too: the woman in plate 59 (1974) — is that Velma Von Tussle from Hairspray? (And get a copy of Kolář’s Canada, 1968–1973 [2013] too, and quickly, before it suffers the fate of the Ostrava book.)

Disclosure: Nothing. I think I first heard of this book from Only Photography’s website. I went to So Books in the hope of finding a copy but did so at least a month too early. I asked for a copy to be reserved for me; it was, and I bought it.

Viktor Kolář. Human. Berlin: Only Photography. ISBN 978-3-9816885-3-5. (Text in German and English; captions. The publisher’s page about this and similarly designed books; video from PhotoBookStore.)


America 1955 . . . ah, let’s consider how we should approach this one:

  • photographed in 1955 by Hayashi Tadahiko, a commercially successful photographer (especially of male celebs)
  • Hayashi was accompanying Japan’s contestant, Takahashi Keiko, for “Miss Universe”
  • contains photos of other celebs (Cary Grant, etc)
  • Hayashi and his chums were dissed by Domon and his chums, who were later dissed by the Provoke generation, who themselves were (etc)
  • two photos per page on quite a lot of the pages
  • published by a large company that rarely if ever puts out photobooks (you can gaze in awe and horror at the top page of its website)
  • cover photo shows a stereotypically blonde 1950s girl, posing for max cleavage

So Robert Frank’s America it’s not.

But the book disposes of the beauty queens in just the first (and one of the shortest) of its seven sections. As expected, these particular photos are indeed humdrum. But even in this section (on Palm Beach), one photo is first-rate street work. Some of the shots elsewhere could be by Feinstein, Faurer or indeed even Frank. (And, Araki style, a few are of Hayashi rather than by him.)

Some of this material came out in popular magazines at the time, but that was about the last time they were seen until the 1993 exhibition and catalogue 林忠彦の世界:林忠彦の見た戦後、カストリ・文士・そしてアメリカ = Tadahiko Hayashi (plain beige cover, plentiful on the used book market). But this new book is the first one dedicated to them and it’s most worthwhile.

Disclosure: Nothing. I was in Tsutaya looking for good new Japanese photobooks (and Kenneth Graves’ Home front); most of what I saw was instead the usual art school stuff but here was a lively surprise. So I bought it.

林忠彦 = Hayashi Tadahiko. America 1955. Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten. ISBN 978-4-19-863973-0. (No captions; section headings in English only; explanatory text in Japanese only.)


Slaughter. A booklet of Fukase’s photos of his lovely young wife Yōko in a slaughterhouse; I suppose partly because this was a more sensational backdrop than a junkyard, and partly because, as Yōko observed as far back as 1973, photos of her by Fukase were photos of him. Beautifully printed, and the best of these photos are excellently composed (and not at all repellent); but as a whole it’s just kitschy. Then again, I have minimal interest in the genre (whose deity is Hosoe Eikō) of elegant people striking arty poses amid the rough, rural and rude. I wish I’d bought Fukase’s new cat ’n’ Yōko book instead.

Disclosure: Nothing. I’d not heard of it, but when I paid my sole visit to a photobook fair I must have fallen for the combination of the great name Fukase and the “These are the very last copies” spiel.

深瀬昌久 = Fukase Masahisa. 屠 (To) = Slaughter. Kamakura: Super Labo. ISBN 978-4-905052-81-4. (Review by Olga Yatskevich; video.)


Arimoto Shinya is up to vol. 6 of Ariphoto selection. Big, square B/W as always; and here it’s back to street portraiture: 18 photos, well reproduced, cheap. If only I had wall space, I might have cut up an extra copy and framed the individual pages. (Not that his prints are overpriced: on the contrary.) Ariphoto has been exhibited in Goa; some year soon, Europe and the Americas might catch up.

Disclosure: Nothing in particular. I know the photographer, but not at all well. (We’ve only ever met at Totem Pole, as far as I remember.) There was a pile of vol. 6 at a recent Ariphoto show at Totem Pole, so I bought one from him.

Arimoto Shinya (有元伸也). Ariphoto selection vol. 6. Tokyo: Totem Pole Photo Gallery. (No captions or other text. Heads up at Tokyo Camera Style. Vol. 6 was here within Arimoto’s website, but it has sold out. As have all the five earlier volumes. If there’s ever a volume 7, here’s where we’ll learn of it.)


Seisorenkan is the largest, handsomest and best of what I’ve seen among Shimohira Tatsuya’s numerous slim books. Forty or so square B/W plates, of nature, festival events and trappings, festival participants, and more. If it’s reminiscent of Suda and Arimoto (and Kai Keijirō), then who better? I just wish that there were explanations of what we’re looking at. (David Goldblatt’s reputation has survived his provision of explanations.)

Disclosure: Nothing. I’d seen the book at Zen Foto but hadn’t paid attention to it (perhaps because of its formidable page size); however, in my sole visit to a photobook fair I looked in it again and it was good. I did meet the photographer, but only nominally: we exchanged pleasantries and he signed.

下平竜矢 = Shimohira Tatsuya. 星霜連関 (Seisōrenkan) = Seisorenkan. Tokyo: Zen Foto Gallery. (No captions or other text. Here within Shimohira’s website; here at the retailer Shashasha.)


Dédale is Laurent Chardon’s view of crepuscular and nocturnal Paris. We’ve come a long way from Izis: this Paris is dark, decaying and somewhat menacing (though with no cheap effects). Gatefolds show a series of head ’n’ shoulders shots of people making their way through the big city: I think of Joseph Selle and In this dark wood.

Dédale left me a bit blank on first acquaintance but it has since become one of the most intriguing of this year’s bunch. There’s no indication of where in or around Paris the photographs were taken, or indeed of what Daedalus has to do with Paris (though I’ll guess that the title points to the city’s labyrinthine character).

Disclosure: Nothing special. I think I first noticed this at Poursuite’s website. I knew the photographer’s name and we’d years before had a brief email exchange over his Tangente. I ordered the book from Poursuite.

Laurent Chardon. Dédale. [Paris]: Poursuite. ISBN 978-2-918960-82-9. (No captions and, aside from acknowledgments, no text. Its publisher’s page about it; Chardon’s page about it; reviews by Hélène Delye and Jonathan Blaustein; video.)


Filling the gaps:

From 2010 to 2011, having finished our studies, and feeling the need to get away for a while before settling down, my girlfriend and I spent a year in a life-sharing community in Ireland. We lived and worked with people with special needs. These photos are a record of that year.

So says Bernàth Tamàs. It’s a fine record and when he brings out an actual photobook (of this or anything else) I want to see it. Meanwhile, this is marketed as a zine and priced like a zine; but both the photography and the printing are far above what I dare expect from a zine.

Disclosure: Nothing. I’d heard of neither the booklet or its photographer until I saw the former at the Independent Photo Book. I ordered my copy from the photographer.

Tamas Bernath (Bernàth Tamàs). Filling the gaps. [Budapest]: the photographer. (A tiny edition, but luckily no mention of “limited”; this deserves a second edition. Book and many of the photos in Bernàth’s website.)

PS (28 Dec): There’s an interview with Bernàth here.


Tohihi: views of well-worn Japan. Hashimoto Katsuhiko waited seventy years before the first book or exhibition of his that I know of; at seventy, he was up to the task of photographing sleepy Japanese structures even if the printing company wasn’t. But that was for the 2012 book もう一つの風景 (Mō hitotsu no fūkei) = The other scenery; three years later he’s back with a new collection: more, bigger and far better reproduced plates (though still in a tiny edition). A few of the buildings here are neat, but most are more or less ramshackle and some seem in danger of collapse. There’s heavy dependence on cheap wooden slats, corrugated iron and nails. They’re the kind of buildings I enjoy seeing when out on a ride.

Disclosure: Nothing. I happened to notice the book while Sōkyūsha’s bookshop, partly because I remembered the photographer’s name from his first book. I liked it; I bought a copy there and then.

橋本勝彦 = Hashimoto Katsuhiko. 遠い日 (Tōi hi) = Tohihi. Tokyo: Sokyu-sha. (Captions give placenames in both Japanese and Roman scripts; afterword in Japanese and English. The Roman-letter title is spelled idiosyncratically [there’s no /h/ sound]; the title means “a/the distant day(s)”. Here at Sokyusha; here at Shashasha.)


In Kumogakure onsen, Murakami Masakazu presents photos from the start of the century of onsen and surroundings. They’re dark, grainy, and sometimes blurred, rather in the Moriyama style (for which my appetite is very limited). The people look a bit blank; are they perhaps a little bored? (Boredom quickly overcame me during my one visit to an onsen, and that was a long time before attention deficit hyperwebsurfing disorder made unthinkable the prospect of lying in a bath for ages.) I prefer the unpeopled scenes, of funky street scenes and interior decor, etc. The book costs less than the train to and from an actual onsen, I can keep my clothes on (or indeed stay completely undressed) as I go through it, and my phone won’t get wet.


The book is a reworking of Kumogakure onsen yuki (雲隠れ温泉行き), published in 2007 (and on the left above). The earlier book is well produced in its way, and copies are easy to find and cheap — but most photographs are printed across double page spreads and thus disfigured by the gutter. This new book doesn’t cost much more and I think it’s far superior; but in order to escape disfigurement, the “landscape” format photos are printed much smaller than in the old book. Take your choice.

The older book:


The newer one:


I’ll take smaller and undisfigured, thanks.

Disclosure: I’ve met the photographer a couple of times, I think. But it would have been a couple of years ago and I may be mixing him up with somebody else. I saw the book, I liked it (but the content looked familiar); I forgot about it; later I saw it again somewhere (I forget where) and liked it and bought it. (My copy came with a small print.)

村上仁一 = Murakami Masakazu. 雲隠れ温泉行 (Kumogakure onsen yuki) = Kumogakure onsen: Reclusive travels. Tokyo: Roshin. ISBN 978-4-9907230-2-6. (Captions give placenames in both Japanese and Roman scripts; afterword in Japanese and English. The main title means “hot springs hidden in clouds”. Roshin’s page about the new book; Shashasha’s page; Book of Days’ page.)


Shimakage has forty-five or so black and grey photographs of coastal and other scenes.
“The works are gelatin silver prints utilizing a retouching technique called zokin-gake (rag-wiping) popular among amateur photographers in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s.” Once we’ve deciphered meaning from the dark greys (a process I enjoyed; not all will) there are a handful of more or less conventional landscapes, but rather more of antipictorialism. I enjoy teasing out meanings from the dark images, but not everybody will.

Disclosure: Nothing. I happened to notice it while Sōkyūsha’s bookshop, and bought a copy there and then. It’s the photographer’s second book, but I don’t recognize her name or (now that I google for them) the cover or title of her first one.

白石ちえこ = Shiraishi Chieko. 島影 = Shimakage. Tokyo: Sokyu-sha. (Captions give placenames in both Japanese and Roman scripts; afterword in Japanese and English. The title means “island shadow”. Exhibition at Morioka Shoten (before that moved and became world-famous); here at Sokyusha; here at Shashasha.)


Kubota Tomoki’s Ashio shows Ashio, once the site of a copper mine, severe environmental degradation, and richly deserved riots. The mine closed in 1973. (I suppose that the copper I now consume comes from Congo-Kinshasa or some similarly wretched part of the world. But of course I try to avoid thinking about this.) Kubota’s booklet of 18 B/W photos doesn’t show lingering pollution in any obvious way; Ashio seems a placid place. There’s variety here and the modest scale is just right.

Disclosure: Nothing. I happened to notice it in Sōkyūsha’s bookshop blog, looked out for it the next time I was in the shop, found it, and bought it there and then.

久保田智樹 = Kubota Tomoki. 足尾 = Ashio. [Tokyo]: Red Stream Photography. (No captions, no text, aside from a bilingual colophon. My copy came with a little print. Red Stream’s Facebook post; here at Sokyu-sha.)


Very unlike State of mind, Nuno Moreira’s previous book, Zona has interior photographs of a girl: her back, her arms and legs, a chair, a table, dried flowers, etc — but mostly the girl. Lots of chiaroscuro, for composition is most important here. There’s bare skin; but I doubt that anyone will find this erotic, or indeed unerotic — it’s doing something quite different. Photographs alternate with trilingual text; both are oneiric but I confess that the text befuddled me (after not much reading, I started to skip it), whereas the photographs continued to fascinate. A very smartly designed package.

Disclosure: I know the photographer, but now that we’re at opposite ends of Eurasia we seldom meet. I was BCC’d in mail he sent to announce the new book; I bought a copy like anybody else.

Nuno Moreira. Zona [Lisbon]: the photographer. ISBN 978-989-20-6083-5. (Text by José Luís Peixoto in Portuguese, Japanese and English. Here and here at Moreira’s site; here at Josef Chladek’s site; review by Christer Ek.)


“5 4 3 2 1”, announces the copyright page of Sometimes a funny sea: five printings envisaged, so none of the “limited edition” mumbo-jumbo here, it seems. Though perhaps Samuel Grant is playing around with the book design here. Close to the format of a bunkobon, the book is divided into “Postcards from Europe”, “Polaroids & other pictures (mostly America)”, and “Mexico”; it ends with “The End”. There are landscapes, townscapes, portraits and more, totalling a hundred or so. The reproductions are small and you want — or anyway I want to look closer. There’s some shallow-focus trickery that I suppose was achieved with a tilting lens; and some ageing of the prints (a lot more subtle than what certain hyped photographers are doing these days). If you’re looking for a photobook to read on the train, here it is. Though it makes for enjoyable reading anywhere.

Disclosure: I had La Rue (and had a brief email exchange with the photographer a couple of years back). So when this new book was announced at the Independent Photobook blog I recognized the name. I bought a copy, paying for it like anybody else. (And after I received it I thought a friend would like it so I bought a second copy too.)

Sometimes a funny sea: Selected photographic works by Samuel W. Grant. No place specified: the photographer. (Here at Fluidr; here at BigCartel; here at Storenvy.)


Happening relates Sato Haruna’s misadventures in a short trip to Kuwait that was almost a non-trip . . . but she came out all right in the end. The misadventures themselves didn’t lead themselves to photography; but here’s a good pile of photographs for such a short trip. Though I’ve never been so enthralled by her continuing Ichi no hi series, I did always like her small shows of (B/W) photos from her lightning trips to various places around the world; I hope this little book is a sign that there’ll more of this.

Disclosure: I know the photographer, though not well. I didn’t know of this book. When I paid my sole visit to a photobook fair, there was the photographer, who discreetly drew it to my attention. I bought a copy, on which she drew a little camel for me. (But I think she’d do the same for you, if you asked politely.)

佐藤春菜 = Sato Haruna. ハプニング (Hapuningu) = Happening. Tokyo: Kaido. (Text in Japanese and English. Order from here.)


YU: The lost country is a small, slim book, inspired by Rebecca West’s Black lamb and grey falcon (which I haven’t read): the exile returns to a place once named Yugoslavia but now sternly divided, as a result, I suppose, of tribalism, gangsterism, fear and stupidity. Dragana Jurišić is not at all happy with what she experiences, and finds West extraordinarily insightful and prescient. Jurišić’s good with the little text observation; for example (in Bosnia and/or Herzegovina): “Looking at the shops by the side of the road; curtains, garden gnomes, plaster swans and tombstones. This country is fucked.” Well, yes, but it does get me thinking: Kitsch is almost everywhere; couldn’t the same observation be made in many countries? (In Nicaragua, for example, it’s government policy.) And yes, those countries are probably fucked too, but I don’t know how such observations show it. (I’d look at the Corruption Perceptions Index and the consumption of heroin, for starters.) But I mustn’t be too literal-minded: this is a photobook, not an OECD report. There’s more text by Jurišić and more from West’s book (whose prose can be purplish); and of course there are Jurišić’s photos (plus some from the past). Some of these are arresting (the birds in the tree, the man with the dandelion).

For me the book doesn’t quite add up, when I think about it. But when I just browse through it, it works; and I do want to browse through it again. So I’ll hang on to YU (together with B, BY, IS, RUS and U). Yes, it’s compelling (and it’s excellently produced).

Though when I turn to Tomasz Wiech and Michał Olszewski’s Poland: In search of diamonds, I wish they’d turn their wry sensibilities to what was once Yugoslavia (or indeed to anywhere else).

Disclosure: Nothing. Sean O’Hagan’s review of the book interested me so I bought a copy from the photographer as any other interested reader might.

Dragana Jurišić. YU: The lost country. [Dublin]: Oonagh Young Gallery. ISBN 978-0-9929641-1-5. (Here on Jurišić’s website, but already out of print; video.)


Tiksi (Тикси) is on the northern shore of Russia: 71°39′N, with recorded temperature extremes of 34° and −50° and a population of about five thousand. So says Wikipedia. It’s where the photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva comes from. With the help of a girl she met there by chance and who appears in many of the photographs, she portrays Tiksi as, or turns it into, a magical playground. Russia’s far north isn’t an unexplored subject — Ville Lenkkeri’s The place of no roads and the wreckage of Alexander Gronsky’s Norilsk and more — but this is an unfamiliarly appreciative and affectionate view.

Disclosure: Nothing. I saw some of the photos on the Guardian website before there was any mention of a book; later, when I saw a book mentioned, ordered a copy from Book of Days (excellent packing and service).

Evgenia Arbugaeva (Евгения Арбугаева). Tiksi. Paris: The Eyes. ISBN 979-10-92727-03-6. (Text in English. There are generous sets of JPEGs here and here; and here’s an interview with Arbugaeva and Tanya.


Hold the line: Siegfried Hansen is in In-Public but it’s not what you’d expect . . . perhaps Keld Helmer-Petersen meets Alex Webb: anyway, all bright colours and sharp lines. It’s street design serendipity. There’s certainly a human element: the cover shows half a leg, a quarter of another leg, and half a hand. A woman is at work in an office seemingly suspended over a vertiginous view of what looks like Tokyo (though I can’t quite place it), with tiny, distant signs advertising Marui, Megane Supā and more.

The book had a big impact on me at first sight; but I didn’t want to linger. Returning to it later, I see things I’d missed — and what seemed obvious turns out not to be.

Disclosure: Nothing. It looked good in Colin Pantall’s review, so I ordered a copy from the “Book Depository” (ie Amazon) via “Abebooks” (ie Amazon).

Siegfried Hansen. Hold the line. Dortmund: Kettler. ISBN 978-3-86206-435-9. (No text. Seemingly out of print at its publisher, but the book doesn’t mention that the edition is “limited”, so we can hope. Or you could try writing to Hansen. Its publisher’s page about it; Josef Chladek’s coverage.)


Japanese barbers on the route 1 brings you 92 views of barbers’ establishments along Tōkaidō or route 1. A generation ago people in Tokyo wouldn’t have imagined that most cafés would be chainified (Doutor, Crié, Veloce, Starbucks, etc); a generation from now I’d guess that barbers will be chainified too. But this hasn’t happened yet; and for now barbers exemplify ruggedly vernacular design (or undesign). Here’s a book that does for the Japanese barber what numerous photobooks have done for the US diner. The format is close to that of various huge-selling photobooks (example), and it’s priced to move.

Disclosure: Nothing. I saw it at Sōkyūsha’s bookshop, liked it, and bought it.

林朋彦 = Hayashi Tomohiko. 東海道中床屋ぞめき (Tōkaidōchū tokoya-zomeki) = Japanese barbers on the route 1. Tokyo: Fujin-sha. ISBN 978-4-938643-61-4. (Here on its publisher’s website; here at Sokyu-sha.)


Beyond the water tower has photographs of over sixty Japanese examples of water tower. I don’t know how representative this sample is. (I’m surprised to realize that I’ve paid little attention to water towers — unlike incinerator chimneys, which I notice all the time.) But there’s a wide variety here. The “beyond” of the English title is a mystery: some towers are shown with minimal surroundings, others with more; rather too many are shown in twilight or at night (no such additional drama was needed). If only this degree of imagination went into the design of, say, Japanese schools. (Although the design of water towers pales beside that of playground equipment, which may be to Japan what bus stops are to the spawn of the Soviet Union.)

Disclosure: Nothing. I saw it at Aoyama Book Center (Roppongi), liked it, and bought it.

比留間幹 = Hiruma Miki. 給水塔 (Kyūsuito) = Beyond the water tower. Tokyo: Little, More. ISBN 978-4-89815-419-9. (Captions and text in Japanese only. Samples at Hiruma’s website; the book at its publisher’s website.)


Imperial Courts 1993–2015 has just reached me. Yes it looks good, but I’ve hardly started to digest its content. You’ll have already read about it elsewhere.

Disclosure: Nothing. I liked what Mrs Deane wrote about the photos and what Rob Hornstra and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa wrote about the book. (Yes, I was actually swayed by “Best of 2015” lists.) So I ordered a copy from Book of Days.

Dana Lixenberg. Imperial Courts 1993–2015. Amsterdam: Roma. ISBN 9789491843426. (Page in its publisher’s website; exhibition notice; sample photos, photos of scans, essay by Lixenberg here; George Pitts’ review.)

Not much documentary or street stuff above, in large part because I didn’t see much. I suppose Tsutaya has calculated that its customers are more interested in the “young hipsters prancing around naked”, “people with blank expressions standing in front of boring backdrops”, “my tragicomic relationship with my nutty mom/ex/etc”, “my sweet relationship with my wife/husband”, and other genres. Which are welcome to flourish, but which don’t excite me. No, for me the number one boss photobook at Tsutaya remains the facsimile Decisive Moment. (Yes, as Sean O’Hagan says, its photography is outmoded. Time for the modes to change.)

I haven’t seen enough even to pretend that the pile above are the best, even according to my own unfashionable criteria. I’ve only intermittently paid attention to what’s been on the shelves of any bookstore, haven’t once been in any photobookstore outside Tokyo, have read few recommendations, haven’t seen most of what’s on others’ “best of” lists (eg I haven’t seen even one of the eight Teju Cole lists, have (like everyone) been locked out of the library of the Tokyo Museum of Photography, and have been determined to accumulate fewer kilograms than I’d done the previous year. So what you see is all of what I bought. Though I omitted (i) a handful of Café Royal booklets, because once you hear about them from anywhere other than CRB they’re already gone; and (ii) a pedestrian survey, which I seem to have mislaid, of the work of Hamaya Hiroshi, who deserves far better.

One that I didn’t get: The photography in Songbook is great; it can stand without the whimsical and bulky trimmings. (If only it had instead been published by Poursuite!) I might buy a copy of a second, cheapskate edition.

Photobooks of the year that I haven’t seen but hope to: Irina Popova, Welcome to LTP; Kenneth Graves, The home front; Stephan Vanfleteren, Charleroi: Il est clair que le gris est noir; Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti, The heavens: Annual report; David Solomons, Up west.

Photobooks of 2016 I’m most looking forward to: Chris Killip, In flagrante two; Rosalind Fox Solomon, Got to go; Jason Eskenazi, The black garden; plus what I haven’t heard of and can’t even start to imagine.

Photobook I bought most recently: Rolf Reiner Maria Borchard, Riga (1999): a staid but handsome portrait of that city, bought at the Iidabashi branch of Book Off on 22 December for just ¥200 (xe.com says €1.52).

Best non-photo book recommended to me this year by any photographer: Richard McGuire, Here.

Want other, better informed lists? Here’s a list of links to them. (How many will there be? There were at least 22 for 2011, 56 for 2012, 87 for 2013 and 58 for 2014.) For another view of mostly Japanese books, see John Sypal’s list.

If you take this stuff seriously, try this; and if like me you don’t, try this.


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.