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 »


tumbling contemporary Japanese photobooks

A brand new list of photobook blogs at Phot(o)lia even mentions this “microcord” thing. Which therefore had better blog about some photobooks, and pronto.

The Contemporary Japanese Photobooks exhibition in London turns out to have its own Tumblr, clearly showing plenty of the books that are on display. This renders pretty much superfluous my previous, laboriously constructed post. But at least its images are easily pillaged. What with (i) this, (ii) my very recent discovery of Book of Days (another English-understanding, PayMate-using source for Japanese books), and (iii) a certain lack of energy to write anything original — well, today I’ll shamelessly attempt to wring a bit more about of Contemporary Japanese Photobooks.

If your browser works like mine (or your computer has as little memory), you’ll wait a long time while all those cover images tumbl in. And even then, you’ll often not know which cover image is of what, or of course which books are worth looking at — let alone what to do if you like the book and want a copy of your own. So below are a handful among the exhibited books. I omit some that don’t interest me but also a lot that are unfamiliar and a few that I know are good, so don’t be dismayed by the paucity of what’s below; go to the show (and escape the jamboree to the east).

In the Tumblr, imposing a standard width for images makes sense. Below the fixed width makes no sense at all, but it leads to possibly amusing illusions, such as that the slight Umimachi is bigger than the hefty Taigan. Click on each image below to get you to its page within the Tumblr, whereupon — well, I don’t know what, but Ghostery tells me it has zapped Disqus, Facebook Social Plugins, Google +1, Google Analytics, Pinterest, Quantcast, Twitter Button from the blank pages I view. With enough wittering, you can give some of these books the finger.

Not listed as a source for any of the books below is PH, simply because I don’t think it’s a source for any of them. However, PH can supply you with either Showa 88 or Modern Times (both of which are in the show) and also “volumes” (fascicles) 1 and 2 of Ariphoto Selection (which ought to be in the show even if they aren’t).

Kitai Kazuo, ToujibaKitai Kazuo (北井一夫), Tohjiba: Healing spas of rural Japan = 湯治場, ISBN 978-4-905453-03-1.

The word healing makes me think of quack (“complementary”) medicine (as well as the most soporific derivative of jazz). But fear not, these places aren’t like Salsomaggiore or Sochi; they’re hot springs (onsen), priced for longer stays by older people, often farmers from the area.

These are peaceful scenes indeed (from the early 70s). While those photographed indulge in hot (if sometimes malodorous) water, you and I indulge in nostalgia for a Japan we never knew in the first place.

Like most (not all) of Zen Foto Gallery’s publications, (a) this is slim (here, 28 photos, plus the pair on the cover) and the printing quality could be better, but (b) the price is modest. And it’s fully bilingual, Japanese and English. (I do wonder, though, why a collection of mostly “landscape” photos is shoehorned into a portrait format.)

There’s a PDF prospectus here; for some reason my browser garbles some of its text. Here’s the book at Ken Iseki’s new notebook.

You can order this and Zen’s other publications directly from Zen; read more about this here.

Onaka Kōji, UmimachiOnaka Kōji (尾仲浩二), Umimachi = 海町, ISBN 978-4-905052-19-7. The title means “sea town(s)”, though it seems to be a neologism. This is the second edition; I think the first was something designed to be “collectible”. Photographs by Onaka of the area of Japan that twenty years later would be more or less destroyed by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Pleasing . . . though it’s rather small and slim, and should either get duotone printing or have its price halved. (Actually if it came from Steidl it would be in excellent duotone [or better] and have its price halved. There’s something to be said for big publishers.) Don’t complain: just pay up and skip dessert the next couple of times you’re in a restaurant.

You can see the book here at its publisher, which also puts out much else by some supremely trendy photographers. You can also get it at the publisher’s store. Japan Exposures doesn’t stock this one, but it does stock A Dog in France, a splendid example of a genre that I normally find very dreary, and a book I’m surprised to find myself liking a lot. And here is Umimachi at Onaka’s own shop; he’ll sign it for you. And of course he sells A Dog in France too. One problem is that the interface is in Japanese only. (And perhaps it’s not possible to send outside Japan, though I didn’t bother to look.) Here it is at Book of Days.

Fukase Masahisa, BukubukuFukase Masahisa (深瀬昌久), Bukubuku (no ISBN). The title is an onomatopœic word for bubbling. Fukase (he of Karasu / [The Solitude of] Ravens fame) photographs himself submerged, or mostly submerged, in his bath. Not like any other photobook I’ve ever seen, and indeed the genre of self-portraits in the bath is perhaps adequately exemplified by just this one book. Fukase looks solemn, and the whole thing is oddly comical. It’s also disturbing, as Fukase suffered from depression and this looks like a practice run for a (photographed?) suicide. In fact he would very soon have an accident that would leave him comatose until his death about twenty years later.

(Note to desperate curators: The photos here would make for a gimmicky but at least newsworthy exhibition if combined with those of Narahashi Asako’s Half awake and half asleep in the water.)

Book buyers (or anyway dealers) tend to salivate at the name Fukase and you’re likely to see this book advertised at silly prices. But it’s at Japan Exposures. And it’s going for even less here at Shelf (though the latter is Japanese only, and Japan only). Book of Days says it’s out of copies but expecting some to come in.

Tatsuki Masaru, Sono chi wa mada akai no kaTatsuki Masaru (田附勝), その血はまだ赤いのか (Sono chi wa mada akai no ka, no ISBN). The title means “Is the blood still red?” The format is generous (30×30 cm) and this is excellently printed, but NB there are only 16 pages.

Tatsuki observes people hunting for deer. They wait, somebody sees one, he shoots it, it dies. Or maybe more than one dies — one deer is pretty much the same as another to me, and now that I start to wonder about how many were killed, I realize that my copy of this is nowhere around so I can’t check.

I can’t make up my mind about this one. I bought Tatsuki’s Decotora when it came out, and recently his much celebrated Tohoku, but I didn’t rush to buy this. Is the deer shot for forest-management reasons, or just for somebody’s perverse amusement? Should I find something manly or attractive about killing wild mammals? (I don’t.) There’s a bit of this kind of thing in Tohoku as well; I hope that Tatsuki doesn’t turn into a photographic version of the dreary and inexplicably revered Hemingway. I’ll look again at my copy later, when I’ll either like it more or sell it.

The edition is small and finding a copy via the internet could be difficult. The gallery that published it has stopped selling it direct. A couple of weeks ago Kinokuniya (Shinjuku–Yoyogi branch) was selling copies.

Koga Eriko, Asakusa zenzaiKoga Eriko (古賀絵里子), 浅草善哉 (Asakusa Zenzai), ISBN 978-4-86152-336-6. I’ve already described this one here; duckduckgo for more. You can get a copy from Japan Exposures.
Araki Nobuyoshi, RakuenAraki Nobuyoshi (荒木経惟), 楽園 (Rakuen, no ISBN). Another stapled booklet: 19 pages, 24 photos. But that’s just the right size for what it is. The title means “paradise”, and Araki’s paradise consists of deeply colored foliage, unclothed dolls, and model dinosaurs. Improbably enjoyable, and one of my favourite Japanese photobook(let)s of 2011.

Luckily for you nobody went on record as agreeing with me, and the booklet’s publisher, the delightfully named Rat Hole Gallery, still offers copies of this small edition at the original, modest price.

This is not an item for everybody, but anyone wanting the combination of colour, flowers, naked dolls (genitals marked, presumably for pedagogic purposes) and model dinosaurs, won’t go wrong with it.

Dodo Arata, TaiganDodo Arata (百々新), Taigan = 対岸, ISBN 978-4-903545-77-6. The title means “opposite shore(s)”. Dodo travels around the Caspian Sea: yes, every nation, not excluding loopy Turkmenistan. People do their best to live normal, healthy lives despite pollution, theocracy, property speculation, and the various little monarchies in the making. There’s no obvious story or even subject here, but I for one am happy to see photographs by a thinking person of a part of the world I don’t normally see, particularly after piles of arty or artless Japanese volumes about the photographer’s unremarkable self, unremarkable family, unremarkable daily routine, unremarkable neighbourhood, etc etc etc. Hooray for Dodo, seeing the wider world.

Here are some of the photographs at Dodo’s website; here’s the book at the site of its publisher, which (unusually for a Japanese publisher) both functions in English and makes retail sales abroad; here it is at One Year of Books.

Incidentally, Dodo’s earlier book 上海の流儀 (Shanhai no ryūgi), on Shanghai (samples), is solid too.

Ichikawa Katsuhiro, Fukushima Ichikawa Katsuhiro (市川勝弘), Fukushima = 福島県双葉郡楢葉町1998-2006. ISBN 978-4-9905281-2-6.

I wrote this one up earlier. Here’s an oddly underexposed youtube of it.

Getting hard to find, but if you have a contact in Japan, Ōraidō has it. And . . . while friends don’t let friends buy at Amazon, it must be said that Amazon offers new copies from the publisher (at least within Japan).