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.
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  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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
A belated discovery that the Daikan’yama branch of Tsutaya is open from 7 a.m. had me heading there (rather later) this morning, because why not. I emerged after no mammoth expense; in part because I missed (or perhaps because they didn’t have) Suda Issei’s latest: the pair of Tokyokei (here at its publisher, here at Nite-sha) and The journey to Osorezan (here at Nite-sha).
Later I might get one or even both; because after all I’m not yet bankrupt and the price of a copy of every one of these Japanese/Taiwanese Suda books from the last couple of years adds up to less than that of one sixth (the Suda part) of this plutocrat pack. And the new pair probably have photos that are a lot more rewarding than the average in the pluto-pak, too; though the latter does come “on [Nazraeli’s] exclusive heavyweight Japanese paper and bound in Japanese cloth”. (Me, I’m less interested in the nationality of binding material than in the degree of welcome it provides for mildew spores.)
So anyway, Daikan’yama Tsutaya. This store has new copies of She dances on Jackson (whose cover makes it the perfect complement to Watanave’s Hito), of the Super Labo zine Wild flowers, of Stakeout diary, and of other much-discussed books that I’ve read are out of stock elsewhere.
How can this be? I’d guess because this branch of Tsutaya is designed to “navigate the lifestyles” — really! that’s what they say — of the moins de vingt dents: people sufficiently sprightly to be cruising for photobooks while the youthful and civilized are still having breakfast, but lacking the energy to have gone to the vernissages months earlier and picked up the free booze and tips on who’s hot and who’s not.
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
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.
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 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
Here’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
The 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
The 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.
Hara Yoshiichi (原芳市). Tokoyo no mushi = 常世の虫. Sōkyūsha. No ISBN.
Nuno Moreira, State of mind
This 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.
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
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
You 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.
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.
Kai Keijirō, Shrove Tuesday
The 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).
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
The 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
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:
Yes, this is a long overdue second edition of a boss photobook. (Don’t recognize the title? Check your Parr ’n’ Badger, I:305.)
No 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.
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] shinogo.com
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.
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.
- 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?
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.
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.
Some people seem to thrill to signed books. But when I contemplate this pile of signed (or about-to-be-signed) copies, my own very mild interest is quickly eclipsed by sympathy for Zhang. He’s a young man, I’d guess full of energy. Energy surely better expended on taking more photos, editing them, enjoying life with Mrs Zhang (actual or potential), or whatever.
Still, the prospect of signing five hundred isn’t enough to inspire thoughts of suicide; the task can be surmounted — perhaps in thirty-minute bouts, twice a day (just as I once learned to touchtype). And the book is published in China, a technologically advanced nation; which gives me hope that his signing chore might have been, shall we say, assisted.
I didn’t buy Suda’s even newer 1975 Miuramisaki, charming though its six (6) pages are. We read that there are 350 copies, all of them signed.
No, instead I bought a copy of Suda’s Kado no tabakoya made no tabi (more pages, lower price). I’d guess that there are between five hundred and a thousand copies of this; mine’s signed, and perhaps all of them are. Certainly BLD is selling signed copies of it, of Suda’s book Rubber, and of his Minyou sanga (my copy of which is signed), each for the list price. So it’s probable that hundreds of copies of these three books are signed, too.
Suda Issei had to write out his name three times just for me. If I ever meet him, I must apologize.
And in the space of just a year or so, he’s written out his name well over a thousand times. Perhaps close to two thousand times.
Suda is in his seventies. He could be attending to his juku, fishing, walking the dog, or whatever. Or of course taking photos. Assuredly he has better things to do than write out his own name, and again, and again, and again. . . .
While China and Japan have much in common (e.g. Borgian patterns of political appointments), Japan seems less enterprising. I do hope that its publishers/photographers too are employing labour-saving technology, but the variation among “my” examples of Suda’s signature suggests otherwise.
What is it about signed books, anyway? I have books that were signed especially for me by perhaps ten photographer friends and (face-to-face or email) acquaintances. And there’ve been some other bonuses too, like my copy of Stand BY, signed by three of its photographers. I didn’t ask for such signatures, and they were and are welcome. But this idea of signing (or autopenning) every copy of a book seems stupid. Photographers, if your publisher suggests this, just say no. Shouldn’t your photobook sell on its content and presentation? If you also want to appeal to the nitwit market, fine: cash in on it and cut down on the tedium: add the combination of a signature, a more interesting cover (ideas) and a small inkjet giclée print for an additional édition de luxe, priced accordingly.
There’s an an entire website devoted to autopenned astronaut signatures. (I haven’t yet found one on autopenned cosmonaut or photographer signatures.) Further reading: “Great moments in autopen history” (Gawker), “Ten facts about the ‘autopen’” (Politico), another perspective on signatures and “collectibility”, Steidlheads managing to go nuts even over unsigned books.
The italic print. Three of the four photos above are copyright Jiazazhi Press, the Autopen Company, and Automated Signature Technology respectively. The other one depicts works of calligraphy that are, in one way or another (I’m no expert on this stuff), the intellectual property of Suda Issei.
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.)
- 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.
- 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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.