Over the last few years, a growing interest in Japanese photoobooks has fueled an explosion in reprints and re-editions of many of the hard to find classic Japanese photobooks of the postwar period. With the cost of the original releases way beyond the budget of average photobook buyers, the reprints have become the only means for a larger audience to become acquainted with early photobook experiments by well-known Japanese photographers, such as Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu and Kikuji Kawada. But there still remain quite a few incredible photobooks by lesser-known photographers that until recently were rarely seen beyond tumblr posts and the bookshelves of antiquarian dealers. Recently, a number of Western and Japanese publishers have begun to fill this void with reprints and facsimiles of these less visible books by exceptional photographers of the postwar period.
Among Japanese photographers, the historical precedent for an ongoing reinterpretation and reprinting of existent imagery is quite common, with the photobook occupying two distinct and seemingly contradictory spheres: revered object of devotion, and fluid site for creative experimentation. These opposing interests are frequently resolved through a process that explores reprints, re-editions and sequels of seminal and early books. The results can either be a page-by-page facsimile or an opportunity to engage in an inventive re-design and re-sequencing of earlier images. For the public, the outcome is direct access to materials that are no longer readily available, along with the ability to see the evolution of a photobook through various iterations.
Eikoh Hosoe’s Barakei / Killed by Roses photobook is one of the better-known examples of the dramatic reinterpretations to be found in successive re-edits. In total, Barakei has four reprints – first printed in 1963 under the title Killed by Roses; later reinterpreted in 1971 as Ordeal by Roses Re-edited; with Aperture publishing a variation on the 1971 Ordeal by Roses in 1985 and a limited edition Killed by Roses facsimile of the 1963 Kohei Sugiura design in 2008. Another Hosoe book that has 4 iterations is his Kamaitachi. As a creative zenith in the union of dance and photography, Kamaitachi was originally published in 1969, and later reissued with a Tadanori Yokoo designed clamshell case by Aperture in 2005. Other reprints include a Seigensha version in 2005 and another Aperture release in 2009. Often confusing to newbie collectors, it is understandably hard to keep track of all the reprints, re-edits and re-interpretations under the same title.
With an established Japanese photobook reprint tradition firmly in place, it was just a matter of time before there would be a demand for reprints by some of the more obscure, but equally engaging photobooks. Whether published solely to fill a market void or creative itch, the result has been the recent reissue of several seminal photobooks from the 1970s and 80s. Over the last 2 years, photobook collectors have gained access to a vast new treasure trove of important Japanese photobooks that do not break the bank! Recent releases include reprints by Seiji Kurata, Katsumi Watanabe, Issei Suda, Shigeo Gocho, and Tamiko Nishimura (forthcoming). What follows is a discussion of several of these reprints as they compare to their “originals”.
Original: Flash Up: Street PhotoRandom Tokyo 1975-1979. (Tokyo: Byakuya Shobo, 1980)
Reprint: Flash Up (Tokyo: Zen Foto, 2013)
When I first saw Seiji Kurata’s Flash Up (2013) reprint, I had to recheck the cover to make sure I was looking at the right book. In every conceivable way, except for the images contained within, this reprint is a dramatic departure from the original. The 1980 version, a softcover modest-sized book with an illustrated cover depicting a tatttoed yakuza holding a sword, is far more confrontational and clearly signals the reader’s entry into the Tokyo Shinjuku underworld populated by pimps, prostitutes and transvestites. Images are sequenced uncaptioned to emphasize a narrative structure that presents multiple intersecting vignettes. In contrast, the reprint is a lavish oversized production presented in an embossed fabric covered slipcase. The black satin boards with silver text and gold endpapers is luxurious and coffee table ready. Images are presented full bleed with clear captions. The result emulates a gallery experience with each photograph occupying its own white walled sphere outside of a larger narrative.
Original: Shinjuku Guntoden 66/73 / Shinjuku Thievery Story 66/73 (Tokyo: Bara-gahosha, 1973)
Reprint 1: Gangs of Kabukicho (NYC: PPP Editions, 2006)
TR820.5.J3 .W38 2006
Reprint 2: Shinjuku Guntoden 1965 – 1973: Story of the Shinjuku Thieves (Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa, 2013)
Shinjuku Guntoden 66/73 / Shinjuku Thievery Story 66/73 (1973) is another book that explores Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district and the underbelly of Tokyo’s after-hour adult delights. As a roving neighborhood photographer who would take commemorative snapshots of both patrons and workers in the bars and sex trade establishments, Katsumi Watanabe earned his living selling back these portraits on the following nights. In this original version, Watanabe’s snapshots are presented one per page with simple captions below. In some cases, the subject’s eyes are scrawled over with a black pen to hide their identity. The effect is a dossier made from and for an interconnected community of outcasts. The Gangs of Kabukicho, published in 2006 by Andrew Roth and PPP Editions in NYC is the first reprint of the 1973 original. As a book published for a Western audience, its focus is quite different. Although presenting many of the same images – minus their blacked out eyes – their treatment is subtly re-envisioned: gone are the captions; added is an introductory essay by noted Japanese photography historian Iizawa Kotaro that provides an overview of Shinjuku’s nightlife and Watanabe’s role. Recently, Akio Nagasawa Publishing in Tokyo released a new reprint entitled Shinjuku Guntoden 1965-1973: Story of the Shinjuku Thieves. Similar in size to the Roth reprint, this version encased in a black slipcase, reveals deceptively simple black fabric boards with embossed type and imagery. Inside, Shinjuku streetscape overviews on the endpapers set the stage for the lush full bleed portrait images that follow in chronological groupings. Tying all this together is an English translation of a 1982 Watanabe essay describing his Shinjuku friends and outings.
Original: Fushi Kaden (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1979)
TR680 .S83 1978
Reprint 1: Fushi Kaden (JCII Photo Salon library 165. Tokyo: JCII, 2005)
Reprint 2: Fushi Kaden (Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa Publishing, 2012)
Issei Suda, who until recently was less well-known than many of his contemporaries, published two books in the 1970s that have in the past 2 years gone through the “reprint process”. His Fushi Kaden photos, which were first serialized in Camera Mainichi from 1975-77, explore rituals and traditions throughout rural Japan and were originally presented in a 1977 Tokyo gallery exhibition (Wilkes Tucker et al. 361). In 1978, Asahi Sonorama published Fushi Kaden as part of their photography monograph series. As with all 27 volumes in this series, the similar format and cover of the original Fushi Kaden highlights a single image (in this case, a girl in a traditional kimono standing against cherry blossoms) on a monochrome background surrounded by white type. The images within are presented without artifice, one per page. Also included is an informative English text by Akira Hasegawa, which explains the book’s title (translated as: Transmission of the Flower of the Art) and inspiration from the Noh theater writings of the 15th century Japanese author Zeami. There are two reprints, each dramatically different from the original and one another. As part of an exhibition at the JCII Camera Museum in Tokyo in 2005, the first reprint is more of a pamphlet than a photobook. Beyond documenting the images as thumbnails, there is little thought to the pages that present images in a condensed grid design. In contrast, the 2012 reprint by Akio Nagasawa Publishing is a lavish publication with plush black satin boards showcasing a mounted cover image of a woman in the traditional black mask worn during Nishimonai Bon Odori, an annual festival dance honoring deceased ancestors. Within both the original and 2012 reprint are beautifully printed black and white images that seem to freeze fading Japanese traditions, dress and customs. There is an openness to all the faces that reveals an overflowing sense of wonder and joy. The slightly nostalgic text by Suda at the end of the 2012 version provides a good overview for those new to the Fushi Kaden series.
Original: Waga Tokyo 100 (Tokyo: Nikkor Club, 1979)
TR140 .S831 1979
Reprint: Waga Tokyo 100 (Tokyo: Zen Foto, 2013)
The ICP Library came into possession of the original version of Issei Suda’s Waga Tokyo 100 as a result of the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks reading room held in 2012. As one of the specialists for the project, Ivan Vartanian included it in his selection of photobooks that explore Tokyo as their theme. With Fushi Kaden all about fading rituals and traditions, Waga Tokyo 100 (translated loosely as: 100 Views of My Tokyo) is about capturing Tokyo at a distinct time and place presented through 100 images taken from 1976-1978. Exterior street and building shots devoid of people bookend portraits of Tokyoites that fill the interior pages. In terms of both scale and print quality, both the original and reprint are fairly similar. There is an urban theatricality to Suda’s Tokyo portraits with all the prerequisite characters: the “crazy dog lady” who holds her poodle on her back as if in a baby carrier; the Sumo wrestler taking a break by sprawling on the pavement; the over-bundled child posing for the camera; and a shopkeeper dressing a half clothed mannequin. The main differences can be found in the bindings, texts and sequencing, with the 2013 reprint by Zen Foto dispensing with the division between portraits and street scenes, updating the text and wrapping all in plush maroon and purple endpapers within an inventive binder-like hardcover.
Original: Familiar Street Scenes (Tokyo: Self-published, 1981)
Reprint: Familiar Street Scenes (Tokyo: Yagisha, 2013)
Shigeo Gocho, a Tokyo-based photographer active during the 1970s and 80s, was celebrated for his distinctive examination of the role of the individual within Japanese society. In early childhood, Gocho contracted caries, a degenerative disease of the thoracic vertebrae that stunted his growth and took his life at the age of thirty-six (Vartanian and Kaneko 200). Standing no taller than 4 feet three inches, Gocho photographed the world from a unique, almost child-like perspective. There is an innocence about his imagery that focuses on the mysteries hidden in the ordinary. In Familiar Street Scenes (1981), unlike his earlier book Self and Others (1977), all the images are color and convey a sense of constant motion. While most of the individuals in Self and Others stare at the camera, the connection to those captured in the urban crowds of Familiar Street Scenes is less direct. Characterized by strong blues and reds, Gocho’s images are populated by adults oblivious to his presence as they engage in the rhythms of daily life. Rather, the children in these images stare at the camera – and by extension, the small man behind it. Whether within a crowd or alone, the people in Gocho’s photographs are links to our larger humanity. They are simultaneously familiar and unknown as we connect with them.
The original book, housed in a varnished slipcase illustrated with a photo of two Japanese women in traditional dress, presents glossy images bound by discreet black linen boards stamped with silver type in English. All the images are printed without captions, with a simple introductory text by Gocho and biographical notes at the end – both are in Japanese. The release of Yagisha’s 2013 reprint, which coincided with an exhibition of prints from the book at the MEM Gallery in Tokyo, expands upon the selection presented in the original. The reprint follows the same sequencing with the addition of 27 images that were exhibited under the same title in 1982, but not included in the original book. Linen boards with a mounted image of a family standing at the railing of a harbor surround several black duotone pages that introduce the original sequence followed by a black dividing page and then the added 27 images. The book is printed on matte paper and encased in a grey cardboard slipcase. English translations for the introduction and biography provide the opportunity for a Western audience to become better acquainted with Gocho’s distinctive vision.
Original: Shikishima (Tokyo: Tokyo Photographic School, 1973)
Reprint: Shikishima (Tokyo: Zen Foto Gallery, 2014)
As I write this post, I’ve just received word that Tamiko Nishimura’s hard to find road trip photobook, Shikishima, will soon be released as a reprint by Zen Foto in Tokyo. As a series of blurry and slightly out of focus photographs shot from train and bus windows, this book is distinctive for its feminine perspective in an era when very few photobooks by women were published. Rather than the late night after-hour club and bar patron portraits that are the mainstay of many Japanese male photographers of the period, Shikishima is more akin to Masahisa Fukase’s Kurasu / Ravens (1986). It is a sensitive book comprised of poetic images – many resulting from transitory sightings – by a young woman traveling alone in her native Japan from 1969 to 1973. A quiet book that lingers, it is heartening news that Nishimura’s images will soon have a chance to reach a larger Western audience, and open up yet another little known corner of Japanese photography and photobooks.