Japanese Photobooks at the ICP Library: Revisited

Photobooks are like candy. Temptation is constant. And, if you don’t watch out, your bookshelves begin to bulge and overflow. This necessitates the unpleasant task of making more space for new acquisitions – a process that often requires picking and choosing among your favorite children. Decisions are further complicated by the discovery of books that are either pushed behind regularly viewed favorites or out of sight on hard to reach top shelves. Recently, I had a chance to rediscover a few “forgotten” books within the massive Japanese photobook collection at the ICP Library. In preparation for 10×10 Photobooks’ recent trip to the PGH Photo Fair at the Carnegie Museum of Art from 17-18 May, I was once again treated to a few wonderful books that I had forgotten about. Most were pulled from the stacks at ICP and a few came from my personal collection. What follows are some highlights from the 100 Japanese photobooks that were collected for public viewing in the PGH reading room. Some were brought down from top shelves, while others were perennial favorites whose ragged covers show much handling. The books are presented below with abbreviated commentaries from the 10×10 specialists who selected them.

Jun Abe, Shimin: 1979-1983 (Citizens 1979-1983.) Osaka, Vacuum Press, 2009. TR659.8.O82 .A232 2009

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Jun Abe’s Shimin: 1979-1983 (Citizens 1979-1983) is a deceptively simple street photography book. It isn’t the run-of-the-mill version that tries to reveal human nature. Rather, his images avoid narratives by presenting dense and somewhat obtuse images that ask the viewer to question the very essence of photography itself . . . Abe is like an intermediary, who introduces us to a strangeness that is an inherent part of our reality. (Tomoka Aya, Third Gallery Aya)

Yoshiichi Hara, Hikari Aru Uchi ni / Walk While Ye Have the Light. Tokyo: Sokyu-sha, 2011. TR179.5.H365 .W35 2011

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Yoshiichi Hara’s Walk While Ye Have the Light is a contemplative book that reminds me of the opening sentence of “Hojoki,” one of Japan’s most famous Kamakura period (1185-1333) poems:

The current of the flowing river does not cease,
and yet the water is not the same water as before.
The foam that floats on stagnant pools,
now vanishing, now forming,
never stays the same for long.
So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.
–“Hojoki” (An Account of My Hut) by Kamo no Chomei

Similar to the expression of “mujo” or transience described in “Hojoki,” the photographs in Hara’s Walk While Ye Have the Light also deal with the impermanence of our realities. (Atsushi Fujiwara, Asphalt Publishing)

Takashi Homma, Sono Mori no Kodomo / Mushrooms from the Forest. Tokyo: blind gallery and limArt, 2011. TR820.5.J3 .H666 2011

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In Mushrooms from the Forest, Takashi Homma subtly evokes the Fukushima catastrophe while highlighting photography’s inability to capture the complexity of reality. (Rémi Coignet, Des Livres et des Photos  and Nina Poppe)

Eikoh Hosoe, Shimon: Shifukei / Simmon: A Private Landscape. Tokyo: Akio Nagasawa Publishing, 2012. TR681.T7 .H68 2012

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Eikoh Hosoe’s Simmon: A Private Landscape is a collection of photographs made in 1971, but not published until 2012. The images are theatrically created on the streets of Tokyo, but the meanings are universal and relate to issues of human nature, gender and the wider concepts of society – representing both childhood and a reflection about gender differentiation. Simmon is man, woman and child grappling with identity in a vanishing urban landscape. The camera is the stage for this absurd performance, and the book offers a possibility to reactivate it. (Akio Nagasawa, Akio Nagasawa Gallery and Akio Nagasawa Publishing)

Orie Ichihashi, Paris. Tokyo: Pie Books, 2011.

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Orie Ichihashi’s photobook of Paris took me by surprise. Here is a subject that I know so well—my city—but through Ichihashi’s photographs, it was as if I was seeing it for the first time . . . Unlike the classic images of Paris, she bathes the city in archetypal Tokyo color and light. (Laurence Vecten, One Year of Books)

Mao Ishikawa and Toyomitsu Higa, Atsuki Hibi ni Kyanpu Hansen (Hot Days in Camp Hansen.) Okinawa: Aman Shuppan, 1982.

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Mao Ishikawa’s Hot Days in Camp Hansen is a truly unique photobook focusing on the “girls” who worked in bars catering for the American G.I.s near the U.S. military bases in Okinawa. To do this project, Ishikawa became a hostess working in one bar for a period of around two years. (Marc Feustel, Eyecurious)

Rinko Kawauchi, Illuminance. New York: Aperture, 2011. TR140 .K39 2011

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In the mid-1990s, the onna no ko shashinka (girly photographers) opened a new narrative in Japanese photography, but soon they reached their own limitations, perhaps because of their self-centered approach to reality. The photography I saw in Rinko Kawauchi’s books was different. In Illuminance the images are much more open in terms of content and visual grammar. Rinko Kawauchi uses photography as a personal medium to understand and reveal the relationship to ordinary things and everyday situations. (Ferdinand Brueggemann, Galerie Priska Pasquer)

Ikko Narahara, España Grand Tarde (Spain: A Great Afternoon.) Tokyo: Kyuryu-do, 1969.

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Narahara’s España Grand Tarde is a beautiful object and a powerful depiction of Spain in three parts: bullfighting (a violent and passionate ceremonial), San Fermin festival (youth in celebration and dance) and Andalucia (suspended life and time in a poor, dry and luminous region)—sacred and human excesses under the heat . . . (Nicolas Codron, A Japanese Book)

Koji Onaka, Matatabi (Wandering Gambler). Kamakura: Super Labo, 2012. TR659.8 .O52 2012

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These recent photographs are of Japanese small-town life that could have been taken anytime in the past fifty years. They reflect an ex-urban existence that is changing—if not disappearing entirely—and soon to be completely forgotten. Few people appear within these sixty-two images, only further emphasizing the sense of loss that is Onaka’s focus in Matatabi. (Yasunori Hoki, Super Labo)

Masafumi Sanai, Pairon (Pylon.) Tokyo: Taisho / Match and Company, 2011.

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Masafumi Sanai’s Pairon (Pylon) gathers color images that typify Sanai’s style since the late nineties– an exploration of everyday life and seemingly mundane views of landscapes from the photographer’s suburban neighborhood. (Lilian Froger, 748=photobooks)

Yutaka Takanashi, Machi (Town.) Tokyo: Asahi Shinbun-sha, 1977.

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A monster photobook, whose title means “town,” Machi is Takanashi’s second book, and it is very different from its predecessor Toshi-e. Here he is in Atget mode, portraying sleepy old Tokyo. (Peter Evans, Microcord)

Yuhki Touyama, Kyokaisen 13 / Line 13. Tokyo: Akaaka Art Publishing, 2008. TR179.5.T689 .L56 2008

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Yuhki Touyama’s Line13 weaves together a personal tragedy with reflective images from her daily life; the result is a body of work that is at home within the Japanese tradition of diaristic photography, even as it breaks with many of that genre’s conventions. (Dan Abbe and Andrew Thorn, PH Japanese Bookstore)

Yoshihiko Ueda, At Home. Tokyo: Little More, 2006.

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Yoshihiko Ueda’s At Home follows his family’s life with hundreds of high-quality snapshots . . . [It] is a book without tricks—it resembles a big thick piece of tofu: off-white, almost without smell and taste, but still satisfying for those who are fascinated with the small incidents of everyday life. (Victor Sira and Shiori Kawasaki, bookdummypress)

All photos courtesy of Mathieu Asselin.

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