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This website wants to start a conversation on the photobooks shown at CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE PHOTOBOOKS running from 13 July - 9 September 2012 at the Photographer's Gallery, London curated by photographer Jason Evans and Tokyo-based publisher Ivan Vartanian.

Please comment on the books you have seen, join in on the discussions or start your own topic on the broader theme of Japanese photobooks.

For more information on the show, please visit the exhibition's website.


本サイト「>CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE PHOTOBOOKS」とは、ロンドンのPhotographers' Galleryで開催された展覧会(7月14日〜9月9日)の姉妹企画です。イギリス人の写真家ジェーソン・エヴァンス(Jason Evans )とゴリーガ社のアイヴァン・ヴァルタニアン(Ivan Vartanian)による、2人のキューレーションで行われてます。コンメントの投稿、トピック作りでも、ご自由に参加して下さい。日本語でも可能です。


The Photographers

Nothing shaking (but the leaves in the books)

Seventeen months ago, an earthquake jolted Japan. Almost 16 thousand people are known to have died, and almost three thousand additional people are still unaccounted for and (other perhaps than for legal purposes) must be presumed to be dead. Let’s be conservative and add this up to a mere 18 thousand people.

It’s been quite some time since Britain experienced any natural disaster of a comparable scale (try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_disasters_in_Great_Britain_and_Ireland ), though the “blitz” on London killed more (and was of course itself dwarfed by the allies’ carpet-bombing of German and Japanese cities).

With the background of all this, and destroyed nuclear reactors as well, this set of books looks curiously otherworldly. One reason is that many of them predate March 2011. And of course if a book was in the works at that time there was no reason to abort it (other than the interruption of paper supplies, etc). Also, most photographers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, subject to any requirement to be “relevant”. And the curators weren’t and shouldn’t have been under any obligation to acquire or show a representative selection of books (they’re strong on small furry animals but ignore other commercially important genres, e.g. girls almost spilling out of their bikinis). Still, you might (and I do) wonder where the destruction is.

Obviously, there’s http://contemporaryjapanesephotobooks.tumblr.com/post/27348570830/shinsai-ichinen-zenkiroku . I don’t know this particular book, but I think I recognize the genre: very photojournalistic and very informative, IFF you can read Japanese.

There’s also Sasaoka’s series of leaflets, exemplified by http://contemporaryjapanesephotobooks.tumblr.com/post/27246368708/keiko-sasaoka-remembrance-2 . These go with exhibitions of large prints (at large prices) of deadpan views. Rather too obviously art-museum fodder for my taste, though perhaps I was too chilled by the air conditioning when I viewed a sample.

http://contemporaryjapanesephotobooks.tumblr.com/post/27246438928/michio-wahio-the-snap-shot looks relevant but it predates the earthquake by four years.

There’s also http://contemporaryjapanesephotobooks.tumblr.com/post/27390814787/kazuhiko-washio-on-the-horizon , though you wouldn’t guess it from the cover. Indeed, you wouldn’t (or at least I didn’t) guess anything from the cover. It’s the slim and modestly priced catalogue for a small exhibition of B/W views.

Have I overlooked anything else here? Not that I’m complaining; I’m just wondering. Because I’m interested in such books (if they’re good).

Hatakeyama’s work (which I haven’t seen) has been praised:
http://www.americanphotomag.com/photo-gallery/2012/07/wall-naoya-hatakeyama-sfmoma . Dan Abbe rates it highly too, together with Rolls Tohoku. Rolls Tohoku http://www.rolls7.com isn’t alone; there’s also Kids Photo Journal http://www.kidsphotojournal.org/ (which has produced at least one photobook). And if there’s ever a “Contemporary Japanese Photobooks 2”, I could recommend some other good photobooks too.

Tags The Photographers' Gallery contemporary japanese photobooks contemporaryjapanesephotobooks discussions submission

The difference between Japanese and Western Photobooks

This evening, I did a talk event with the writer Akiko Otake at the Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen. Folks in Japan repeatedly ask me what is the difference between Japanese and Western photobooks, as one audience member asked this evening, to which I replied:

The western photobook, general speaking, is an assembly of reproductions. At some point the photograph made a master set of prints and the work of the publisher is to create something that approaches as closely as possible those prints. 

The photobook in Japan, on the other hand, is not viewed as a series of reproductions. Instead, it is through the form of the photobook (or the magazine!) that the image is given a form (ink resting on the paper’s surface). It is that duality of the image in its printed printed (mediated) form that makes the photobook in itself the photographer’s work. In this sense, each photobook, though is produced in lots of thousands, is itself an original. That level of photobook culture is what distinguishes how the photobook is understood/consumed in Japan versus the west. 

Also, I find that many if not most photographers in Japan are comfortable with their work remaining ambitious and/or inscrutable. It’s not that they are putting on airs or trying to be cool. It has more to do with being comfortable with indecision, lack of resolution, the breakdown of categorization. This all has to do more with the differences in culture as reflected through the form of the photobook. 

Even though the magazine culture here in Japan is drying up, I still see a lot of folks inheriting the legacy of the masters.

Tags The Photographers' Gallery contemporary japanese photobooks contemporaryjapanesephotobooks discussions submission

Statement by Ivan Vartanian

The nature of Japanese photography requires a different way of viewing photography: not as isolated images mounted on a wall but as a sequence of images that are bound together, interrelated, spilling off the edges of the pages, and overlaid or bookended with text. There is a noisiness to Japanese photography that is unwelcome in the subdued and pristine space of the gallery’s white cube. The white cube favours one particular type of photography to perform well within its structures. In this exhibition, we propose to disengage those connotations and conventions of viewing. Instead we want visitors to engage with the material directly and immediately, the photography in these books is in a way a sort of metaphor of this process.

While there is certainly a keen appreciation of printmaking in Japan, photographic culture’s principal fuel is printed matter in a variety of states and forms. It is the photobook, and not the print on the wall, that is the primary vehicle for the dissemination of photography in Japan. Despite the availability of online tools to show portfolios cheaply, simply and quickly, young Japanese photographers still strive to have their work published in monograph form and go through these channels of distribution. For most Japanese photographers, the photobook remains the ultimate form for their work and, as such, even though these are manufactured copies, each book is an original.

 In exploring this collection there is another important issue to address involving language. Many Japanese photographers have a complicated and often times vexed relationship between words and images – despite this dynamic there are numerous photographers who write prolifically. I’ve translated and anthologised a large selection of this material in my book ‘Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers’ (Aperture, 2005) and in this process discovered that while the photographers I researched were highly sensitive to language, they also recognised its trappings and sought a greater potential in photography to exceed written language rather than replicate it.

As you approach this material I would say you should try to maintain awareness of where your attention slips off or what has drawn you in. Question what you are responding to. Be critical. Engage with it. Pick your favourites. Draw your own conclusions or let the material remain unresolved. The photobooks and photography are a vehicle for your experience.

Ivan Vartanian, curator

Tags The Photographers' Gallery contemporary japanese photobooks contemporaryjapanesephotobooks discussions

Statement by Jason Evans

Since 2001, I have been a regular visitor to Japan, working as an editorial photographer. I began to buy all kinds of printed matter, initially looking for classic, older material. I realised that something exciting was happening in the present and on the page as opposed to the largely wall-based phenomenon of Western ‘Art Photography’. The diversity of material was a fascinating counterpoint to what was happening at home. I did not know what I was bringing back, often unable to read titles, identify authors or grasp context.

For me, ‘understanding’ was not an issue. I was compelled to buy some books over others. It could be the sequencing, the production values or the layouts. It might be experimental camera work or the unexpected subject matter. Often, it’s a combination of these things. Some books seemed like terrific fails, others breathtaking immersions, others wonderfully kitsch or deeply depressing… It was usually an emotive rather than intellectual response. Japanese photography made me feel the medium again. My choice of material is not limited to what we might call monographs, commissioned and illustrative photography caught my attention too, for it’s sophisticated visual traditions.

I do not claim to be an authority on Japanese photography, and it is in a spirit of enthusiasm I wanted to share a range of bewildering, inspiring material.

Jason Evans, curator

Tags The Photographers' Gallery contemporary japanese photobooks contemporaryjapanesephotobooks discussions