While selecting some of the best photography books released in 2014, I was struck by the range of specific places that Japanese photographers captured — from a pleasure district to a mountain village and an old rooftop. Photo books with such a geographic focus might be a good way to store up energies that future audiences will discover, interpret and carry into their own time.
Ojo Shashu: Photography for the Afterlife
Nobuyoshi Araki has established himself as a photographer for the history books. At this point, you might think there’s almost nothing left to be said about his work. However, you write Araki off at your peril — he continues to push his work in devilishly inventive directions.
“Ojo Shashu,” the catalog to his recent traveling exhibition, will please both novices and Araki acolytes alike. The book functions as a kind of greatest hits collection, bringing together well-known works such as the photographic elegies to his late wife, Yoko, and cat, Chiro. At the same time, the book includes images from 22 of Araki’s series, including much of Araki’s most recent work. “Road,” a 2014 series shot from the rooftop of his new home, is a personal favorite.
The pleasure of these photographs is augmented by the book’s use of a variety of papers (ranging from semi-translucencies to cheap newsprint and luxurious glossy stock), and a brilliant text by novelist Kaori Fujino, written around her interview with Araki. This is, in short, an essential book.
Crystal Love Starlight
Mayumi Hosokura is one of the most technically proficient photographers in Tokyo’s contemporary photography scene — something that even the briefest glance at this book will show. She is extremely adept at bending the surfaces of buildings or bodies to her will, and imposing eerie color casts on them. Yet technical ability alone can get a photographer only so far.
What makes “Crystal Love Starlight” noteworthy among other works by young photographers working in this ethereal style is that it finds its inspiration in a place far removed from photography, or even from the photographer herself. This work responds to a news story from 1992 about a Gunma hostess club called, of course, “Crystal Love Starlight,” which was shut down after being investigated for prostitution. Hosokura has allowed this decidedly minor story to direct her work — interspersed with her trademark nudes are images of the club itself, roads linking Tokyo and Gunma, and a reproduction of the original newspaper article. We also see evocative neon signs that introduce further textual elements into the work. Could Hosokura be bringing photography closer to literature?
Okinawan Portraits 2010-2012
Ryuichi Ishikawa is a young Okinawan photographer who has been shooting portraits of people in and around Naha for a number of years. He released “Okinawan Portraits 2010-2012″ together with “A Grand Polyphony” (also published by Akaaka) in November this year and these books effectively represent his debut. Ishikawa is already attracting a great deal of attention, though, and for good reason: he has the guile required of successful portrait photographers. Ishikawa does not use a studio, and the context provided by these casual backdrops enlivens his work. Okinawa has sometimes served as an “inspiration getaway” for photographers from the mainland, so another local voice is welcome.
Untitled Records Vol. 1
Keizo Kitajima made his name as a street photographer in the 1980s, and this work could loosely be categorized as “street photography” of a sort. But instead of the ever-hunting, ever-thrusting style of urban rambling, Kitajima gives us a decidedly more contemplative mode of observation.
“Untitled Records” is a collection of landscape photographs, but most of the foliage you’ll find here is likely to be wedged in the cracks between buildings — these images are a reflection on cities and the strange gaps that appear in them. Careful composition is the name of the game here, and connoisseurs of urban patina — could there even be another way to define a Tokyo flaneur? — won’t want to miss out. Kitajima is a master of arranging textured planes within the frame.
This volume is part of a long-term project (slated for at least 20 installments) in which Kitajima will publish a new volume of “Untitled Records” four times each year together with an exhibition held at Photographers’ Gallery in Shinjuku.
Until Everything Becomes a Photograph
Izu Photo Museum / Nohara
This book is the catalog to a notable exhibition by the so-called Camera Grandma, Tazuko Masuyama, held in 2013 at Izu Photo Museum. Masuyama’s village of Tokuyama, in Gifu Prefecture, was slated for destruction as part of a dam construction project. Starting in 1977, she became the town’s de facto official photographer and, using a trusty point-and-shoot camera, documented Tokuyama for the rest of her life, even after it had been evacuated. There is much to be seen in these moving photographs. For me, Masuyama’s documentation of a 1986 “Farewell Gathering” brings out the cruelty of displacing longtime residents from their homes, a melancholic feeling of seeing a place now below water, and, above all, Masuyama’s warmth and integrity in facing up to these events together with her fellow residents.
Masuyama passed away in 2006, two years before the completion of the dam, but her photographs will surely outlive it.