If I lived in NYC I’d definitely be going to 10×10 Japanese Photobook Reading Room at ICP. Ten experts will each select 10 Japanese photobooks for this three day pop-up from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30. Imagine that, 100 Japanese photobooks in one place. Sadly, I’m nearly three thousand miles away.
On the bright side, there’s also an online version with 10 different people selecting. Of course, looking at books online isn’t quite the same, but it’s an interesting exercise to see what people end up picking. It also got me thinking about what books I would choose given the same assignment. After a quick look through my rather meager library I found that coming up with 10 Japanese photobooks was harder than I thought. The first rule I had to do away with was not repeating books on other people’s lists. Even then, if I don’t include different books by the same photographer then getting to 10 means including some weaker books. I also didn’t limit myself solely to books published in Japan, but rather works by Japanese photographers. So without further ado, here are my 5 Japanese photobooks.
For me, any discussion of Japanese photobooks has to Solitude of Ravens (烏) by Masahisa Fukase. There are several different versions of this book including the beautiful 2008 Rat Hole Gallery edition. I have the 1991 Bedford Arts edition which isn’t anything special when considering the book as an art object, but the body of work is incredibly powerful and will stick with you long after you have closed the book.
Next I’d choose Rinko Kawauchi’s Utatane (うたたね). Since I’m only including one book from each photographer, it came down to a choice between Utatane and Illuminance. Illuminance is a more beautiful physical object, but Utatane was my introduction to Kawauchi so it gets the sentimental edge. Really you can’t go wrong with any of her work. Each book is a Master’s class in sequencing.
Book three is Takuno by Daido Moriyama. Moriyama is probably best known for his grainy gritty urban shots that often appear in books full bleed. Takuno, conversely, is a journey through a more rural area and has only one image per spread with generous amounts of white around each image. It also reminds me of an area of Japan where I used to live.
Continuing with the generous negative space theme, my next choice is é by Masao Yamamoto. Here is a case, unlike Solitude of Ravens, where the book’s appeal comes more from the book as an art object than the photography alone. If these images were printed in a different way I don’t think I’d feel the same way about them, but this is where the book as an object rather than just a container really works.
My final choice is hi mi tsu ki chi by Daisuke Nishimiya. A delightful book about the physical spaces in which children create imaginary worlds. The book includes tiny hand drawn maps of the areas as well.