10×10 Japanese Photobooks

Posted: September 29th, 2012 | Filed under: books, Japan, photography | No Comments »

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.

Solitude of Raven Cover

Solitude of Ravens

Solitude of Ravens

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.

Utatane by Rinko Kawauchi

Utatane by Rinko Kawauchi

Utatane by Rinko Kawauchi

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.

Takuno by Daido Moriyama

Takuno by Daido Moriyama

Takuno by Daido Moriyama

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.

e by Masao Yamamoto

e by Masao Yamamoto

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.

Himitsukichi by Daisuke Nishimiya

Himitsukichi by Daisuke Nishimiya

Himitsukichi by Daisuke Nishimiya




Indie Photobooks Recap

Posted: September 16th, 2012 | Filed under: books, photography, San Francisco | No Comments »

After a day listening to people talk about photography and making photobooks, I’m convinced I should be taking photographs and making books. If for no other reason than to document things I’m seeing or thinking about. I love photography, books and photography books so why shouldn’t I make one? Even if the book sucks, it’s so easy to physically make a book these days that there really isn’t a compelling reason not to make one.

That was the overwhelming feeling I had after spending the day at Carte Blanche on Valencia yesterday. CB  owner Gwen Lafage hosted an event built around a show of photobooks from the Indie Photobook Library curated by iPL founder Larissa Leclair and Dairius Himes, Assistant Director, Fraenkel Gallery and Co-Founder, Radius Books. The day began with a Photobook Meetup where a number of people whose work was in the show or had produced books talked about the book making process. Their was a wide range of experience from Noah Beil (Gone Quickly) who produces his own books (printing the photos, hand setting and printing the type, and sewing his own binding) to Lydia Panas, who had her book The Mark of Abel published by Kehrer Verlag. Whatever the experience, there seemed to be agreement that producing a photobook was never going to make you rich, but that it was important to the process of making and thinking about images, and a useful tool that opened up other opportunities.

The afternoon consisted of three panels discussions, The Art of the Artists Book, Publishing a Photobook, and Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century.

Michael Light talks about his book

Books are Containers of Thinking
Kicking off the first panel Lauren Henkin talked about her various book projects and how she really saw them as a chance to collaborate with other artists, be they binders, printers, or poets. John DeMerritt talked about bookbinding and how, though much of his work is still based on 18th and 19th century craft, he’s incorporating things like laser matte cutting as well. I was happy to see that he had worked with Bay Area artist Nigel Poor on a case for her Washed Books project. Though he didn’t say it in so many words, I got the impression that he subscribed to the bookbinding equivalent of the Crystal Goblet theory, that the binding should only be a vessel for the content or ideas of the artist. The final speaker, Michael Light talked a bit about some of his trade books, but the show stopper was a giant thirty-six inch tall book of aerial shots, GREAT RIFT/SNAKE RIVER/SHOSHONE FALLS, in a beautiful case built by DeMerritt (seen above). It was Light who crystallized the theme of the session by calling books “containers of thinking.”

The Period at the End of the Sentence
All three of the panelists for the second panel, focusing on DIY and small press publishing, talked about how they ended up making books almost by accident. Patrick Aguilar talked about starting up Owl and Tiger Books right out of school producing books for people he knew. John Steck, Jr., of Make Book Blog, took a class on photobooks where they just talked about books and had to figure out for themselves how to actually make a book for the final project, and Daniel Milnor (Smogranch), Blurb Photographer at Large, started out making books as promotional pieces for his photography and found that it fed his need to document.  Though they are both working with the book as a form, Steck and Milnor differ in how they use it. Milnor doesn’t claim to be a book designer. He uses the book-making process as a way to work through ideas, making a book for every idea that comes to him. Steck sees the book as the “period at the end of the sentence.” The idea given final form as an almost sculptural object. However they use the book, each speaker from this panel has produced at least one book that is in the Indie Photobook Library and it’s great to see how a community, that was really made possible by the Internet, can move beyond the virtual and result in a bunch of people sitting in the same room looking at and talking about books.

“Photography is a profound corner that sits in between literature and film”
The final panel of the day, ostensibly titled Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century, included Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin’s ethnographic work in Romania from The Color of Hay, Eric W. Carroll’s giant diazo prints of a walk in the woods (Blue Line of Woods), and Todd Hido’s fictional narratives created from real parts for a book that will come out Spring 2013. As you can tell, the term “documentary” was applied fairly loosely, though I tend to agree with Carroll’s point of view that all photography is a document of some kind in that it is a record of the interaction of light with some chemical or electrical process. The “profound corner” quote, sited by Hido and attributed to Lewis Baltz, came towards the end of the panel. It was a fitting closing thought because human beings are hard wired to create stories and anytime you have a group of images arranged in a sequence (as in a book) the mind is going to start creating narratives.

On the whole, a great event on photobooks and a reminder of how strong both photography and the book arts are in the Bay Area. Something I should take advantage of more often.

Black Apple

Posted: March 4th, 2012 | Filed under: books, photography | No Comments »

Black Apple by Thatcher Hullerman Cook

Of all the films I saw last year the one that had the most lasting impact on me was Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse. I’m not saying that it was the film that I most enjoyed, but it’s definitely the one that has stuck with me the longest. The visuals are so powerful and so bleak that they still come to mind months later. Thatcher Hullerman Cook’s Black Apple strikes me as being a visual relative of that film. Granted the setting is different and the cast of characters is larger in Black Apple, but I feel like there is the same sense of struggle in an inhospitable landscape.

Black Apple by Thatcher Hullerman Cook

In a relatively brief 33 black and white plates Black Apple shows Kyrgyzstan as a place where lives are lived in a way that can only be described as hardscrabble. Landscapes are vast, empty, often ruined places where people are mostly tiny and alone. Interiors, though much closer and more crowded, lack warmth causing people to frequently huddled together. And everywhere there is coal and snow. It’s a landscaped leeched of color. In addition to striking individual images I think the sequencing and use of white space is quite strong.

Black Apple by Thatcher Hullerman Cook

I also like the notes at the end of the book where Cook writes a few sentences, sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, about various images. For one image he writes, “After the fresh fallen snow, the sticky mud would cling to feet and hooves. After a deep freeze the ground became slippery, making travel, even for the familiar, seem alien. The village boys were left to negotiate this battle between mud and mule.” It’s this struggle and the poetry with which Cook captures it that will keep these images stuck in my brain like a mule in the mud.

To see all the images from Black Apple click here.

I got my copy at Carte Blanche a new gallery/bookstore in San Francisco whose aim is to make experiencing and buying photography more accessible. Check them out.

Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, I’ve started tweeting this year. Follow my shorter more frequent randomness @mpsilva

Paper Work

Posted: July 10th, 2010 | Filed under: art, books, Japan | No Comments »

Granfather's Envelopes

I like paper. How much? Let’s put it this way, I just bought a book made up almost entirely of photographs of envelopes. It’s not even as if there is a wide variety of envelopes, they generally are all standard Japanese style envelopes. The difference is that each envelope is hand made from a variety of paper. Grandfather’s Envelopes is a sampling of the work of Kouzaki Hiromu’s twilight years. From the age of eighty to ninety-five this retired master builder made envelopes for no other purpose than to pass the time and practice a craft. Both the book and the envelopes within are beautiful in their simplicity.

Book Browsing: Ueda Yoshihiko

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Filed under: books, collecting, Japan, museums, New York City, photography | No Comments »

On the final day of a trip to New York City last week I stopped in at Dashwood Books to peruse their excellent selection of photo books from Japan. I picked up a copy of hi mi tsu ki chi by Nishimiya Daisaku which I first heard about here on Little Brown Mushrooms. I also saw a couple of interesting volumes from University of Tokyo Press. What caught my attention about these two books was the design of the covers, full bleed images of items floating on black backgrounds with areas cut out creating a lower level for type. I later found that art direction for these books was provided by Hara Kenya, a well know designer and design philosopher (White, Designing Design) with photography by Ueda Yoshihiko. The subject of each book is museum specimens, one of birds from the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology and one of stone implements from the University of Tokyo Museum.

BIOSOPHIA of BIRDS, the larger of the two volumes 168 A4 (28 x 20.4 cm) pages, contains specimens of birds in various stages of unpacking. Some of the birds are on stands as if ready to be displayed, but most look like they have just been taken from storage, some bound and tagged, some still in their boxes. All are photographed on the same black background.

Biosophia of Birds

Biosophia of Birds
spreads from BIOSOPHIA of BIRDS

ONE HUNDRED STONEWARES, closer to square in format (24.2 x 23.4 cm) and a bit thicker at 186 pages, is a collection of stone tools photographed in a similar manner.

One Hundred Stonewares

One Hundred Stonewares

Both books were published in 2008 and in trying to find out more about them I came across what seems to be the first in the series, CHAMBER of CURIOSITIES, published two years earlier. Sadly I haven’t seen this one in person because it looks the most interesting. Rather than a typology of a single subject (birds or stone tools) it’s a collection of oddities from bones to butterflies.

Chamber of Curiosities

Chamber of Curiosities
Ueda Yoshihiko from CHAMBER of CURIOSITIES

The books I saw at Dashwood are beautifully produced and priced to match, but if you’re fond of museum collections or typologies they’re worth taking a look at given the chance. Also, to see more images from Ueda Yoshihiko’s other work, go here and here (text in Japanese).


Posted: January 7th, 2010 | Filed under: books, movies, photography | 1 Comment »

Telling a story is both easier and more difficult than it has ever been before. Easier because there are any number of ways to get your story out in front of a large audience. More difficult because the number of stories out there is so great that it’s easy for yours to get lost. So whether you’re telling a tale of illegally crossing the border into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan or taking a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate your 40th birthday it has to be well told.

In 1986 the photographer Didier Lefèvre went into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan for the first time while covering a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission. Of the four thousand frames he exposed only six images were initially published. Thirteen years later his friend Emmanuel Guibert suggested they collaborate on publishing the story of Lefèvre’s journey and, with the help of Frédéric Lemercier, Le Photographe was published in France in three volumes between 2003 and 2006. In 2009 the English version, The Photographer, was published in one large volume by First Second.

The Photographer
The Photographer, p. 74

Being based on actual events I don’t know if you would call it a graphic novel, but the illustration drives the bulk of the narrative with Lefèvre’s photographs working as accents. It’s similar to, though not quite as powerful as, the film Waltz with Bashir and its shift from animation to photographic images. In the film’s case, the change takes place at the end to maximize impact while in The Photographer Lefèvre’s images are sprinkled throughout allowing the viewer places to rest and contemplate. I also enjoyed how, in many places, we’re given the equivalent of a contact sheet where we can see a sequence of shots and the one that has been selected (or discarded). Seeing the contact sheets sometimes gives you a better idea of what the photographer is looking for. Another example that comes to mind is the Diane Arbus shot of the boy with the toy hand grenade in Central Park. Looking at the contact sheet the boy looks fairly normal in most of the shots, but the in the image she chose the boy looks mentally unbalanced. I don’t pretend to know why Arbus chose that particular shot, but, for me, seeing the shots she didn’t choose make that image all the more interesting.

Diane Arbus contact sheet
Diane Arbus contact sheet

To be perfectly honest, I doubt I’d like The Photographer as much if it were just Lefèvre’s photographs. There is something about the combination of photos and illustration, and even the size and heft of the book (11.7 by 9.4 in., an inch thick, and over 2 lbs.), that makes it appealing. Though the line work is heavier and looser, the drawing style strikes me as Tintinesque. There’s a similar use of color and sense of adventure. Add to this Afghanistan being in the news a lot lately and I found myself devouring it in large chunks.

Finally, the use of the black and white reportage reminded me of something from Salman Rushdie’s novel Fury. He (or his character) found it curious that black and white photography, “the most unreal of processes,” now stood for “realism, integrity and art”. That may have been true when Rushdie originally wrote those words, or when Lefèvre shot the photos, but I wonder if today the ubiquity of color photography hasn’t left black and white photography seeming dated or, at the very least, self-consciously arty.

On a lighter note, Alec Soth’s slideshow of a trip to Las Vegas for his 40th birthday is another example of the flexibility of story telling media. People are more willing to experiment with ways of telling a story. In this case Soth, normally a still photographer, is experimenting with an A/V presentation.

One of the great things about Soth’s slideshow (other than the actual images) is how self-contained and almost circular the narrative is. It begins with him wanting to buy a limited edition of Bukowski poetry. He can’t afford the book, so being in Vegas, he tries gambling to raise the money. You can probably guess how that turns out. But don’t despair, he turns the experience into a piece of art that references both Vegas and a bit of poetry from the unattainable volume which he then sells for the price of said volume. Genius.

Dollar Signs

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Filed under: art, books, collecting, San Francisco | No Comments »

If you were wondering how the recession has changed the art world, judging from the $43.7 million payed at auction for a Warhol painting (fittingly a painting of money) the answer is not very much. At least not at the top end of the market where, like any other part of the economy, the people with money still have money and are looking to consolidate or expand their holdings. This is the world that Sarah Thornton is largely dealing with in her book Seven Days in the Art World, an entertaining introduction into various facets of a very insular world. Anyone looking for an expose will most likely come away disappointed. It’s not that kind of book. Instead you’ll get snapshots of a Christie’s auction, a crit at CalArts, the “feeding frenzy” at Art Basel, the presentation of the Turner Prize, the workings at Artforum, Takashi Murakami’s studio, and the Venice Biennale which end up showing how small and connected the art world is at the very top.

Most of the research for this book took place before the bottom fell out of the economy. The auction she covers was in 2004 and the most recent entries (the studio visit and the Biennale) are based on events in 2007 so reading it now adds an interesting twist. One point made in the book was that the most recent boom in the art market was fueled largely the work of living artists, the Damien Hirsts and Jeff Koons’ of the world. And that, like other sectors of the economy, there was a lot of speculation. Like the housing market, the art market was distorted by the huge amounts of money flowing into it. The money had to find a place to go and, with the fixed number of Monets and Van Goghs in the world, it flowed into living artists and the search for the next big thing. With the downturn I imagine there will be a return to the blue chip artists like Warhol. As a side note I also recently saw the documentary Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?, a film about one woman’s quest to sell what she believes to be a Jackson Pollock painting that she bought in a thrift store for five dollars. As you may imagine, this film portrays the art world in a somewhat different light.

On a completely different scale, it’ll be interesting to what kind of economic indicator SF Camerawork’s benefit auction (Saturday, December 5, 1 pm) will be this year. Will it be positive like the Sotheby’s auction, an indication that there are still people willing to spend money on art? Or will it be another grim reminder that the next boom is still a long way off? Let’s hope it’s the former.

Verbal Vivisection

Posted: October 18th, 2009 | Filed under: art, books, galleries | No Comments »

Brian Dettmer, Amerigo, 2007
Brian Dettmer, Amerigo, 2007

On the front of the Week in Review section of this week’s NY Times, illustrating an article on National Book Award nominations, was a photo of a book with part of the cover removed revealing a latticework of words and images carved into the interior. The work, Modern Progress by the artist Brian Dettmer,  gives the impression of  a body with the skin peeled away laying bare the veins, bones, tendons and organs hidden within. It also reminded me of some of the pieces from a Maya Lin show where she carved topographies into old atlases. A quick search led to more book works as well as modified maps and sculptures made from old audio and video tapes. There’s a great selection of images on Toomey Tourell’s site where I also learned that I missed his September show. Rats.


Posted: December 3rd, 2008 | Filed under: books, magazines, photography | No Comments »

As with many residents of the United States last week my thoughts turned to food. The most obvious reason being Thanksgiving, but there was also the audio version of Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma on the long drive to and from our meal in Southern California. In hindsight it may not have been the best choice as it had me calculating the corn content of the Thanksgiving dinner between bites. For those who haven’t read or listened to the book, Pollan traces four meals from their origin to his table and in the first section (the one we listened to on the drive) the path he takes is through the industrial food system which centers around corn, a path that ends at the pinnacle (or nadir depending on your point of view) of the industrial food system, the fast food meal.

Tessa Bunney: Chickens
Tessa Bunney from Hand to Mouth

It’s seems like more than a coincidence that the latest issue of Daylight Magazine, which I picked up before the trip, also focuses on agriculture. In it Peter Menzel’s images of feed lots and turkeys in California are compelling and related perfectly to the season, the location (driving through huge monocultures), and themes in Pollan’s book, but it was Tessa Bunney‘s work in the Romanian Carpathian mountains that I keep coming back to. I think they play into the same pastoral ideal that Pollan discusses that, even though I grew up on a small farm, I can’t help being seduced by. The idea of an idyllic life of simplicity lived in harmony with nature that conveniently leaves out all the work that’s involved and the nearly impossible situations the small farmer faces in the modern consumer culture.

Tessa Bunney: Haymaking
Tessa Bunney from Hand to Mouth

Tessa Bunney: Sheepfold
Tessa Bunney from Hand to Mouth

Sebald and Sabra

Posted: November 19th, 2008 | Filed under: books, movies | 1 Comment »

Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir film still

The connection between photography and memory is a facile one. Who doesn’t have a photograph of a time or place that they would like to remember? The school photo, the vacation snapshot, the wedding photograph all verify, more concretely than memory, that a certain moment occurred. Or do they? Even before digital manipulation, photography has had, at best, a loose relationship with reality. On the one hand, we are taught to consider photographs as representations of the real when they appear in newspapers, court rooms, scientific publications, etc. But even these images are produced by way of any number of subjective decisions which determine the “reality” of what is portrayed.

So what put me on this line of thought? First, I’m currently reading The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald which is a combination of reminiscence by the narrator and his chronicling of the lives and travels of the four emigrants of the title. Though the narrator is never identified, I can’t help thinking it’s Sebald himself. It’s a thought that’s at odds with the book being a work of fiction. This tension between document and fiction is strengthened by photographs placed throughout the text as if they have been collected from various shoe boxes and albums of the characters. The images, though they appear to relate to the text, could very well be a collection of unrelated images around which the author created his story. The book has me wondering, as if I were watching a movie “based on a true story,” how much is remembrance and how much is pure fabrication.

In contrast to Sebald construction of fiction from “real” representations of the world (i.e. photographs), Ari Folman’s film Waltz with Bashir uses a stylized form of representation (animation) to portray real events. It’s an animated documentary. Here the animation enhances the subjectiveness of memory as Folman, a former Israeli soldier, tries to recall the events of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The film moves back and forth between past and present as Folman interviews various people involved trying to uncover the memories he himself has blocked out. Slowly things come to light as his memory returns culminating in a final denouement which I will leave a surprise. The film is a powerful contemplation on war and memory.