I first stumbled across Sakiko Nomura (the work, not the woman you understand) about ten years ago, having seen her namechecked in an article about Nobuyoshi Araki. I was quite surprised when I finally was able to view her work, as I felt that if anything it had more in common with Araki’s contemporary Daido Moriyama, and whilst I know artists do not generally like comparisons anybody with a liking for Todd Hido, Tomio Seike and Alfred Steiglitz may find enough to stimulate here.
My first acquisition was a copy of Tsukuyomi from Japanese publisher Match & Co. Even now, probably my favourite of all her books. An unassuming, slender publication. Twenty four pages and twelve pictures of pure perfection. One image per page. A delicate work on a pale cream paper that allows each image room to breath and be appreciated. A wonderful example of the book as an object, and its subject coming together in perfect harmony.
Since those days Ms. Nomura’s work has grown in scope, grandeur and ambition. Much has been made of the fact that she chosen to focus on the male nude as her subject. This was most certainly the case with her early elusive titles Hadaka no Heya (1994 Aat Room) and Hadaka no Jikan (1997 Heibonsha). However, with Ai No Jikan (2000 BPM) and the privately published Kuroneko/ Black Cat (2002) her subjects expanded to include women, children and even cats!
I only mention this because it is unfair to try and pigeon hole her work. Even the term nude could be taken to task, as the shadowy nature of the work moves these about as far away from the conventional idea of a nude as you can get. These are small intimate moments. Warm, sensual and relaxed images that hint of a friendship and familiarity between sitter and artist rarely seen, and even more rarely captured.
In 2008 Akio Nagasawa Publishing released the majestic Kuroyami / Black Darkness, a book that I love and hate in equal measures . The artists eye opens to include both city and landscapes, blurred, dark, rainy mood pieces that are juxtaposed with hotel rooms and their shadowy inhabitants. Breath taking stuff….so why hate ? Well, this is more a criticism of the designers and publishers. To give us these beautiful large format images, and then present them in such a way that the book can never be opened to fully take in their scope and breadth is a crying shame (a similar fate befell the earlier Hadaka no Jikan). Fewer images, more gatefolds would always be my vote (Genesis by Salgado ring any bells). In the same year Little More published Night Flight, and grainy colour entered the frame with all it’s images taken with a micromini camera called Spy Camera. She may have made us wait, but the use of colour if anything intensifies, warms and humanises these abstract pictures.
In the last couple of years the world finally seems to be waking up to the sinuous delights of Ms Nomura. 2012 saw the gorgeous essential limited retrospective, Nude/A Room/Flowers from Match, and so far this year Libro Arte have given us two limited publications the slender Hotel Pegasus featuring new colour work, and Sex/Snow (my new contender for favourite). Abstract anonymous hotels, unforgiving winter storms, hints of journeys taken. The images maybe getting a little more defined and crisp, but the signature is still there….and as for being referred to as Araki’s disciple. Well I think it’s about time for Sakiko Nomura to step out of her own shadows.
A selection of photobooks by Sakiko Nomura are available here.
Robin Titchener is a keen, bordering on fanatical photobook collector of thirty years. He still wouldn’t know a Rolleiflex if it fell on him…but certainly knows how to appreciate what they, and the people who use them, are capable of. He lives in London, and has no cats.