Taratine by Daisuke Yokota, reviewed by Robert Dunn

Taratine, the wildly talented and experimental young Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota’s latest book (unless he’s whipped up something quick and newsprint-dirty in the last few minutes, which is entirely possible), may be his most accomplished book yet. Said to be his most personal work to date—more photographic novel than photo collection—Taratine takes its title from a gingko tree Daisuke Yokota saw during travels to Japan’s north in 2007, yet is equally filled with far more recent shots of his longtime girlfriend in the throes of ecstasy and devotion.

The book, beautifully produced by the New York City–based Session Press, is also a mix of black and white and color, as well as different papers and printing processes. The good news: The book works wonderfully as a whole, even with all its disparate sections and production techniques.

The way the book is made feels very personal and yet magically abstract, qualities all Yokota’s best books have. His first, Backyard, is, well, his backyard, though the photos are all blurry, a canvas of gray tonalities with faint hoverings of trees and people. Taratine follows Yokota’s usual methods, torturing already murky prints with scratches, hot water, and god knows what else to create near mystical visions. We know what each photo shows us, but never clearly; our imaginations are always fully engaged, senses alive. We see all through a murky scrim that simply delivers the truth—and surprises abound.

If Taratine is a novel, it’s a highly plotted one, with neck-whipping twists. We’re looking at the sky, some out of focus buildings, and then a naked woman alone on a mattress appears. Soon she’s up, walking toward us, then we’re in the woods (those Gingko trees), then she’s back, in intense facial close-up, till her image blurs away simply into shapes and forms, ending on stubby fingers. Color returns, blurry color, for sure, and there she is asleep, in repose. Then she’s up again, in the highest-contrast prints in the book—ones printed thermographically—and these are the most unique, the ones I like best.

With the thermographic prints the ink is thick (reminiscent of classic gravure), though in this case shiny and tactile. Dots of ink are either all black or all white, so the contrast is as intense as it can get. (Taratine, short-listed for this year’s Aperture photobook of the year, reminds of another shortlisted “book,” Anthony Cairns LDN EI, in which the whole work is enclosed in a hacked Kindle, taking full advantage of the device’s minute balls which are, again, either all black or all white.) The feel of these thermographic pages is almost as delightful as the photos themselves; there’s an unexpected texture to excite our fingertips. Yokota is clearly interested in the physical properties of photographs and books, and Session Press publisher Miwa Susuda and the designer, Geoff Han, have brilliantly assisted him with the way they’ve produced Taratine.

The book—the story—ends with a series of photos of the sea and disturbing, black birds. This portion recalls Masahisa Fukase’s classic Solitude of Ravens, but as always with Yokota—one aspect of his genius, in fact—is how he embraces the Japanese tradition of are, bure, boke (Daido Moriyama and Nakahira Takuma come to mind) yet moves that tradition powerfully forward.

Yokota is the future, yet Taratine is also perfectly of the moment—of his own most private and revealing moments, too. In its complex production, the photos of breathtaking abstraction yet secret personal truths, all laid out in an always intriguing and magical sequence and printed on the right paper with the right tonalities, Taratine is a masterpiece. As simple—yet powerfully complex—as that.

Robert Dunn is a writer, photographer, and teacher. He has published widely, including work in The New Yorker and the O. Henry Prize Story collection. His novels include Pink Cadillac, Cutting Time, Soul Cavalcade, Meet the Annas, Look at Flower, and Stations of the Cross. Dunn works for Sports Illustrated magazine and is an Associate Professor of writing at The New School in New York City. For the last years of the novelist Bernard Malamud’s life Dunn was his personal assistant.  In 2012 his first photobooks were released: OWS, Angel Parade #1 and #2, and Meeting Robert Frank. Subsequent volumes of Angel Parade have come out regularly. His photography has been exhibited in an ICP show and at the Cleveland Museum. His work can be seen at http://www.ecstaticlightphoto.com.  Dunn is married to a film art director and lives in New York City and Woodstock, N.Y.

Taratine is published by Session Press.  A selection of photobooks by Daisuke Yokota can be published here.




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