Photobooks of 2017: Maki

Photobooks of 2017: Maki


Masaki Yamamoto – Guts
It is common nowadays to show in the photo books intimate scenes about the photographers life. But it’s not easy to succeed in the challenge of entering in total immersion in this intimacy by avoiding clichés and especially by keeping the artistic rather than just the documentary aspect in a book. Yet Masaki Yamamoto, as talented as discreet photographer has achieved this feat. Shot entirely in his family’s tiny apartment, with walls yellowed from cigarette smoke, broken doors and trash covering the ground, Yamamoto’s unashamed, uncompromising black-and-white photos nonetheless depict a strong and rare sense of familial intimacy and affection. Not quite dysfunctional, but decidedly atypical. A first promising book from a photographer that I will follow closely in the future.

Roger Guaus – Jo volia ser fotògraf
This is the latest photobook of Catalan photographer Roger Guaus (ex-member of the SMOKE collective of european photographers). This book was lately shortlisted at Les Rencontres de la photographie, Arles Author Book Award 2017. Jo volia ser fotògraf, translated from Catalan is “I wanted to be a photographer”. 386 photographs taken by Roger Guaus between 2005 and 2016 for a massive book limited to 50 copies. This selection is the testimony of the work that he has accomplished to be a photographer.  Here again we enter in the intimacy of the photographer with a simple but successful succession of images tracing a period during which there was the creation of the collective SMOKE (collective of european photographers)to the present. Naturally we can see in the book a lot of photos made while Roger Guaus was experimenting photography with the collective SMOKE at the time when there was a strong creative effervescence within this group of photographers who separated at the end of 2012. Other recurrent photos in this book were made as a record of the everyday life of the photographer. Portraits of his wife, dead animals from the forest, trees, people at parties (sometimes well known as Alberto Garcia-Alix…), sequenced with an experimental aleatory editing makes of this photobook a very interesting work that immerses us into the artist life and his desire to become a photographer. To answer the question asked in his books, there is no doubt that Roger Guaus is now a true and great photographer!

Daido Moriyama – K
“K” (from the Japanese “kei” for “view, vista”) is Daido Moriyama’s latest photographs about fragments of the city of Tokyo, street corners and crannies of the city, the figures that populate it. A small book where the photographer explains that he likes to wander just like a dog or an insect in the city to rediscover everyday the pleasure of taking pictures daily which gives his life meaning.  An unpretentious, graphic and captivating book as this master of Japanese photography knows how to do.


Giona Mottura – DIANE
DIANE is a moving documentary photobook journey on the life of Diane, a transexual singer from the small village of Boveresse in Switzerland. She spends most of her time creating music and working on defending the LGBT cause (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual). Issues related to gender studies, the attention of life and development of the LGBT movement, as well as the issue of territory and its culture are among the themes of this book. Pictures of Diane before and after her surgery, showing her new nude body, pictures of her at home, her daughter and her family long time ago when she was a man, together with texts (translated in english, french and italian) she wrote about her feelings, memories and story as well as the lyrics of her songs makes of this publication a moving book rooted into the difficulty of a complicated life whose courage is the key word.


Seung-Woo Yang – End of the line – Kotobukicho
Seung-Woo Yang is a Korean photographer based in Japan and one of the most promising photographers of the moment. Winner of the 2017 Ken Domon Prize in Japan, his photographic work has always been very engaged with an irreproachable bibliography documenting people on the margins of society. The doyagai districts of Japan where manual labourers gather is a subject that has not been much treated so far. The term doyagai comes from the argot “doya” reversed from “yado” (lodging house). With high level of commitment the photographer went in the doyagai of Kotobukicho in Yokohama. He explains that he had to visit and stays in the streets, drinking and smoking sitting in the roadside during 3 months like the poor people living there before starting to photograph.  Just like in his previous photobooks Seung-Woo Yang does not compromise and gets the essence of this precarious neighborhood. He became one of them to better immerse himself in his subject. I remember last time I saw Yang (last month in Paris) I asked him why he did not shoot when in Paris, he replied with a smile “because I need dangerous places to shoot…”.


Shoko Hashimoto – San’ya 1968.8.1 – 8.20
Another photo book about the doyagai districts. this time it’s San’ya in Tokyo, where manual labourers gather. This book makes a pair with Seung-Woo Yang’s photo book Kotobukicho from the same publisher (Zen Foto Gallery). Here it’s a tribute to the Showa-era photobook style that presents Shoko Hashimoto’s photographs from 50 years ago on textured, coarse papers with compact bookbinding. Shoko Hashimoto used to be a day laborer in San’ya. When he first came to live in Tokyo in the 1960s as a young man, he lived for some periods there and worked as one of the casual day labourers. Later on, he went back to Sanya to take photographs. People leaning on the guardrails, gathering together to gamble, stand-up restaurants, people getting employed on the spot with pre-paid cash bills, hostels – It was extremely difficult to do the shooting says Hashimoto, because people there easily get disturbed by being intervened. So he secretly shot them by placing his camera in a paper bag with a hole cut opened. A rare document and a book that keeps the memory of old Japan.


John Bolloten – Nothing to see here
Unlike the title there is a lot to see here. An exploration into homelessness, destitution, drug and alcohol misuse in Bradford (UK) the hometown of the photographer. Images of drug use, nudity, captivating portraits of people living on the streets, drug addicts… Here again no compromise, just unpretentious street life without censorship.


Kikuji Kawada – Remote past a memoir : 1951 – 1966
This photobook focuses on the years 1951-1966 in Japan, an early period during which Kawada established his own photographic voice, and features works – highly regarded by the likes of japanese renowned photographers Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon – that mark the starting point of his career as well as previously unpublished photographs. An anthology of various series of photographic works in which the design and editing are a true success mixing images of Tokyo with remnant traces of destruction from airstrikes, US military base, Daigo Fukuryu Maru (also known as S.S. Lucky Dragon 5), the closure of coalmines, the construction of dams, Tokyo tower… Several of the works here include photographs that capture the same motifs than in his book “Chizu” (The Map) such as the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Fortress in Futtsu. Another interesting element in the design of this book is the mix of photographs with images printed in negative. In conclusion I would say that Case Publishing has again succeeded a beautiful and very interesting publication as this book happens to be an unavoidable complement on Japanese post war photography by one of the major photographer of the Provoke era.


Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression – Retracing our steps
Since 2011 and the magnitude 9 earthquake that shook northeast Japan and caused a tsunami there was a whole bunch of books on the subject that were published and which I have to say personally did not convince me of their “raison d’être” as a photobook. “Retracing Our Steps” was finally able to gather all the essential elements and a committed way of showing the consequences of this planetary catastrophe with a creative energy and a true artistic vision that reinforces the discourse while retaining the documentary strength of this work. It is always delicate to have a good balance between the artistic and the documentary vision of such a catastrophe but Ayesta and Bression have largely managed to hold this course and make of this photographic work a book that will remain in our memory. A must have for those who are interested in the subject or how photography can be creative in dealing with a subject as sensitive as a nuclear catastrophe without devaluing the documentary and committed aspect of the thing.


Yoshio Mizoguchi – Days of smelling like grass
When I discovered this photo book last may in Tokyo I was at a small book fair. I was in a hurry but after just a quick 20 seconds overview inside the book I realize immediately that I had in my hands a work with a strong soul. We find here a rare unit in the editing despite the mix of places and dates. It looks sometimes like a documentary but it’s actually more than that. There’s in this book a perfume of eroticism floating which is due more to the series of women and girls portraits of which Mizoguchi is apparently a kind of master than in the few nude photos dispatched along the book. We have here a black and white series taken between 1981 and 2014, in which we find among the large number of portraits mostly outdoors, pictures of old red districts from different towns of Japan, old people, kids, cityscapes, workers… Have a look at this book it deserves it.


Hean Kuan – Day by day, Night by night
Here we have two staple binding booklets into a slipcase for this small limited publication. One called “Night by Night, the other “Day by Day”. This photographer from Penang in Malaysia propose here pictures from his travels to various cities of Kansai and Chubu areas in Japan. Every day he walked taking black and white pictures day and night in the streets. We can find some influences of the japanese street photography together with a successful editing and an approach to remarkable graphic photos that makes Hean Kuan a photographer to follow.


Let me add to this list 2 publications that transcend the book format :


The first one is the reissue of Araki Nobuyoshi – Theater of Love – presented as a postcard-sized book, hidden in a Fuji photographic paper box replica, the same way Araki discovered his old prints taken around 1965 when he was working at advertising giant Dentsu. The box and postcards set looks like the original Fujibromide glossy paper box. Really efficient work from the publisher and designer to which is added this very interesting series of unpublished works taken by Araki during the photographer’s early photographic career.


The second is an astonishing box project again by Tokyo Rumando – Selfpolaroids – A special box set, bringing together 32 large format postcards beautifully printed showing “Arakiesque” polaroid selfies of the artist (4C), 1 book of Tokyo Rumando’s new Peel Apart series of evanescent blurred selfies (24 pages, 4C), and a vacuum-sealed pack of the artist’s personal belongings or stage props (unique to each box) all housed together in a luxurious printed clamshell box. Here again Tokyo Rumando shows us new directions in her photographic world as well as an original way of publishing it into a box where she gives a little more of herself by rewarding us with a unique personal belonging in each of the 700 boxes. There is no doubt that she is becoming (along with some other photographers published by Zen Foto Gallery : Seung Woo Yang, Shoko Hashimoto, Kazuyoshi Usui…) one of the spearheads of the actual japanese photography. Hence the craze for her latest series “Orphee” of which 20 prints were presented in a group exhibition at Tate Modern Gallery (London) as well as lately at Paris Photo 2017 (Taka Ishii Gallery).

Maki is a french photographer born and currently living in Marseille (France). He  published “GÛYU – Allegory” (Timeshow Press – 2016) a photobook featuring his series “Japan Somewhere” that he exhibited in Europe and Japan. As a photo book editor he published the mini photobooks collection Média Immédiat (Ed Templeton, Onaka Koji, Morten Andersen…). He also runs the “Photobooks Collectors” page on Facebook in which he introduce the photobooks he likes and recommends.

Images: top – Masaki Yamamoto – Guts, below – Kikuji Kawada – Remote Past: A Memoir, John Bolloten – Nothing to see here