I suspect the 500 photographs don’t need much of an introduction, all the photographs are of identically framed faces, showing just eyes, nose and mouth. Some time ago I commented on the Steve McCurry ‘Portraits’ book suffering because I found it all a bit “samey”, a bit formulaic. This should be the case here, and to some extents it is, but here there is a little something extra that I find more rewarding. Sure, it’s easy to flick through sections of the book without paying particular attention, and I guess it’s unreasonable to expect an in depth inspection of each and every photograph in a single sitting: there’s 500 of them, but that’s not the point anyway, these aren’t singular images, it is without doubt a collection of images. And one that takes repeated viewing.
I’ve read that the framing and monochrome printing that averages any racial colouring makes the faces unified, and hence the title of the book. To a degree I can see this, although with the Taschen imprint there are pretty clear differences for colour, although not as great as they could have been if printed more “normally”, and certainly they’re more unified than if they’d been in colour.
What I can see from the repetition of images though is a different form of unification - we’re all built the same, give or take. The repetition of these facial ‘points’ shows that this is the case. Older people have larger noses than younger, some people have broader noses, others have freckles or spots, there are differences in this stream of similarity. This also brings to mind something said by Kanemura Osamu: “though repetition (I aim to) discern significant differences within the subject...” (Tucker, 2003, p268). And yes, this is where my fascination comes, through the differences that this attempt to show ‘one’ identity highlights. We may be the same, but we are all also different. I might not be explaining myself well here, but I know in the back of my head what I mean!
One thing I would like to do here is to merge the images. A video would be the obvious choice, and so perhaps a little less interesting because it is so obvious (although I have hinted at this when I did a similar exercise but with a single person). An image merge might be more interesting. I can’t bring myself to detach the pages from the book though!
Tucker, AW. Friis-Hansen, D. Kaneko, R. Takeba, J. (2003) The history of Japanese photography. Houston. The Museum of Fine Arts.
Ohara, K (1997) One. Cologne. Taschen (only referred to as “this edition”)
The work was entitled "Transit" (there's a book by the same name too - see here, not sure it's a full version, but you get a good idea) and looked at the subject of displaced people, whether within or without their own country or community. The exhibition was split into several sections based upon the country/people in question - a logical way to do it really. There was an interesting mix of presentation styles - some printed large and one in particular was a little too large in my opinion: it featured a very narrow depth of field and you lost the sharpness because of the size. The general idea of the style of display can be seen here, courtesy of the Nobel Peace Centre website (I took some reference shots but subsequently lost my memory card). There was one section that featured a simple bed in the middle of the room, the full meaning was a little lost on me, but I assume it somehow reflected the plight of the Iranian teenager who tried to escape to Norway.
The photographs featured off-kilter compositions, shallow depth of field, and rich colouration. A few also seemed to be a little "false" feeling, one of twins chained in a room almost felt superimposed, a composite image. Bearing in mind the photographers reputation, this will not have been the case, but it's how it felt to me. It will likely have been as a result of the post-processing with the saturation, grain and perhaps sharpening (or whatever it was he did). It made me feel uncomfortable with the image, but not because of the message it was conveying about the twins. This was the minority though, and the style did bring across a sense of movement, of snatched moments and a journey from A to B. Yes, if you take away the stylistic elements, there was a narrative to be read and the images can be seen as a strong documentary.
We didn't stay too long at the exhibition, but the book would be interesting and as a documentary series, I found it to be very strong.
Kawauchi Rinko - Illuminance
I’ve always had an interest in photographing mundane things, simple things, everyday things but Kawauchi does it with such a poetic style. It’s not just the photographs that work though, the book has been really well sequenced and the image pairs work well together across the spread of the page. There was a show of the same name, and whilst I’m not sure which came first, or rather, which was the primary mode of communication, but I’m not sure it would work quite so well as an exhibition, but it’s a perfectly charming book. I like the physical style of the page too...
Watabe Yukichi - A criminal investigation
Another Japanese photographer, another book that accompanied an exhibition (or vice versa) and another book with really nice pages! The book is interestingly put together, rather like a dossier that may have been used in the investigation Watabe documented, but here I think the book ever so slightly plays second fiddle to the excellent exhibition put on at La Bal. The photographs were all printed small and mounted in clusters on table top style displays, you had to look down as if you were hunting for clues, and moving around the displays you pieced together the story. Truly excellent!
Hiromix - Girls blue: rockin’ on
Hmmm, another Japanese photographer - a pattern emerges? Well, yeah, maybe. I’m a self confessed Japanese photography addict, and I could easily have made up a full compliment of books from Japan for the list (I deliberately left “Toshi-e” and “For a language to come” off it). Anyway, Hiromix’s contribution to the list is an older one, but I only bought it this year. Here it’s all about youth, about culture clash (the West appears to have won) and all that. There’s nothing much pretentious here, and it’s certainly not grungy like the works of Goldin to whom she has been (sort of) compared. It doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty either…
Paul Graham - A shimmer of possibility
One of the reasons I like this not insubstantial collection of photographs is because it legitimises a style I’ve used, that of photographing people from behind. “So what?” you might ask, but I’ve been pulled up for doing it in the past because it’s “a cop out”, but then again there’s different styles of photography at play, so lets move on. Back to the book, the photographs are all fantastically mundane, theres’ nothing out of the ordinary happening, all very matter of fact, but I feel the recording of these “everydays” gives us chance to actually look at them, rather than ignore them. It gives us chance to let life sink in. This reminds me of a quote by a Japanese poet, but I’ll save that for another time…
Anders Petersen and JH Engström - From back home
I saw the exhibition at the Bradford Media Museum first, and whilst I liked bits, it was only when I heard Engström talk that it reallyy clicked with me. The book just takes it further. The way the images work together, the random styles and subject matter (colour, b&w, blurred, bleached, whatever) of Engström and the more (seemingly) considered approach of Petersen compliment each other in the mentor/understudy way that was their relationship. Sometimes, books can feel polished, and that’s fine if it’s the intention, but I feel this is very much an uncut jewel. Much like all of the books in this short list I guess.