The Japanese Photobook and the Sackler Library Display
Accompanying the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition Tokyo: Art & Photography (29 July 2021 – 3 January 2022) a book display at the Sackler Library presents Japanese photobooks, books on Japanese photography and related exhibition catalogues. Over the coming weeks some of the Japanese photobooks held by the Sackler are on display (in the Ground Floor rotunda) for readers to take a closer look.
Works in the Bodleian Libraries’ collections (in particular, the Sackler Library and the Bodleian Japanese Library, or BJL) range from the 1965 book Why Mother Why, which features iconic photographer Hosoe Eikoh’s works, to multi-media artist Tokyo Rumando’s exhibition booklet from 2020. In her first European museum solo show, Tokyo Rumando presented her self-portrait photographs and films.
Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has dominated the international camera industry through companies such as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Sony or Pentax (previously Asahi). Supported by these companies, responsible for creating some of the best cameras, lenses and films in the world, photo galleries such as Fuji Salon or Canon Salon have hosted short-term exhibitions. Amateur photography clubs promote competitions, exhibitions and periodicals. Asahi Camera, founded in 1926 by the Asahi Newspaper Company, is the voice of the All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies (AJAPS, Zennihon Shashin Renmei) and is the country’s oldest photography magazine. It presents photographs, evaluations of equipment and exhibition reviews. Another popular magazine, Nippon Camera, has existed since 1951. The internet now provides access to images and texts, but until recently, photo magazines were a crucial source of information on photography, including works from overseas. Photography in Japan has developed into a web of camera companies, clubs, galleries, publishers, magazines and online platforms. More than an important industry, it also is a socio-cultural system based on countless photographers and camera fans, creating a vast number of high-quality images. This ‘photography world’ is a parallel system to the ‘art world’ in Japan, which has also produced important photographic works.
The photobook has become central to the development of Japanese photography, particularly since the post-war years. Considering Japan’s long tradition of making high-quality paper and books, as well as the lack of photography exhibition and storage space in densely populated Japanese cities, the popularity of the photobook is not surprising. Even today, for many photographers the photobook remains the ultimate format in which to present their works. Iconic photobooks by Fukase Masahisa, Araki Nobuyoshi or Kawada Kikuji continue to inspire younger artists worldwide. Over the last 30 years there has been a growing interest in Japanese photography, both within and outside of Japan, which has resulted in an increasing number of exhibitions. Japanese photobooks have also become sought-after internationally.
Tokyo has been a major motif in Japanese photography, ranging from Kimura Ihei’s post-war documentation to Moriyama Daidō’s dynamic snapshots of his Shinjuku neighbourhood, Araki Nobuyoshi’s diaristic Ginza photographs and Ninagawa Mika’s colourful images of her urban life. The number of photographs is endless, and Tokyo as a motif and shooting location is as varied as the city itself. While ‘truly copying’ the outside world (as the Japanese term for photography ‘shashin’ suggests), Japanese photography has developed from a ‘realist’ approach in the early post-war years to a free form of expression often intertwined with photographers’ lives and subjective experiences. Tokyo in photography has had many faces and no doubt it will continue to change, develop and re-imagine itself in the future. Perhaps the most engaging photographs of Tokyo, however, will continue to be linked to the photographers’ lives and inner visions.
The Sackler Library’s book display seeks to provide a ‘taster’ of the diversity of Japanese photography, featuring well-known names, such as Araki and Moriyama, as well as younger female practitioners who are less well-known internationally, including Nagashima Yurie, Tonomura Hideka, and Tokyo Rumando. I hope that the display will inspire staff and students alike, reflecting both the quality of Japanese photography and the importance of the photobook as an artistic object in its own right. The work of many of these photographers has not yet been researched enough. The display runs during the course of Michaelmas term 2021, and beyond, and we invite you to take a closer look at the books!
Dr. Lena Fritsch
Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Ashmolean Museum
Sackler books on show in the Ashmolean exhibition
The Sackler Library has lent three publications to the Ashmolean exhibition:
Kimura Ihei. Tokyo: Fall of 1945. Tokyo: Bunka-sha, 1946
Sohei Nishino. Tokyo. Tokyo: Amana, 2015 (A diorama photographic map Tokyo)
Tsuzuki Kyoichi. Satellite of Love: Vanishing Beauty of Japanese ‘Love hotels’ . Tokyo: Asupekuto, 2001
Preparing the Display: My Personal Perspective as a Graduate Library Trainee
When I was asked to put together this display, I – of course – jumped at the opportunity. Since opening up to more readers (post-Covid), and reinstating its New Books Display, the Sackler Library is gradually returning to the bustle of its pre-Covid years. The Ashmolean’s advertising for the Tokyo exhibition is hard to miss: visitors to and passers-by the museum can see Ninagawa Mika’s bright photograph of two young women bowing their pink fringes towards each another, one of them adorned by a dazzling ‘Gucci’ clip (see above). I pass the Ashmolean poster daily, on my walk to work, and it never fails to catch my eye. Welcoming new and returning readers to the Sackler Library with a connected display seemed perfect timing. This post is a small insight into the process of setting up my first book display, and all I learned along the way.
I set about gathering the list of Tokyo photobooks held by the Sackler Library, compiled by the Ashmolean exhibition’s co-curator, Dr Lena Fritsch. Once all the books were assembled, I quickly learned that Japanese photography does not comprise only colour images of vibrant scenes of Tokyo’s nightlife as represented in the exhibition’s poster. Leafing through For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, I found countless greyscale shots. Without colour, the pictures are still remarkably expressive.
One of my preferred spreads from For a New World to Come is Shomei Tomatsu’s Oh! Shinjuku series (1969). These images show scenes of student protestors and railway passengers alongside moments from Tokyo nightlife. One of the most famous photos in the series, of a protestor clashing with the police, particularly stands out. Apparently, students had told Tomatsu about the protest (and the protestor’s) location, allowing the photographer to capture the moment. Through creating this display, I learned about the ‘are-bure-boke’ style: here, pictures are grainy or out-of-focus, just like Tomatsu’s shot. Its blurry look really captures the fast-moving pace of 1960s Tokyo: the student seems to glide through the air, showing you don’t always need bright colours to grasp the chaos of a place in time.
Looking at these images, you can see lots of parallels with other displayed books. We also have the works of Daidō Moriyama. In his introduction to Daido Moriyama (Tate, 2012) Simon Baker describes Moriyama as ‘one of Japan’s most important and influential photographers and photobook makers’, capturing the world since 1964. Inside, the book is undeniably varied – with a colour photography selection towards the end. Still, you cannot miss the familiar, blurred greyscale images throughout the book. In 1968, Moriyama joined a group called Provoke, and their eponymous magazine, where are-bure-boke was the trademark style. So, even by skimming photobooks, you can see a typical documentation style for 1960s Tokyo. As a staff member with no formal training in art history, there is something very satisfying about identifying themes and trends with a layman’s eye!
When I was organising the display I came across more than 1960s photography. For example, Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows (2015) includes works 1976-2007; her work is fascinating, ranging from shots of apartments to close-up images of human hands and skin. I decided to group photobooks covering a longer span of time together, for readers who want to delve deeper into the world of Japanese photography and see how it has evolved over time. (These groupings have now merged, as readers view and rearrange the books on display.)
The display also includes books normally housed in our offsite facility. Readers familiar with the Bodleian Libraries’ collections will know that we hold many, many books. Despite the plethora of libraries around Oxford, we cannot keep all of them in our onsite collections and a vast number are stored offsite. Books returned temporarily to onsite include, for example, other publications on Moriyama, as well as other artists’ photobooks.
Once all the books had arrived safely at the Sackler, I began putting up the display. With the exception of giving a helping hand during my work experience at a primary school, this was almost entirely new territory. Fortunately, the photobooks contain beautiful, powerful and intriguing images, which guided me in arranging the display. After a period of adjusting the table arrangements, the display was good to go.
When I was deciding where to place the books, there were two especially important points for me. Firstly, I knew I wanted to have a spread of books open: the display is, after all, about photography! Choosing which spread to have open was more difficult: I turned page after page, looking for the most (to me) compelling images. I eventually chose two photos from Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life, which show four young boys in conversation, and a striking woman sitting back and staring the camera down. To me, her gaze almost invites you in to look further at the books. (That said, our readers have enjoyed looking at the display since it went on show, and one of them subsequently changed the pages to display a sleeping cat. This is, of course, entirely welcome in the library. Our books are for readers to handle.)
Secondly, although all our books are available pick up and consider, I wanted Tokyo Rumando’s 2020 exhibition booklet to be particularly accessible. This is the most recent work on display, and by lesser-known female artist. I particularly wanted to encourage display browsers to engage with newer artists, to bring home how the world of Japanese photography world has evolved to present day. If you flick through her booklet, her work is a captivating story of female empowerment: between shots of women of all ages, clothes, and poses, she emerges as one of my new favourite creators. I hope everyone considering the display finds it as insightful as I did.
Graduate Library Trainee, Sackler Library
Gyewon Kim. ‘Paper, photography, and a reflection on urban landscape in 1960s Japan’. Visual Resources 32:3-4 (2016): 230-246
Sarah Boxer ‘Japan Torqued, Melted, Reconfigured’. New York Times 12 September 2004
Eikō Hosoe and Mark Holborn. Ordeal by Roses: Photographs of Yukio Mishima. New York: Aperture, 1985
Black Sun: the Eyes of Four: Roots and Innovation in Japanese Photography. Edited by Mark Holborn. New York: Aperture, 1986
Daido Moriyama: Record, edited by Mark Holborn. London: Thames and Hudson, 2017
Daido Moriyama, edited by Simon Baker. London: Tate, 2012
Daido Moriyama: Tales of Tono Translated by Lena Fritsch. London: Tate, 2012
For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015
Daido Moriyama: the World through my Eyes. Edited by Filippo Maggia. Milan/London: Skira/Thames and Hudson, 2010
Lena Fritsch. Ravens & Red Lipstick: Japanese Photography since 1945. London: Thames and Hudson, 2018.
Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki: Tokyo Lucky Hole. Cologne/London: Taschen, 1997
Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life. Birmingham: Icon Gallery, 2001
Emphatic and Uncompromising: Kitai Kazuo’s Photography. Tokyo: Yumiko Chiba Associates, 2019
Provoke: between Protest and Performance, Photography in Japan 1960/1975. Edited by Diane Dufour & Matthew S. Witkovsky. Gottingen: Steidl, 2016
Hiromi Tsuchida. Fukushima: 2011-2017, Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 2018
Shomei Tomatsu. Chewing Gum and Chocolate. Edited by Leo Rubinfien & John Junkerman, New York: Aperture, 2014
Naito Masatoshi: Another World Unveiled. Edited by Tetsurō Ishida & Satomi Fujimura. Tokyo: Tōkyō-to Shashin Bijutsukan, 2018
Sato Tokihiro: Presence or Absence. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 2014
Nagashima Yurie and a Pinch of Irony with a Hint of Love. Tokyo Museum of Photographic Art, 2017
Amanda Maddox and others. Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015
Yutaka Takanashi. Toshi-e / Towards the City. New York: Errata, 2010
Hitomi Watanabe. Tōdai zenkyōtō 1968 1969.Tōkyō : Shinchōsha, 2007
The Founding and Development of Modern Photography in Japan. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 1995
Japan’s Modern Divide: the Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto. Edited by Judith Keller and Amanda Maddox. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013
Hiroshi Hamaya. Senzō zanzō: shashin taiken 60nen. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1991
TOP Collection: Tokyo Tokyo and TOKYO. Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Tokyo: Case Publishing, 2016