Tag Archives: photo book

Call for entries: The Perar Book

MS Optical Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark IIIn 2010, Mr Sadayasu Miyazaki of MS Optical designed and manufactured the MS OPTICAL SUPER TRIPLET PERAR 3.5/35 for Leica M mount.

Since then, many hundreds of these tiny wonders have been sold and reached the camera bodies of people all over the world. This is not limited to the original 35mm focal length, as later a 28mm, 24mm and most recently a 21mm super-wide Perar followed suit.

At Japan Exposures, we would like to celebrate this and are calling all photographers who have taken pictures using this Super Tpirlet Triplet lens. Our aim is to collect images from everyone and everwhere, then to pick the 100 best images and put them in a printed book to be handed to Mr Miyazaki (alert: this is a surprise and he does not know about this yet!). That way he can see how far his creations have travelled and what people have captured with them.

MS Optical Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark II

Japan Exposures was founded in 2004 and was the first site offering photo equipment, lens conversions, films and camera & parts sourcing from Japan. Since the beginning, we have been very happy to be able to work with Mr Miyazaki. This little project is meant to be a token of appreciation to him and his work.

We hope that you share this sentiment and would like to invite you to participate by submitting your photograph(s) to us. We will keep you informed on the developments of this endevour and at a later stage you will have the opportunity to purchase the book yourself.

You will find practical guidance below on how to submit your material.

Thank you and please spread the word to all “Perargraphers”!

Current Status

Editing— We are no longer accepting submissions and are editing entries for including in the book. Thanks!

 Submission Guidelines and Procedure

We will use Flickr to manage submissions. If you don’t use or like Flickr, please email us.

  1. Please join the Flickr group The Perar Book and add your image to group pool.
  2. Please include the following info with your image in the description field or tags:
    • Lens used (and if possible serial number); it’s sufficient if you just state the focal length i.e. 21, 24, 28, 35. Example: Perar 28 #065 (MS Super Triplet Perar 28/4 serial number 065)
    • Your location country or the location country where the image was taken (supposed to indicate where the lens went)
  3. Should your image get selected, we will later approach you privately to give you the option to provide your real name for credits and a high-resolution file for printing
  4. If we cannot ascertain the above information, we may reject the image on these grounds

Yoshiichi Hara’s Mandala Zukan

We’re going to start a new series of posts here on some of the photo books in our collection, the theme of which would be something like photographers you’ve probably never heard of before but should, or alternatively photo books you’ve probably never seen before but should. Sometimes those two themes might overlap. Without further ado, let’s begin with:

Mandala Zukan (曼陀羅図鑑), by Yoshiichi Hara
Published by Banseisha, 1988
Softcover, 21cm x 21cm, approx. 610 pages, 300 photos.
Original price: ¥5,800

Mandala Zukan, by Yoshiichi HaraYoshiichi Hara was born in 1948 in Tokyo. He attended the Chiyoda Photography Vocational School but dropped out. He first exhibited his photography in 1973. In 1978 he self-published his first book, Fubaika. Those are the basic facts and I have to admit I know little beyond them.

I do know that much of his book oeuvre has the word “stripper” in the title and he has published various “stripper guide” books. I have never looked at them beyond their covers (honest!), so I have no idea if these are straight commercial jobs or not, but their covers would seem to indicate they are. I had seen a couple of recent and decidedly non-commercial books of his at the Japanese publisher Sokyusha, but paid them very little mind for the longest time, sad to say. It was only after someone in Europe contacted me about purchasing some of Hara’s out-of-print books did I become intrigued to look a bit further. (You can find said recent books here and here.)

Two page spreads from Yoshiichi Hara's Mandala ZukanMandala Zukan is a thick, square-shaped book, containing exactly 300 black and white photographs. Most of the photographs are in a square format, with “sloppy borders” to emphasize that we are seeing them full-frame, without cropping. They fill most of the right-hand page, giving them a sense of scale that is nicely counterweighted by the subject matter itself, which is rarely grand. On the left-hand page, there’s an almost completely empty page except for a simple caption denoting the number of the photograph, the city and district where the photograph was taken (in Japanese only), and the year the photo was taken.

The subject matter is all over the place, but never feels scattershot or give the impression that Hara doesn’t know what he’s doing. We always feel he is in control, that there is a vision he is trying to put forth but it is up to us to decide what that is. There are some images that might repel, and a few that could upset those with delicate sensibilities, but again one never gets the sense that Hara is shocking for shock’s sake. When I met Hara in person recently, he mentioned that the late Kiyoshi Suzuki was a friend of his, and that they had exhibited together. Like Suzuki’s books, Hara’s have that same feeling where the thread from photo to photo is often thin and hard to see, but always strong and firm.

Two page spreads from Yoshiichi Hara's Mandala ZukanThere are a lot of portraits, people posing for the camera a la those we find in Arbus or Suda, projecting a sense of self that can’t help but be undermined by the camera. Vulnerability is everywhere. There are more than a few children or young people scattered throughout the book, and by contrast they almost seem self-assured. One feels the urge to protect them, shield them from the harsh world of the main of the book — but not to protect them, but to prop ourselves up, give ourselves some hope.

The book’s design plays off the contrasts between a formal, clear-cut structure (one caption page/one photo, exactly 300 photos) and the vague, polyphonic subject matter, the candid, messy nature of the photos. The cover presents a constructionist motif, yet the book’s spine has the title angling over it in a diagonal, and Hara has handwritten his name and the letters that correspond to the Chinese characters. As well, one appreciates the little touches like different colored end papers, or small snippets of what seems like Hara’s diary randomly printed on the inside fold of the dustcover.

Two page spreads from Yoshiichi Hara's Mandala ZukanMore importantly, the book is very well edited, and it’s obvious great care has been placed on how the images are sequenced, how they might resonate off of each other. A visual motif we subconsciously took in in one photo, might come back to the fore via another photograph several pages later. If there are occasionally visual puns, they are subtle, and don’t pull us out of our reverie.

What follows is a short (and silent) slide show that I hope will give you an idea of the book even as it can never really be more than that. (To view the video larger, click on the “Vimeo” mark in the bottom right hand corner of the video.) This is a book whose weight, physically (for a softcover book, it is quite heavy at over 600 pages) and of course emotionally, needs to be experienced in full, first hand. Reasonably priced used copies do come up once in a while — if you would like us to try to obtain a copy for you, please get in touch.

Jun Abe’s Citizens back in stock for limited time

The last batch of Jun Abe's Citizens
The last batch of Jun Abe's Citizens
Update (Jan. 24, 2012) All copies have now been sold. Thank you, and sorry if you missed out.

One of Japan Exposures’ best-selling books — and definitely the best-selling book that is not by Daido Moriyama or Nobuyoshi Araki — is Osaka-based Jun Abe’s Citizens. Even after going out-of-print early last year, the requests for this title still come in, as do orders for Abe’s follow-up Kokubyaku Note and the recently-published Manila.

After much pleading Japan Exposures has managed to secure an additional eight copies from someone’s closet, available for order now. As we have been told in no uncertain terms that this batch is the last we will ever receive, you need to order now if you missed out the first time and would still like this book.

For more about Citizens, Japan Exposures friend John Sypal has long been a champion of Abe’s work, and photographer British photographer Nick Turpin is likewise a big fan of the work.

10×2 Vol. 1 – Easterwood | Rösler

10x2 Cover

We are pleased to publish the first book of what we hope to be an ongoing series of books by photographers in a Japan context.

The series is called 10 x 2 and the idea is relatively simple — to present a series of 10 photos each by two different photographers. To kick off the series, the photographers in this case are myself and Dirk Rösler, the people behind the Japan Exposures web site.

The set of photographs by myself is entitled “Couple Suru” and contains work I have shot in Japan and Honolulu over the last few years. As the title perhaps hints at, the series looks at what it means to be a couple.

Dirk’s series titled “Between City and Nature” assesses the boundary between city and nature in the suburban and quasi rural Japanese landscape, reviewing what connects “civilised” human life and “wild” natural life.

Alright, you get 10 pictures together, I get 10 pictures together, and we’ll call it 10 x 2.”

There were several ideas originally behind the project. First, after several aborted attempts at something collaborative, both Dirk and I were looking for something that could be done without minimal fuss. I believe it was while we were standing at the ticket gates of Kita-Senju station that one of us just said, “Alright, you get 10 pictures together, I get 10 pictures together, and we’ll call it 10 x 2.”

One of the other ideas that we felt was important for pushing along the project quickly — and adding an element of chance or mystery — was that we would gather our respective series of images independently, and that we would not allow our choices to be then second-guessed by whatever the other submitted. I’m happy to say that both of us stuck to this idea.

Of course, once you get to a certain point and the book starts to take shape, it’s hard to just “throw it together” and we did take some time and back and forth in terms of how the book should look, whether there should be introductions to the series, and even little things like page numbers or extra blank pages can very quickly become big deals. The devil remains in the details.

And of course, there was the decision about where to have the book printed. I had had previous experience with Lulu and Dirk had had iPhoto and MyPublisher books done, but based on a variety of factors we decided that Blurb best suited our needs, or perhaps was the best compromise for a short-run book, and we are quite happy with that decision. Ideally we would like to have found a local Japanese company to self-publish the book, but rather distressingly, almost all books come in a square format which is perhaps nice for wedding photos but doesn’t really fit with our work.

Going forward, we would like to use this 10 x 2 structure we have created to publish books by other photographers working in Japan.

Kurt Easterwood | Dirk Rösler

The book can be purchased via Blurb. This book can be previewed here or by clicking the 10 x 2 image at the top of the page.

By easterwood | rösler

Tomoko Sawada’s School Days

The first impression you get from picking up and open Tomoko Sawada’s School Days is that while it is a standard, small sized photo book and specified as a paperback, the pages are thick cardboard pages like a children’s book. This gives the book a chunky feel, but also means that the number of pages and therefore the number of plates included are limited; only 10 images are on display here. However, this should not be of any concern since once you look at the material it becomes clear that these are essentially ten very similar images and adequately communicate the intent.

As many other now well-known photographers, especially the recent wave of female photo artists, Sawada’s career breakthrough came via the annual Canon New Cosmos of Photography contest and exhibition. She has won the prestigious Kimura Ihei Award in 2004 and is now one of the well-known names in Japanese photography. The majority of – if not all – her work are portraits or perhaps better images of herself. Since a portrait is – or perhaps is supposed to be amongst many other possible things – an image, usually of a person, that reveals something about that person, it would be appropriate to say that Sawada’s images do not reveal anything about her person except her obvious desire to assume different persona and appearances. For this reason she is often compared to the work of Cindy Sherman. This comparison seems only superficially valid, however, as the primary commonalities are that both of them are female artists that take pictures of themselves in different situations and with differing appearances. This again leads to the obvious thought that the images are about identity and the role of a woman in society.

The Japanese group photograph has a long, great tradition and is socially significant. In a culture where the molecular social fabric consists of groups of people it seems only reasonable to document the group photographically as if to reassure the viewer of its existence or the subject’s actual integration with the network. Formal group photographs are taken in a wide variety of occasions: in schools, at weddings, travelling tour groups and employees at company outings to just name a few. School Days chooses the convention of the class photograph with the typical backdrop, ideally a blossoming cherry tree, or simply the standard boxy Japanese school building. Since all the subjects in the photographs are girls in their identical high school uniforms with the exception of the teacher, it takes a few moments to realise that everyone including the teacher is actually one and the same person, or rather, have the same face with differing hairstyles and facial expressions.

This introduces another angle to the series, which is that of homogeneity and conformism in Japanese society. I see this interpretation with some scepticism and an overly Western view, which presupposes that all Japanese look similar and are brought up to be similar. While there is an element of truth in this, such an interpretation appears to be exaggerated. If the artist had indeed intended to examine this aspect of society, then the choice of a group of people in uniform is not a very subtle approach. Quite the opposite, since at first glance the girls all look different it would suggest that individuality in a literally uniform environment is possible, which is not always obvious to the untrained Western eye.

Tomoko Sawada School Days

School Days is not and does not have to be a book of beautiful photographs. The images are clearly digitally composited, including the dropped in background. The printing quality reminds of inexpensive digital output, but this is not of great importance here and perhaps even appropriate as this is what you usually end up with as group member whose photo was taken.

Neither in my view is in this series the angle of femininity of great significance, although it is not surprising if this aspect would be emphasised by Western viewers as it is conveniently presented for such interpretation. Replace these high school girls with uniformed boys and the result would be the same. Consequently Sawada’s work appears to want us to think primarily about aspects of our identity, that every person is unique and probably can be unique in an infinitely number of ways (some of her early passport booth work consists of hundreds of photos of herself). That a single person can appear different on the outside in a myriad of ways but will always be the same person internally. Ultimately she seems to ask over and over again what is the connection between personality and the appearance of a person and whether there is such a connection at the first place. Sawada’s work not only examines social aspects of identity but also photography’s ability to represent reality – a classic question, but in my view the work presents only few new answers and one is left desiring more profound insight than currently the case.

School Days is available for purchase from the Japan Exposures bookstore.

Elsewhere on the web

More of Sawada’s images can be seen at Zabriskie Gallery

Tomoko Sawada’s home page

Ryuichiro Suzuki’s Odyssey and Druk

Even though Ryuichiro Suzuki has been a photographer for close to 45 years, he has until recently remained relatively unknown and unheralded, even in Japan. However, with the publication last year of Odyssey, a retrospective monograph of Suzuki’s career, as well this year’s release of Druk – both from the Japanese publishing house Heibonsha – this will surely change. Indeed, earlier this year Suzuki was awarded an “Annual Award” from the Photographic Society of Japan in recognition of the work compiled into Odyssey.

Suzuki was born in the Kamata area of Tokyo in 1942. He attended Tokyo’s Waseda University, and it was during this time that the 19-year old student began to take photographs. The first plate of Odyssey is a 1962 photo of a young woman that Suzuki took in Sanya, a slum populated by day workers where Suzuki lived while attending Waseda. The photo’s title claims – perhaps apocryphally – that this is Suzuki’s “first negative”. Whether or not it is his first negative, it is apparently the only one that survives from this early period. The story, as told in Mariko Takeuchi’s essay about Suzuki included at the end of Odyssey, is that Suzuki was so ashamed of sneaking around taking candid shots of his Sanya neighbors that he burned all of his negatives except this one.

After graduating from Waseda (from the School of Political Science and Economics), Suzuki’s work began to be published in various magazines, namely Mainichi Camera, a magazine instrumental in launching the careers of many who would go on to dominate Japanese photography, such as Daido Moriyama. Unlike his contemporaries however, Suzuki was never able – or was reluctant – to turn these opportunities into something greater, preferring instead to work under the radar. From this period three series are included in Odyssey: “Tracer Bullets”, a look at the heated early 60s conflicts between the Left and Right, centered around the nationalist Yasukuni Shrine (1964), “Base”, photos shot at the Yokota American Air Force base (1969-70), and “Banners and Stones”, a look at student protests (1969).

Suzuki was so ashamed of sneaking around taking candid shots of his Sanya neighbors that he burned all of his negatives except this one.”

These issues and themes were almost a rite of passage for Japanese photographers who came of age in the 60’s, with Moriyama, Shomei Tomatsu, and Akihide Tamura, among many others, exploring this ground, and to this author, both the “Base” and student protest series suffer by comparison. According to Takeuchi’s essay, the “Base” series was basically shot on one occasion, at a carnival at Yokota base that was open to the public, and so it is no wonder this series lacks substance and the photos feel derivative. The same could be said for the protest photos, although certain individual shots are in and of themselves powerful. Their inclusion leaves the unfortunate impression that they function in this context as more an attempt to add credibility and prescience to Suzuki’s oeuvre, rather than because they help to broaden Suzuki’s photographic odyssey.

1964 photo of war victims, by Ryuichiro SuzukiOn the other hand, the series centered on Yasukuni Shrine, the earliest work presented in the book other than that “first negative” from 1962, reveals a young Suzuki confident enough not to toe the party line. Indeed, which party line Suzuki sympathizes with, if any, is rather unclear from this series, and this unsettling ambiguity gives the photographs a sense of ominousness and foreboding. There are several very strong images here the belie the photographer’s youth. For me, the strongest one is a photograph where the foreground is taken up with the artificial leg of what is presumably a war veteran. The focus point is here, and the hinges where the knee should be seem to gleam and sparkle. In the background, out of focus but very legible, a robed man is on his knees and bowing, propping himself up by two artificial arms. The caption says the location is unknown, and these two men are on the street. We don’t know what they are doing either, but within the context of the series, it’s hard not to see them as praying to a shrine committed to honoring Japan’s disgraced military. For Suzuki, it is enough to put the contradictions out there, and leave it at that.

In 1975, Suzuki was awarded the prestigious Taiyo-sho (The Sun Prize) for his series of photographs entitled “Pilgrimage to India.” For better or worse, India has been a fertile ground for Japanese photographers – Kikai Hiroh being one prominent example – looking for “other” photographic subject matter away from the home front. Suzuki mentions in his brief intro to the India work presented in Odyssey that his 100 days in India was his first time outside of Japan. While not about confrontations like his previous work, ironically the photos see a more confrontational Suzuki. Away from home, Suzuki starts to engage his subjects in a more direct and open manner, and often they stare back.

I had pleasant dreams and nightmares, looking through a frame measuring just 6cm x 6cm.”

The India work seems to have presented Suzuki with a turning point, a chance to re-assess his photography up to that point, and the work that comes after and extends up to the present day has a different feel to it – almost a melding of the distant, observant Suzuki of the 60s and the in-your-face quality of the India work, a happy medium as it were. For this writer, the most interesting series in Odyssey is one entitled “Fables”, a modest grouping of images shot in Japan using the square 6cm x 6cm format. Whether this was an actual project Suzuki was working on at the time, or merely an arbitrary bringing together of disparate work for the purposes of this book, the series helps to show how Suzuki’s odyssey changes after India. It is not just a return to Japan that sets it apart, but for the first time, domestic scenes – most likely Suzuki’s own home, his own children – become a subject. Suzuki captions this series by writing, “I had pleasant dreams and nightmares, looking through a frame measuring just 6cm x 6cm”, and indeed there is a dreamlike quality to the work here, photographs taken out of context as it were. Children appear with masks, or they are shot behind screens or from behind, and there are a couple of portraits that would not be out of place in a Diane Arbus monograph. This collection of nine images finds Suzuki embracing artifice in a way he only had hinted at in the past.

Suzuki is still traveling though, with most of the post-India work presented here taken in places outside of Japan. Suzuki has made several trips to Ireland, and there are two different series of this work in Odyssey, including his most recent work shot in Dublin in 2004 and 2005, using a panoramic format. Suzuki prefaces this last series as one finding him alone in the streets of Dublin, “looking for traces of the Ireland from the days of James Joyce’s Ulysses”. A lot of Suzuki’s travels have been to other parts of Asia, work that is collected in the series entitled Druk (Bhutanese for “dragon”), which was released as a book earlier this year. (A vastly reduced sampling of this work is presented in Odyssey.)

Druk features work Suzuki shot in Singapore, Taiwan, and Shanghai, and the book is divided along these lines into three sections. It’s hard to avoid the realization that these three places were all occupied by Japan during World War II, although there are only a few images that seem to consciously point this out. Nevertheless, by focusing on these three locales, there is a sense that they allow Suzuki to satisfy his wanderlust yet remain somehow tied to Japan.

All of the photos in Druk (about 130 in all) were taken using the square format, which helps to make the work cohesive despite the different locales and the years when the material was shot. More than that, the square frame serves the material well, imposing an artificial, formal order on the often chaotic life occurring both within and out of the frame. Although there are no portraits per se in the book, there are quite a few shots of individuals, most caught in un-posed reflection or curiosity directed at the photographer. More than a few are captured behind sunglasses, lending them a slighly raffish air.

Actually, “raffish” is probably a good word to describe a lot of the city scenes in Druk, though I’m not sure how good a thing that is. I have no doubt that there is plenty of blight to go around in the places Suzuki has taken his camera, even in a place like Singapore which tends to be perceived by the West as more “like us”. And to be sure, there is a substantial amount of photos that can be said to be capturing that crossroads of developing and developed — a theme of the book in and of itself. But there is also the inescapable feeling that Suzuki was, if not exactly looking for the “old world”, certainly attracted by this aspect of it. You wonder if Suzuki is traveling to these places not so much to capture a bit of what life is like there as to capture what life used to be like here, in Japan.

These three locations, each with complicated relationships to their former occupier, are certainly a fertile ground for Suzuki’s traveling dragon, and for the most part you feel Suzuki is aware of the contradictions even if he isn’t fully capable of harnessing them. That he isn’t may be down to a subconscious desire to find again that young girl of Sanya that opened the Odyssey collection. I for one would rather have Suzuki looking ahead and therefore, as much as much of the photos themselves in Druk are wonderful, the book as a whole doesn’t wholly satisfy.

Book recommendations

Both Odyssey and Druk are published by Heibonsha, a publisher with a long history and a strong pedigree in photo book publishing. The books are well-printed, and feel sturdy and substantial. The photo captions, as well as the essays about Suzuki and his work, are translated into English in both books. The Druk book is a bit larger, as are the photos themselves. Pricing for both is identical.

As detailed above, Odyssey is a retrospective look at Suzuki’s career up to the present. Druk, on the other hand, is a body of work that Suzuki shot in Singapore, Taiwan, and Shanghai, and is grouped as such in the book. Odyssey features approximately 150 photographs, mostly one to a page, although for the later work done with a panorama camera, sometimes a single photo is spread over two pages, or there are photos printed two to a page. Druk, on the other hand, features 132 plates, all one photo to one page. The images are all in a square 6cm x 6cm format.

If you were to limit yourself to one, then it is a bit of a toss-up as to which one to get. Odyssey is of course an obvious choice, since it is a retrospective look at Suzuki’s entire career from the early 60s up to the present decade. Those who enjoy what they find in Odyssey could then add Druk to their collection. On the other hand, it must be said that in this writer’s opinion, the sampling of the “Druk” work in Odyssey is not as strong as it could be, and it would be a shame for people who like Suzuki’s work to pass on Druk because of it. Furthermore, of the two, Druk feels the more substantial, and the more likely to reward repeated viewings, despite my misgivings noted above.

Photobook: Merry House

Merry House Cover

This book was not planned to happen. It was created somewhat accidentally, without a concrete result in mind. In spring 2006 I went out with a then new digital camera and came up with the idea to a flash project, essentially a fancy term for a collection of photographs on a specific topic to be created within a short period of time. Evaluating the appearance and other formal qualities of digital images, I set out to emulate Japanese photography or at least what was my impression of it. Seemingly arbitrary photos of environment and people, high in colour saturation, film grain and often out of focus, low in formality and overall a highly subjective and personal assessment of the immediate and trivial.

 The shallow mystery of the Japanese photobook has been revealed and it is time to move on.”

The results somewhat surprised me. Perhaps an overall disrespect towards the photography style I had in mind and the consequent effect to not take the subject matter and even the image-making process itself too seriously helped producing the imagery involved. Looking at the results as a series of photographs, it appeared that in a particular way the aggregate result was greater than the sum of its parts. Once again, a surprise. The Japanese photobook, a small format book with the images printed in full bleed i.e. without image borders or explanatory captions seemed the natural way forward. The result to which you see here.

While it is perhaps not breaking new ground photographically, the book is an attractive artefact and is pleasant to read through and enjoy the images. At the same time it feels that the shallow mystery of the Japanese photobook has been revealed and it is time to move on.

Photobook, soft cover, 8 inch x 6 inch, 54 pages, 52 colour images.

Click to purchase book SOLD OUT

Second edition available on Blurb

By Dirk Rösler