Daido Moriyama, black and white, book,

Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and 70s

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In as much as a book publication is generally meant to be for all times, there is always the question of why now? Why publish Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s now? What has it got to say about the current state of affairs in contemporary Japanese photography and photography in general?.

Magazines, in contrast, are of the times and have an overriding mandate to pursue timeliness as a virtue. To a great extent books work in the other direction, pursuing timelessness—and this publication is no different certainly. That having been said, why now is still a worthy question and does also cast some light on the fifty photobooks that we’ve selected to feature in our publication.

In today’s climate of contemporary Japanese photography, I can discern a distinct shift away from the photobook as a mode of expression. Up until the 1990s,there was no gallery system to speak of in Japan that would have provided photographers a forum for showing, selling, and developing their work in the form of original prints and editions.

Gallery spaces were predominately commercial enterprises officiated by camera and film manufacturers, such as Nikon, Pentax, or Fuji, which gave little leverage for producing work that was experimental. This created a circumstance in which young photographers were compelled to create their own exhibition spaces, of which there were a number in early 1970s in Tokyo. For example,Tokyo Photo Express by Keizo Kitajima is a series of twelve issues of sixteen pages each. Each of these issues was released monthly and coincided with an exhibition that changed in format. (He experimented with pinning photographs floor-to-ceiling and using the gallery walls as type of camera obscura.) The immediacy of the photographs and their dissemination was the theme of this work.But, more to the point, the original print in Japan even now has a tenuous existence,which was all the more the case in the postwar era.

The exhibition of prints on a wall,valuing the craftsmanship and the physicality of a print were at odds with what was the more prevalent function and form of photography at that time—information and media. The print was no more valuable than being the material that was passed to theprinting plant. Since a photograph was visual information that was communicating something to a reader through mass reproduction, what merit was there in valuing the artifact (the print), which was an inherently dead object? Japanese photography in the postwar era was defined in relation to reproduction in books and magazines. Photographers of note would have columns in photography magazines like Camera Mainichi or AsahiCamera (both of these periodicals were owned by newspaper companies), featuring work that would eventually be compiled as a book work. The stewards of these magazines—legendary editors like Shoji Yamagishi—were active participants in the execution and selection of the work.

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Published in Photoworks Issue 13, 2009
Commissioned by Photoworks

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