Book Reviews #2 – Ackermann, Japanese Post-War Photography, Gruyaert
Michael Ackermann’s “End Time City” has been in my book shelf since my first photographic incarnation. During the time I was a student I focussed on concert photography, earned a lot of records and a little money with it. My photographic horizon did not really go beyond the old masters, say Kertesz and Bresson. I found this book back then, it somehow spoke to me. But I did not really understand its language yet. I felt the emotional impact but could not understand that it outweighs the technical imperfections. My heart understood it, but my mind overruled. Today I’m past this behavioral pattern and can fully enjoy the rough, blurry and out of focus shots and the unusual wide format Ackermann used here. It’s a voyage through an eastern oriental city that has a strong spiritual meaning for several religious groups. It’s both lively and at the same time death seems to be tightly coupled to that place, too. That describes the pictures quite matching – they seem to be about life & death. You face very intense black and white prints, some sharp, some blurred, all sharing a deep emotional impact. Most remarkable for me are the frames where the eyes of the subjects draw you in with their intense looks. Beside covering this polarizing place in general there’s a section that seems to cover a certain event that stands out a little for doing just that. All in all a very intense look into a foreign culture. Or could it be dealing with several foreign cultures? I really enjoy looking at these pictures and already did some research on other books by Ackermann. “End Time City” was his first publication.
My interest in Japanese photography of the 60s and following decades narrows down to Moriyama and Araki. Names that you know even with my basic photographic literacy, and this book helped me broaden my horizon a little. I found “Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s” after visiting the Walker Evans exhibition in Berlin’s Gropiusbau. It’s written in Japanese, but the sections are labeled with the English names of the photographers. It’s a great anthology of the most important photobooks of that time in Japan, also including magazine publications such as the infamous “Provoke” and the “Photo Express: Tokyo” magazines plus a very interesting series of monographies featuring Tomatsu, Narahara, Ueda and Moriyama. The books discussed are all very intense, I’ll list the ones that left the deepest impression.
There’s Hiroshi Hamaya’s “Snow Land” with its clear almost cartoon like style – reminds me of the graphical style of ancient ukiyo-e paintings.
Shuntaro Tanikawa’s “Picture Book” is a series showing hands and poems – as far as I can judge without knowing the signs, it just looks like stanzas.
“For a language to come” by Takuma Nakahira is a book that I once bought used on Amazon which never found me. Looking through the excerpts shown here it’s even more sad since it shows very expressive, tense frames varying between landscape and personal documentary.
In “Ravens” Masahisa Fukase uses the birds as a leitmotiv side by side with graphically matching pictures that are bound as a powerful set. I guess ‘explosive’ describes his composition best, it is very impressive.
The most disturbing rhythm of an edit is found in Hitoshi Tsukiji’s “Perpendicularly, (Territory)”. He uses repetition in a very drastic way: presented in triptychs, the last and first photograph is actually repeated. Repeated as in: the exact same picture. Still digesting this, it’s definitely having an impact, not sure if I like it yet.
So I guess if you are generally interested in Japanese post war photography it’s quite save to say that this publication delivers an overview of the most important photography books and magazine of that era. If you’re already familiar perhaps there’s a new name for you to discover in there , too.
I’m a big fan of the photo agency Magnum in general. Perhaps the sheer amount of talent concentrated there could be my excuse to be constantly discovering new photographers. New as in “Sven, you really do not know him/her? What’s wrong with you?”. This happened when I was introduced to the work of Charles Harbutt earlier this year at a workshop where Alex Webb recommended his colleague, and now it happens again with Harry Gruyaert. Eric Kim posted pictures of this book recently and that made me curious. I wasn’t to be disappointed. “Maroc” is a collection of Gruyaert photographs dating from the 1970s to 2011. A vivid work that seems very personal, although you almost never clearly see the faces of the subjects. If you are able to discover the eyes in one of the colorful prints it’s almost shocking and it really hits you. Perhaps there’s a connection between enjoying Ackermann’s “End Time City” and this impression of mine, but that’s how I experienced it. The colors are sometimes very subtle, sometimes rich of contrast. The distance ranges from very close to landscape. The photographs seem very very personal, they tell something about the subjects. A great journey through Gruyaert’s impressions of that northern african country.