Critics’ Picks

View of “Contemporary Japanese Photobooks,” 2012.


“Contemporary Japanese Photobooks”

The Photographers' Gallery
16 – 18 Ramillies Street
July 13–September 9

With this exhibition, publisher Ivan Vartanian and photographer Jason Evans suggest that Japanese photography is understood best not through “subdued and pristine” gallery presentations, but rather through photobooks. The scores of publications presented here, available for casual browsing by anyone willing to don a pair of white gloves, certainly suggest the breadth and vitality of the medium, and range from small, inexpensively printed staple-bound editions to high-end hardcovers sporting glossy, lushly colored reproductions. The show, which includes only books published in the last decade, demonstrates that Japanese artists famous in the West continually use the medium to give coherence to their output. Daido Moriyama, who is the subject of an exhibition opening at Tate Modern in October, is represented here by nearly two dozen books, and Takashi Homma and Nobuyoshi Araki also make appearances. Homma’s Mushrooms from the Forest, 2011, an oblique and lovely meditation on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, is a particular highlight. In this room one can also learn more about Rinko Kawauchi, whose photographs are on view two floors up in the 2012 Deutsche Börse photography prize exhibition.

Yet the majority of the photographers included here will be new to viewers, and the show’s real source of pleasure is the opportunity it affords for discovery. From such a wealth of material one can only list favorites. Among mine are Takashi Yasumura, whose 2005 book Domestic Scandals offers interior views both estranging and enchanting, and Gentaro Ishizuka, whose idiosyncratic view of Tokyo in Lensman, 2011, includes a disarming photo of ribbons tangled in leafy branches.

It can be difficult for viewers unfamiliar with Japanese photographers to assess the validity of Vartanian and Evans’s thesis. But by scheduling this show so soon after its renovation, the Photographers’ Gallery has signaled its commitment to thinking of the medium in broad terms, which one hopes will continue to be the case as it settles into its new home.