My foray into collecting books on photography began in the 1980s and was a direct result of my own photographic and darkroom work dating back to my middle and high school days. My initial purchases were mainly inexpensive books on contemporary American and European photographers. Later on, as I immersed myself in historical work by visiting galleries and museums, I was then able to afford books on the Bauhaus and between-the-wars European and Russian photographers. The books and the photography from this period are still important to me, but when I first encountered the work of Japanese photographers and bookmakers of the 1960s at a New York gallery in the early 2000s, wow, that hit me like a lightning bolt!
The Japanese work was pretty radical in technique and subject matter, and for someone mainly exposed to Western art, it became especially alluring. The books produced in Japan during the 1960s/70s were fantastic objects with inventive design and in many cases, superlative printing. Everything about these books make them objects of desire, which is why I continue to seek out important publications that are still being discovered by obsessive collectors and scholars. I hope to someday be able to share numerous examples in my collection with fellow Grolier members.
Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan: A Photo Theater).
Daido Moriyama. Tokyo: Muromachi Shobo, 1968.
8 1/4 x 8 5/8 in., softcover in cardboard slipcase, green textured cover, tan endpapers, unpaginated, signed in ink by Moriyama on front free endpaper. With text by poet and playwright Shuji Terayama.
Moriyama’s first published book showcasing his signature are-bure-boke (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus) style of subjects including Tokyo street scenes, portraits, and avant-garde and Kabuki theater performers.
I first saw a copy of this book, as well as other Japanese photobooks and photographs at a gallery exhibition in 2002 that began my exploration and obsession with this ground-breaking genre. The subject matter, photographic techniques, and book designs continue to surprise and keeps me seeking out work from Japan.
Atsuki Hibi in Kyampu Hansen (Hot Days in Camp Hansen).
Mao Ishikawa and Toyomitsu Higa. Okinawa: Aman Shuppan, 1982.
10 1/8 x 7 ½ in., 162 pp, softcover with dust jacket and bellyband, photographically illustrated black endpapers, signed by Ishikawa. Text by Ishikawa, photographs by Ishikawa and Higa.
This book is both an homage to the women who worked in bars catering to US servicemen in Okinawa, and a protest book highlighting Japanese resentment towards the military presence in their hometown. They photographed the working conditions and relationships that developed between their friends and the mostly Black clientele. The importance of this book stems from the fact that few women were afforded the ability to publish their work in Japan until the 1990s, and this subject matter is still relevant.
Graphic Shūdan (Takashi Kijima and Shōzō Kitadai). Tokyo: Privately printed, late 1950s.
3 1/4 x 3 1/8 in. overall in slipcase, 4 softcover vols., 48 pp each, white endpapers, gravure printed, #938/1000.
This diminutive publication was conceived by Graphic Shūdan, an association of Japanese art directors, graphic designers and photographers in the advertising industry in the 1950s. It was produced as a promotional tool and not intended for sale. The juxtaposition of images of female nudes, close-ups of automobiles and flowers may not sound like a viable combination, but the photography by Kijima and Kitadai, inventive design and gravure printing creates a surprising publication that has a contemporary and fresh look even 65 years on.