Photobook Nonsense
2012, Jan 09
Japanese photobooks of 2011 list extravaganza

After American Photo posted a “Best Photo Books of 2011” list, intrepid blogger Ken Iseki posted a comment noting that there were no Japanese books listed. True indeed. So, in a long-awaited Street Level Japan x eyecurious collaboration, we’ve collected a bunch of “best photobooks of 2011” lists… FROM JAPAN. Hope you enjoy.

NOTE: It can be difficult to acquire some of these books if you’re outside of Japan. I’ve added links wherever possible, although in most cases there will be no easy English-language way to track them down. As always Japan Exposures is the fall-back option to acquire anything. If you’re looking for something small and self-published from Japan, Parapera is an extremely good option.

My list

Kazuyoshi Usui, “Showa88” (Zen Foto Gallery)

Maybe my favorite book of the year. Bright colors, geisha and yakuza draw you in, but Usui is very conscious about playing with Japanese culture and history. I will definitely introduce this work in more detail in 2012.

Kazuo Kitai, “Spanish Night” (Tosei-Sha)

Color photos of Spain in the 1970s that Kitai dug up from his basement. Simple and excellent. I posted a few photos here and they were later picked up by a blogger in Spain who wrote some very nice things about them.

Haruna Sato, “First of the Month” (Self)

A criminally cheap self-publication which creates an artificial structure for “daily snap photography”—it’s a book of photos only taken on the first of each month.

Color photographs from a psychology graduate turned photographer. You could actually buy this zine using the link above.

 Taishi Hirokawa, “Still Crazy: Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes” (Korinsha, 1994)

I’m cheating. This book was actually published in 1994, but it’s the most I spent on a book this year, and with good reason.


Nao Amino, editor. Worked at Little More and FOIL, freelance editor and exhibition planner from 2011


Rinko Kawauchi, “Illuminance” (FOIL)


Katsumi Omori, “Everything happens for the first time” (Match and Company)

Shigekazu Onuma, “SHIGEKAZU ONUMA” (limArt)

Anders Edstrom, “Two Houses“ (part of a special book published by X-Knowledge)

Emiko Nagahiro, “Reverb” (Self-published)



Atsushi Fujiwara, photographer and founder of ASPHALT Magazine


 Eiji Sakurai, “Hokkaido 1971-1976” (Sokyu-sha)


Mao Ishikawa, “Here’s What the Japanese Flag Means to Me” (Miraisha)


Takao Niikura, “Scorching Port Town” (Seikyusha)


Hara Yoshiichi, “Walk while ye have the light” (Sokyu-sha)


 Hiroh Kikai, “Tokyo Portrait” (Crevis)


Ken Iseki, website editor and blogger

 Masayuki Yoshinaga, “Sento“* (Tokyo Kirara-sha)

 “Masayuki Yoshinaga, who has been shooting groups of minority and outsiders in Japan, made this series of work in 1993 when he was still a photographer’s assistant. Building good relationships with the subjects made it possible to photograph these relaxed naked men from such a close distance.”

 *Sento is an old style public bath (not a natural hot spring) that can be found almost anywhere in Japan.

Masafumi Sanai, “Pylon“ (Taisyo)

 “After publishing tons of photobooks with various publishers since his debut in the late 1990s, he launched his own publishing label ‘Taisyo’ in 2008. Sanai is a very typical Japanese photographer in a way: strolling around neighborhoods and shooting photos without any concept, but no other photographer’s work has as much strength as his photography. This is the tenth book of his own from the label.”

Takashi Homma, “mushrooms from the forest 2011“ (Blind gallery)

 “As many other photographers did, Takashi Homma also left for the Tohoku area to document the aftermath. But he didn’t photograph any debris or people like others did, instead he chose to shoot the forest and mushrooms in Fukushima which also suffered from radioactive contamination.”

Kotori Kawashima, Mirai-Chan (Nanaroku-sha)

“Because this photobook reached people who don’t buy photobooks or who are not even interested in photography at all. Simply amazing.”

Masterpieces of Japanese Pictorial Photography (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography)

 “The exhibition “Masterpieces of Japanese Pictorial Photography” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography reminded us that there was also an significant movement, which is hardly recognized, before the era of Araki and Moriyama. This is the catalog from the exhibition.”



Ryosuke Iwamoto, photographer


 Naoya Hatakeyama, “Natural Stories” (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography)

“For me, the best thing wasn’t a book but an exhibit—Naoya Hatakeyama’s show ‘Natural Stories’ at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. It’s not really ‘today’s Japanese style,’ but I thought it was great on the whole, so I’ll pick the catalog that he made for the show.”


Microcord, blogger

 Nobuyoshi Araki, “Rakuen“ (Rat Hole Gallery)


 Shinya Arimoto, “Ariphoto Selection vol. 2“ (Totem Pole Photo Gallery)


 Hiroh Kikai, “Anatolia” (Crevis)



Tomoe Murakami, photographer and lecturer


 Naoya Hatakeyama, “Terrils“ (Taka Ishii Gallery)



John Sypal, photographer, blogger and internet celebrity

“2011 saw the publication of several more photobooks by Nobuyoshi Araki. In addition to being featured in at least one magazine each month, the man puts out more solo photobooks in a year than most established Western photographers put out in a career. Here are three of my favorites and one non-Araki publication.”


 Araki, “Theater of Love“, (Taka Ishii/Zen Foto)

“A small visual treat published by Taka Ishii & Zen Foto galleries which is a collection of recently rediscovered pictures taken by Araki in the mid 1960s, several years before his Sentimental Journey debut in 1970. The book, published in an edition of 1000 copies, matches the 5×7 size of the actual rough little prints while the content allows one to see the the very foundations of Araki’s future major themes coming to light. A must-have for those interested in learning more about the early stages of this artist.”


 Araki, “Shakyo-rojin Nikki“ (WIDES)

 “With a title that roughly translates into “The Diary of an Old Man Photo Maniac”, Araki again employs his date-imprint function to great effect chronicling the three months to the day after the Tohoku Earthquake on March 11th. Where his inclusion of color paints to black and white photographs resulted in brilliant and moving imagery, his alteration of the images in this book was subtractive in his scratching of the negatives with the edge of a coin. Each image bears a scar or fault line through it with results that fluctuate between sadness, horror, and at other times comedy. His tenacious treatment of the actual physical essence of film-based photography comes across as a rebellious challenge to the dry dull digital era he has been lamenting in recent interviews.”


 Araki, “Shamanatsu 2011“ (Rathole)

“The third and most beautiful of three Araki books published by Rathole Gallery in 2011, Shamanatsu continues on with the artist’s personal destructive alteration of physical photographs. The book is divided into two parts, the first being pictures taken with his Leica over the past 5 years from various commercial assignments and personal experiences. Each print has been unsettlingly and completely torn in half only to be mended back together with cellophane tape across the front the prints. The publisher did a marvelous job recreating the shimmer of the tape on each page. The second half of the book is a series of images Araki took over the unusually hot 2011 summer with a new Fuji 6×7 camera purchased earlier in the year. In a recent interview in the mens’ fashion and culture magazine, HUGE, Araki states clearly that Shamanatsu is not any sort of Art with deep meaning, but simply the photographic manifestation of his own physiology. He also added that after his new camera broke this series came to its sudden end.”

Meisa Fujishiro, “Mou, Uchi ni Kaerou 2” (Let’s go home 2), (Rockin’ On)

“Photographer Meisa Fujishiro’s sequel to his wildly popular book “Let’s go home”. While his first book, now in it’s 9th printing, simply dealt with married life with his wife (a professional model) and dogs, the sequel introduces his son from birth and five years after that. For a skilled photographer who mainly shoots celebrities and bikini models, Fujishiro’s pictures of his home life are never bogged down by excessive slick camerawork or sentimentality. Their delightful frankness is a simple kind of beauty.”


Ivan Vartanian, author, editor, publisher and book producer

 “The books I’ve selected aren’t necessarily “best of” books. Rather, they were selected for what they say in relationship to the photobook oeuvre of each individual photographer.”


 Yurie Nagashima, “SWISS+“ (Akaaka Art Publishing)

“From her earliest and strongest photography projects, Nagashima has used Family, her family in particular, as the source material for her photography. As a book production, SWISS+ interleaves pages of photography with prose printed on tracing paper. The photographer has recently turned her attention to writing both non-fiction and fiction. This book most poetically gives us a framework for how she finds a sort of concordance between the two mediums, sometimes independent, sometimes dependent on one another.”

Takuma Nakahira, “Documentary“ (Akio Nagasawa Publishing)

“This book was largely overlooked and under-appreciated after its publication. Documentary compiles this master photographer’s recent color work. The photography’s awkward vertical format and how it reveals the position of the photographer relative to his subject matter seem to be at odds with the book’s lofty title. But when we consider this publication in light of Nakahira’s early and other experimental work, the project of his color work is slightly more understandable—resisting the dogma and trappings of contemporary photography. The publication of Documentary was almost simultaneous with the publication of a facsimile edition of his legendary For a Language to Come (Osiris, 2010).”


 Daido Moriyama, “Sunflower“ (MMM Label [Match and Company])

 “The lush black and tonal range of this publication are an example of how beautiful basic offset printing can be. The same is true of the craftsmanship exhibited in the book’s layout and edit. In its simplicity, it shines.”



Takashi Homma, M2 (Gallery 360)

“M is an ongoing series of about fast food restaurants around the world. M refers to the identifying logo mark of the McDonald’s chain of restaurants. Such establishments have been a continual object in Homma Takashi’s photography since his Tokyo Suburbia series, which addressed the Americanization of Japanese culture. The screen printing of the photobook’s cover has a plain visual kinship with the discernible dot pattern on the cups and packaging produced by the fast-food chain. Does eating too much fast food also effect vision? Among the 500 copies of the edition, there are multiple cover variations.”


 Koji Onaka, “Long Time No See“ (Média Immédiat [France])

 “This is a bit of a cheat. This book was not published by a Japanese publisher but, as a body of work, it may be one of Onaka’s best photobooks so far, especially when considered relative to his previous publications. This is an example of the photographer stepping outside of his familiar territory and producing a body of work that is free of his usual rigor. The full weight of his previous work still lingers in the air of this tiny book. It is a treat to see the cone-shaped birthday hat worn by his otherwise hapless mother, dutifully giving her son (Koji) a birthday party. The photographer scanned monochromatic photographs from his family albums and added color to each image in Photoshop. Onaka’s father was a photographer so there was a wealth of snapshots to choose from.”


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2011, Apr 28
Top 5 Japanese photography books?

I received this question from Gabriel Benaim, who had written inquiring about Koyuki Tayama’s books:

What would you put in your top 5 list for Japanese photobooks in print (or reasonably found)?

Limiting the list to books in print (or reasonably found) makes it a lot easier for me to answer, because I’m not sitting on a huge collection of rare books. Four of the five books on this list I actually own, which I think is important. The memory of a great exhibit might stay with you for weeks or years, but a photobook is an object you live with. Your relationship to it might change as you look at it during different times. So here’s the list, in no particular order:

Rinko Kawauchi, Utatane. Little More, 2001. ¥3000
Hiromi Tsuchida, Zokushin. Tosei-sha, 2004 edition (the original is from 1976 but this is better anyway). ¥7500
Ume Kayo, Ume-me. Little More, 2000, ¥2000.
Yasuko Noguchi, Sakurabito. Vacuum Press, ¥1050.
Aya Fujioka, I Don’t Sleep. Akaaka-sha, 2009. ¥5000

Tayama’s books are all sold out, by the way, so they don’t really qualify for this list. I’ve added a couple of links to Japan Exposures where they carry the book, otherwise “reasonably found” may still entail some kind of convoluted ordering process. “Reasonable for Japan”?

This is my first listicle. It’s gonna get me tons of hits right?


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2009, Dec 13
The photobooks I bought this year

As part of the “future of photobooks” experiment, I want to list the books I bought this year. If there’s concern about the future of photobooks, then surely it’s because there’s a feeling that people are no longer interested in purchasing them. Maybe this information can shed some light on the audience of books produced by smaller publishers or individuals.

These titles are listed in reverse chronological order, in the format Author-Title-Publisher-Price-Place I bought it. Note that 100 yen is, very roughly, $1.

Tatsuya Shimohira, “Family.” Self. 500 yen. Totem Pole Photo Gallery.

Abe Jun, “Citizens.” 2000 yen. Vacuum Press. Sokyu-sha bookstore.

Marten Lange, “Anomalies,” Kim Hyunjin, “Even Your Ears,” Noriko Takazawa, “Sensation.” 38 euro shipped (over 2 purchases). Farewell Books. Farewell Books site.

Noguchi Yasuko, “Sakurabito,” 1000 yen. Vacuum Press. Sokyu-sha.

LP Magazine #1 and #2. 500 yen each. Self. Sokyu-sha.

Hamburger Eyes #13. $20 shipped. Self. Online through Kickstarter.

Asada Masashi, “Asadake.” 3300 yen. Akaaka. Konica Minolta Plaza.

Kawauchi Rinko, “Utatane.” 3000 yen. Little More. Some big bookstore.

Fresh off my last job, I began the year spending a lot on two books from relatively large Japanese publishers, Little More and Akaaka. After that I mostly bought books published by small presses (Vacuum, Farewell) or individuals. These books appealed to me because I they were affordable! I’m sure many other people make decisions in same way. How many undergraduate photography students today could easily drop $50, or even $30, if they saw a book they wanted?

Luckily, the pleasure of buying a book doesn’t correspond to its price—who was ever happy about buying an overpriced college textbook? An inexpensive, independently published book can still be entirely satisfying to purchase. That said, just because it’s a labor of love doesn’t make it cheap: Marc gave me some gentle ribbing on Twitter when I said that spending around $28 shipped for an independent photobook was steep for an online impulse buy. (Which it still is!) Compare that to my experience when I walked into Totem Pole Photo Gallery, picked up Tatsuya Shimohira’s zine and bought it on the spot when I heard that it was 500 yen.

Just as film has found its audience shrinking, maybe the same thing is happening to photobooks. But small publishers should still find readers under these conditions: without the need to support a large staff, they can easily adjust the scale of their projects to fit a modest audience. There will never be an Impossible Project for photobooks, because producing a book, especially in small batches, is relatively simple. Indeed, given how easy it is, it’s tempting to to consider the idea of a small, international community of publishers and book buyers, where everyone supports each other, ends up with each other’s books.

So, the field is open to anyone—with money, that is, and that’s where I see more questions than answers. Are these endeavors always a passion project? How do small or individual photobook publishers stay afloat? Do they ever break even on a book, let alone make money? I’m sure there are people out there willing to share the answers to these questions, so I’ll ask them and report back here.


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