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Tosei-sha
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2011, May 19
How to make a book with Tosei-sha

You may have seen the trailer for the film “How to Make a Book With Steidl,” which looks like essential viewing for people interested in photobooks. (Despite being posted on some “major” blogs, the trailer only has 10,000 views, which I guess says something about the overall popularity of the field.) I haven’t seen the movie yet, but last week I went with Tosei-sha’s Takahashi Kunihiro to watch him make Deguchi Kozue’s book “緑絽” (Ryokuro), or loosely translated, “Green Gauze.” Takahashi-san uses a couple of different printing companies, but this time a small group of us piled into his van and drove to Tokyo’s Toppan Insatsu (凸版印刷), one of the largest printing presses in Japan.

Takahashi-san has made a name for himself as a master black and white printer: he’s been doing it for 20 years, and his trademark move is blending the black and gray inks himself. For this book, he used a black ink containing 60% red and 40% blue, and a gray ink with 5 different colors that I’ve completely forgotten. I say “the black had 60% red and 40% blue,” but I’m not really sure what that means technically. Obviously the ink looks black, but I don’t know if we’re talking about blue “hues” or “pigments” here.

Deguchi’s book has 50 images on 100 pages, so the goal for this day was for her to sign off on 7 sheets, each containing 4 images. Deguchi and Takahashi would then go back the next day to finish up the rest. In the photo above, Deguchi and Takahashi are reviewing a test sheet, literally hot off the press, with the print operators. If there are any adjustments to be made, the operators will come back about 15 minutes later with the next version.

The pensive-looking Italian gentleman in the right of this photo is Pierfrancesco Celada, who was here working on a long-term project on Japanese cities. His site is worth visiting, he has a very good eye.

I didn’t realize this, but to make something appear brighter on the page, you actually add black to it. Say that you have something that’s 10% white and 90% black. The difference between the two is 80%. If you double the black, then you have 20% and 180%, which makes for a much bigger difference. There’s actually more black there, but the eye perceives it as being more white. This is all according to Takahashi-san at least, the numbers sound a bit sketchy but I think that perhaps the percentage shouldn’t be taken too literally.

The workstation on the factory floor. Here’s a video showing the printing machine whirring up and sending the sheets through. As it got going, the head of the department said to me, “man, I never get tired of watching this…”

With this machine, you can bump up the ink levels, limiting the affected area to only a certain part of the sheet. The control isn’t pixel-level, of course.

The black knobs here correspond to the levels that were set on the machine above.

These are the plates for the black and gray ink. They’re flexible, so that they can grab the ink, then roll it on to a rubber roller, which in turn rolls it on to the paper.

That’s Deguchi-san on the left, and Tomomi Matsutani on the right. Matsutani-san is a young photographer who has published a couple of interesting zines, and helped run Onaka Koji’s Gallery Kaido during 2010.

Takahashi-san looks like he’s having a miserable time here, but that’s not the case at all. The whole day was stress-free, and even though there’s a lot of downtime waiting for the revisions to come back, there was good banter back and forth between everyone to keep things interesting.

The man in his element.


							

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Tosei-sha, Videos

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2011, Jan 21
Kitai Kazuo, “Spanish Night”

[“Spanish Night” is available for purchase at PH. / Se puede comprar “Spanish Night”  a través de PH.]

At 66, Kitai Kazuo (Kazuo Kitai) may be the oldest photographer I’ve featured on this blog yet. While he doesn’t have instant name recognition, he’s very well-respected in Japan for his black and white snapshot work: last year at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography, his work was given equal footing alongside Daido Moriyama, Masahisa Fukase, Hiromi Tsuchida and others. He’s also the recipient of the first (sometimes career-making) Kimura Ihee prize in 1975, which is kind of funny because he was Kimura’s friend.

Kitai has an interesting history: he was born in Manchuria, and has returned to China a number of times to photograph it. He was present at, and photographed, the 1967 Narita protests, which the government crushed, putting an end to Japan’s student movement. In the 1970s, he ran into Hiromi Tsuchida a number times in remote villages, while they were each shooting projects on rural Japan. (The story goes that Kitai would give Tsuchida a ride in his car.)

In the fall of 1977, Kitai took a trip to Spain, shot some rolls of color, and never did anything with the film. Now, 30 years later, he’s made these photos into a book published by Tosei-sha called “Spanish Night.” There’s been no effort to undo the effect of time on the negatives, and I really like how the colors turned out. It’s fun to guess what the people here were thinking. I’d imagine something along of the lines of, “what the hell is this Japanese guy doing here taking pictures of us?” I don’t sense any hesitation on Kitai’s part, though, more like the thrill of exploring a new place. This is a short book but it really hits the mark.

© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo

							

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Kazuo Kitai, Tosei-sha

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2010, Dec 03
December is a big month for Emi Fukuyama

© Emi Fukuyama

Hardcore followers of this blog will know that I’ve been talking about Emi Fukuyama’s work for a good while now. This month she’s got a lot going on: the biggest news is that she’s published her first book, “The Moon, Following Me,” with Tosei-sha. There’s not too much information about it online yet (you can see the cover on her website) but I’m sure if you email either Emi, or Kurt from Japan Exposures, you can find a way to buy it.

Along with the book, Emi has a show up at Tosei-sha for all of December. The content of the show more or less corresponds to the book, which is a summary of a three year series that Emi’s been exhibiting periodically at Totem Pole Photo Gallery.

 

© Setsuko Hayashida

Finally, Emi and Setsuko Hayashida are showing back-to-back exhibits at Totem Pole Gallery to coincide with the publication of their respective books – Hayashida just published “Looking for the Forest.” Hayashida’s exhibit is up from December 7-12, Emi’s is from December 14-19.

At 7:00pm on December 10th, there will be a talk show with Emi Fukuyama, Setsuko Hayashida, Kotaro Iizawa (preeminent Japanese photography critic) and Kunihiro Takahashi (head honcho of Tosei-sha and general badass). The talk show promises to be interesting, I will definitely be there, and you can attend as well, just by sending an email to the nice people at Totem Pole – info at tppg dot jp.


							

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Emi Fukuyama, Tosei-sha

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2010, Oct 06
Yuko Masuda, “Vertical Direction”

It’s been a little while since I posted about a book – I think the last one was probably Aya Fujioka’s “I Don’t Sleep,” which was more than six months ago. Today let’s look at a new book from Tosei-sha, Yuko Masuda’s “Vertical Direction.”

It seems unlikely that “Vertical Direction” will win any special prizes, but I want to hold it up as an example of the kind of well-above-average photography which you can find in Tokyo. (I say, “in Tokyo,” because so much of the photography culture in Japan is concentrated here.) Masuda’s work is similar to that of another Tosei-sha photographer, Tsuneo Yamashita, who also takes “quick” 35mm black and white photographs in island, or rural, settings. Both photographers take frequent trips from Tokyo to shoot. Yamashita has been going to Okinawa for 10 years, and Masuda has been traveling to Southeast Asia for about the same amount of time.

© Yuko Masuda

Shooting a photo like this—a shirtless child in an unidentified Southeast Asian country—could open her up to criticism along the lines of, “you’re exploiting these people.” In this case, that seems overly harsh. The goal of these photos is not to say to the audience, “bear witness to the plight of ____!” In her statement she affirms, “I have no particular interest in people.” Could we propose a kind of theorem whereby the more willingly the photographer gives themselves over to humanism, the less critical goodwill they deserve?

© Yuko Masuda

At their best, Masuda’s photographs show a careful eye for composition, especially with groups of people.

© Yuko Masuda

There’s no real back story here, no “deep meaning,” just someone wanting to take off from their job for a while with a backpack and make some images. (This is again from to Masuda’s text.)

© Yuko Masuda

It’s been a while since I’ve seen such simple work like this—and I mean “simple” in a very positive way. Much more so than the conceptual or overtly “arty” work which I’ve seen a lot of lately, this work makes me want to go out and shoot myself.

Some notes about this book: like most all black and white Tosei books, the printing is really impeccable. One strange point about the book, though, is its garish cover, which offers the book browser no indication at all about what might be inside:

What’s kind of surprising is that, if you slip the cover off, the bare white book underneath is actually really elegantly done:

If you’re interested in purchasing “Vertical Direction,” get in touch with Kurt at the Japan Exposures bookstore. As with most any Japanese photobook, he can do a special order for you.


							

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Tosei-sha, Yuko Masuda

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2010, Sep 27
Hayato Wakabayashi, “Vanishing”

A while ago I sent Hayato Wakabayashi a short email to see if he was free to meet up, and he wrote back, “sorry, there’s a typhoon in Kyushu, I have to go shoot!”

Wakabayashi is the most concept-driven photographer I have met in Japan so far: his personal work is the result of a logical system which he has worked over and over until it arrives at a somewhat stable point. His current series, “Vanishing,” was shot in and around volcanoes and typhoons, and he is after some connection between these natural phenomena and the experience of early man. Really though, because he has such strong ideas about his own photographs, I know I am doing him a small disservice by not reproducing (or attempting to clearly explain) his statement for this series, but you can find the original Japanese version here. (I’m thinking of maybe doing some interviews for this blog, a conversation with Wakabayashi would be interesting and maybe then we can dig into his concepts.)

My initial reaction to these photos was that they were too “pretty”; to turn a powerful, and quite possibly hazardous phenomenon into an aesthetically pleasing one might distract the viewer from comprehending what’s going on. But I think enough of Wakabayashi’s own experience is visible to prevent the series from slipping into pure fascination, i.e. “dude isnt nature amazing?” (And it is! But I don’t want or need a photograph to tell me that.) This is especially true of the typhoon photos, where his own struggle to create these images is clear. In his statement, Wakabayashi talks about getting knocked down by waves while shooting, and conceptual as this work may be, being able to refer back to the human being clicking the shutter kept it interesting.

It’s a bit late, but this work is up at Tosei-Sha Gallery until Thursday (9/30) of this week.

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 

© Hayato Wakabayashi

 


							

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Hayato Wakabayashi, Tosei-sha

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2009, Jun 04
Yamashita Tsuneo’s “Another time on the Ryuku Islands” at Tosei-sha

There is a talk by Kenya Hara, art director of MUJI, in which he explains why he thinks that Japanese culture (!) should be thought of as valuing “emptiness,” rather than “simplicity.” This distinction can be traced all the way back to the construction of a Shinto shrine, which at its center is always an empty space enclosed by four pillars, bound at the top with straw. The building around this space is not all that important. The empty space is more valuable, because it offers the possibility of being filled.

To cite Hara’s more modern example, we can look at the design of knives from America and Japan. The handle of an American knife might have a molded grip, which means it can be held in only one way. That’s simple. A Japanese knife, though, will have a cylindrical handle, which can accommodate whatever style the cook may wish to use. Hara calls this knife empty.

The photographs in Yamashita Tsuneo’s “Another time on the Ryuku Islands” made me think of that talk. I wanted to call his photographs “simple,” but maybe I should say that they’re empty. What does this mean? The photos are a vehicle for transmitting the experience of being on the islands. Like the building around a shrine, they’re not actually that important. You might forget that you are looking at photographs.

Walking around the exhibit, I felt connected to this place in Okinawa. It’s strange to say, but a close up photograph of a large, still-wet squid lying on a wooden table gave me the impression of what the air on the Ryuku islands would feel like.

I can’t guarantee that you will have a similar experience, but perhaps if you go to the gallery without thinking very much, you’ll feel the same way.

All of these photos are from a different series, “Daily.” They are also all © Yamashita Tsuneo

The exhibit is at the Tosei-sha gallery in Nakano-ku, and will be up until the end of June. Here’s a map to the gallery. The staff at Tosei-sha is by far the friendliest I have met in Tokyo, and there are a number of good books out front, some of which they have also published.


							

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Tosei-sha, Tsuneo Yamashita

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