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