Favorite Photobooks: 2015 by John Sypal

Fifteen photobooks from twenty-fifteen-  this list is entirely composed of photobooks that I found interesting- as in years past, they are collections of photographs that are photographs, not camera-assisted illustrations of a pre-planned conceptual ideas.

A majority are from Japan, and most here are of black and white photos shot on film.  I will never apologize or make excuses for my belief that silver-gelatin prints (and books made from them) are an essential part of my enjoyment of photography, both in viewing and creation.  I can't imaging marble sculptors having to spend too much time defending their choice of materials to a guy with a new 3D-printer. 

I don't know if the books here will overlap much with the entires on the ever-growing lists out there that you'll find this time of year- this isn't out of pretension but mostly ignorance- I don't pay attention to many photobooks outside Japan- likely because I usually leave the import photobook sections of Tokyo stores dissatisfied and slightly grumpy. Too many Art Ideas and not enough photography.  

But these books, to me they exemplify pure photography. 

In the order that I took them from my shelf to photograph: 

Dennis Hopper
Drugstore Camera
Publisher: Damiani

Earlier this year the shot of the two girls in fur coats and a whip popped up on tumblr and I just about hurt my thumb double-tapping it so fast- that red animated heart was well deserved.  Amazingly for tumblr, in this case there were actual photographer credits (!) and even a link to the entire slideshow on the NY Times photo blog-  

Dennis Hopper?   Wasn't he an actor or something?

REALTALK: I don't really watch movies- indeed, my lack of interest in cinema leaves friends of mine in an exasperated state whenever our conversation runs towards film.  I just don't want to spend two hours watching a movie. Photobooks are different!* I can start one at any time, in any place- or go through as fast or slow as I like.  
All I knew about Dennis Hopper was:
1.) I heard he was in Easy Rider, which I haven't seen. 
2.) That he's in Apocalypse Now Redux, which I have seen.
3.) A photo of his obituary in a Japanese newspaper appears in one of Araki's recent photobooks.  
I remember that his character in Apocalypse now had some Nikons-  so it was interesting to find out that he actually was an avid picture-taker, and even better, an interesting one at that.  The book is designed sharply- love how the cover text is reversed on the rear- and each photograph is reproduced at what I assume is the same size as the original.  Likewise, the pictures come across as objects here- no touching up that it notable on dust or fading or even basic exposure issues- these are "correct" already- as perfect as they were from the moment Mr. Hopper got them back from the drugstore.

*so is Star Wars.  

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山口小夜子 未来を着る人
Sayoko Yamaguchi: The Wearist, Clothed in the Future
Publisher: Kawabe Shodo Shinsha

An exhibition catalogue for a show I missed, this book easily has the best title of any on this list.  This retrospective on Sayoko Yamaguchi, one of Japan's first international fashion, was held at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art from April to June.  The book is B5 sized- a handy set of dimensions for a photobook- and it's chock full of photos just ready for thousands of notes on tumblr.  The photos and essays (bilingual) provide context for Yamaguchi's life and work- she later went from modeling on to costume design before her death at 57 in 2007.  
This book is an outlier on this list for several reasons- it's not this "personal" approach I tend to go on about- but . . .  I mean, well, look at her.  

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荒木経惟 写狂老人日記 嘘  
Nobuyoshi Araki
Old Man Photo Maniac Diary: Lies  
Publisher: WIDES

Araki's Photo Maniac Diary series is, second to his Yoko work, my favorite thread in his vivid and bawdy photographic tapestry. Stating that "Photography is Life" since the 1960's, he has long included the date stamp in his pictures once such technology was possible- often challenging viewers by adjusting the date on a whim. Usually books in this series are sequenced according to the dates printed- but for this book Araki instead set the data back on his Pentax to April 1st, 2014. For an entire year.  True to it's title, it is indeed a Diary-  in contrast to his work from a decade or two early we see he travels and parties less- indeed there are far more photos taken from his new apartment's balcony at the street and people below.  We see more photos of flowers and dolls and meals- as well as snaps from his commercial work involving celebrities and housewives in various states of fashion and/or dress.  I am personally drawn to the photos taken from the back seat of taxis on the way to his photo studio and other appointments- the distance of window-to-sidewalk, combined with his own ability to shoot so utterly transparent makes for some beautifully subtle photographs of Tokyo's streets.  It's done in my favorite photobook concept-  a chunky horizontal B5 size book holding several hundred images. With Araki, more is better- and there's lots here. 

The book itself says that it was published in December of 2014, just as I had been informed- but Amazon's page for the book states that it was released in January of 2015.  I  certainly know it didn't hit bookshelves until mid January, as I made repeat visits to Shinjuku bookstores looking for it.

Hmm..  come to think of it, that pre-release pulishing date could have been a lie itself.  Did I get trolled by a photobook?

That's awesome.

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Rama Lama Ding Dong
Yusuke Yamatani
Self puplished

I picked up Rama Lama Ding Dong at Yuka Tsuruno gallery, the far-flung venue where the corresponding show was exhibited.  Since it was a photo exhibition in Tokyo, naturally the photographer himself was there- an added bonus for making the journey out to the former book binding factory in an industrial district along Tokyo Bay where Yuka Tsuruno shares exhibition space.  
Simply put- this series is the documentation of Yamatani's honeymoon in 2014- nothing more, nothing less.  And that's enough!  He and his wife packed some clothes and a tent- In Yamatani's bag was a Contax T3 and a Nikon F3 with a bunch of black and white 35mm film- and they went to Hokkaido. From there, over the course of a month, they traveled slowly down the country to Kyushu-  aww you know what, I said it right the first time-  I'm just going to copy/paste in what I wrote earlier on Tokyo Camera Style:

Photographing one’s wife- and indeed, even one’s honeymoon- is certainly not without precedent in Japan. Indeed, diaristic photographs of spouses and lovers can be exhibited and published without accusations of vanity. Yamatani’s contribution to this photographic dialogue is rougher around the edges in the best way possible- the viewer will note the bug bites, public bath visits, and random natural nudity that appears in the series. Speaking with him in the gallery he said that he was not going for a “sentimental” journey, and instead wanted to keep things on his term for this age.

Yamatani was recently highlighted as one of eight up-and-coming photographers featured in EyeScream magazine’s New Shutter Age new generation photographer special issue- his work was some of the most “snapshot”/street work shown.  In a time where Concept reigns supreme it is fantastic to see young photographers like him receiving recognition for photos born from living and not simply illustrated ideas.  Yamatani gets it.   

The book is avaliable from Yuka Tsuruno gallery- inquires for the book (in English are fine) can be made here: info@yukatsuruno.com  (It is also in stock in Daikanyama T-Site's Tsutaya bookstore)  

(note: For some reason this book got the highest praise from my cat in the form of an attempted nibble on the book's cover corner. Not sure why- it could be the fact that the book was purposely designed with the same color as a box from Tiffany's but hey, cats are picky creatures...)

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Nobuyoshi ARAKI
Crazy old man A
Publisher: Thircuir Limited

Another Araki entry-  this thick and luxuriously printed book is a collection of Araki's instant photographs shot on the new Impossible Project film.  I reckon it's easily the technically best printed collection of polaroid photos made. The content centers on objects and flowers photographed in Araki's home, along with some portraiture and even street scenes. All are equalized by both Araki's eye and the nature of separate and sequential batches of Impossible Project's experimental film. While it is a beautiful book, it's unfortunate that the title seems mistranslated- on the cover by Araki's brush it is written Old Man Photo Maniac- not "Crazy Old Man", as it says in English- I can't help but feel that's a significant slight to the photographer. 

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Ed Templeton
Wayward Cognitions
Publisher: Um Yeah Arts

Soon after joining Instagram I started following Ed Templeton- he's got a great daily feed of iphone photos- and I remember being struck by the terrific cover of this book the first time I saw it in one of his posts.  (Amazon says it was officially published on Dec. 31, 2014 but that's close enough to make this list.)  Ed's great. The book is great. It's full of great photos.  The greatness though is in how there is an honesty and carefreeness to it all that's matched with a real discipline in layout and design. Plus, his work ethic is undeniable- you can't have pictures without a camera- and from what I understand, Ed always has his Leica with him.  Sometimes "carefreeness" in photography degenerates into sloppiness or overly cute cliche- that's not the case with Templeton's work.  He's obviously accomplished much in his own way and terms, yet keeps a very down-to-earth vibe about it all. I think this 3:39min clip of him showing his house  sums the vibe up pretty well. I mean, how are you not going to like a guy like that? 

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Masakazu Murakami
KUMOGAKURE ONSEN : Reclusive Travels
Publisher: Roshin Books

This book has been rightfully making several photobook Best-Of lists-   Murakami's re-edition of his onsen series was a well received photo exhibition this year at Guardian Garden- I've not only translated his text for the book itself, but written about it a few times on TCS. The photos resulted from a sudden strike of inspiration while visiting an open-air hot springs while on self-imposed exile from life in Northern Japan-  since again I'm not sure how to say it better, so I'll copy/paste in some of my previous text here:

This is photography: 
Murakami’s pictures were made when a camera is seen as a camera and not simply a tool by which “technique” is bluntly applied to match a pre-imagined vision with.  Murakami’s Contax T3 and roll after roll of Kodak & Ilford 3200 film were elements he incorporated into the act of living; elements which informed and expressed his understanding of this time and place in his life. 
Photography is this.

Those interested in the vein of Japanese photography that is a wandering, high-contrast type should go ahead and order a copy right now since I promise this is the fix you've been waiting for. 

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写狂老人日記 陽子ノ命日 

Nobuyoshi Araki
Shakyo rojin nikki : Yoko no mei-nichi / Old Man Photo Maniac Diary: Yoko, Death Anniversary
Publisher: WIDES

More diaristic work from Araki- another instalment of his Old Man Photo Maniac Diary, this time with the date stamp set to January 25th- the anniversary of the death of his wife Yoko in 1991.  The photographs inside would have little trouble fitting into the previously mentioned Lies book, content-wise.  The book is slim- and matches the dimensions of Araki's original Sentimental Journey from the early 1970s.  

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Tatsuya Shimohira
Publisher: Zen Foto

Following squarely in the footsteps of photographers such as Hiromi Tsuchida, Issei Suda, and Masatoshi Naito- men whom all took to the Northern parts of Japan photographing village cultures-  Shimohira adds to this photographic conversation with his new book Seisorenkan. Many of the images would feel at home within the pages of any issue of Nippon or Asahi Camera, or Camera Mainichi from the 1950's through the 1970's- they are timeless without being campy and beautiful without being reliant on noticeable post-processing. A well crafted silver gelatin print rightfully remains perhaps the most nobel of photographic encounters- his book matches those expectations flawlessly.  Seisorenkan is available online here.

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深瀬昌久 Wonderful Days

Masahisa Fukase
Wonderful Days

Publisher: Roshin Books

Fukase! Cats!  A wife named Yoko!  More Cats!  Great Printing!  Great editing! Cats!   There's not much more to say- I have a large collection of photobooks on wives, and I like cats. The two together are a great combination for domestic photography.  This is a perfect little photobook.  

(Disclaimer- my name is listed in the credits as the translator for this book. This isn't why it made the list though- it's due to the first seven exclamations in the mini review above.)

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ariphoto selection vol.6
Shinya Arimoto
Self published

Ariphoto vol.6 by fellow Totem Pole Photo Gallery member Shinya Arimoto-  chances are if you've seen Tokyo Camera Style you are aware of Arimoto's popular 6x6 self-published series.  The printing-bar has been raised- indeed, 2015 was when monochrome printing tech seems to have leveled-up considerably- all 500 copies of vol. 6 sold out online within a week after his two-week show ended.  One of the absolute best street photographers a nation of street snappers, I'm looking forward to whatever Arimoto has in store for us in 2016. 

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Nobuyoshi Araki
Publisher: Eyesencia  

Edited by my favorite photographer and longtime Araki collaborator, Hisako Motoo, the three-part imka series consists of large (even bigger than Ariphoto!) zine-like books.  While the exhibition consisted of over 1000 photos, the books include even more photos than one could see in the gallery.  More Araki is the best Araki- here we find hundreds of Impossible Project instant photos, older Polaroids, and 35mm monochrome film photos.  Motoo's excellent editing and layout skills make these three slim booklets an enjoyable (if not slightly unwieldily) experience to spend time with. 

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Mitsugu Ohnishi
Showa Downtown Camera Note

My mentor and "Japanese Father" (his words) Mitsugu Ohnishi is known in Tokyo as a Shitamachi photographer- indeed, it is thanks to his introduction in 2002 of Tokyo's East (best) half that put me on my path to figuring out what Tokyo is truly about-  a proponent of amateur photographers and inclusion of community into photography, it was at a group photo event that he headed in Urayasu in 2008 that spurred the creation of Tokyo Camera Style.   This book is less of a capital--P Photobook in the way that the others on this list are- rather it is more of a camera walker's guide to the city and blocks of text are overlaid over nearly every picture. The dry crispness of digital photography's aesthetic works well here to clearly capture the look of the streets he's visited-  the map of his Tokyo locations at the end is a nice inclusion.  

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Emi Nakata
Publisher: Akaaka

Yosuga is an outlier on this list- not only is it entirely shot digitally, but it is also very much a pre-planned conceptual project.  The basic description- young woman deals with the death of her mother through old clothing and a camera- sounds like it could be a student project done for the wrong reasons- but Nakata's ability to create a poignant and very Japanese take on coming to terms with the loss of her mother at a young age that never runs into schmaltzy Sentimental hues is a success.  It's barely able to be described as "documentary"- perhaps "personal" is more along the lines of the work- the book hums along an understanding of time through sensitive comparisons of the present and the past.  More info on Akaaka's site here.

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Ichi No Hi April, 2013 - April, 2015

Haruna Sato
Self Published

Volume 5 of her published Ichi No Hi series,  April, 2013 - April, 2015 is, production-wise the most polished and thickest instalment yet.  Similar to Araki's utilization of the camera's automated date-stamp function, Sato's inclusion of the date in each frame is an essential aspect of this series. On the first of each month Sato sets out with her Konica Hexar and simply photographs through her day- the camera isn't in the way, it's part of her way.  Interspersed throughout the book are her thoughts on the day written in Japanese and English- the text adds a subtle dimension to the viewer's experience.   The book is available on Sato's website here.

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