Issue #103  4/4/2006
Photography Catalogues On Asia

By Matt Damsker



Twenty black-and-white plates. Published by Studio Equis (Paris Office); contact Helen Feustal. 120, Avenue Charles de Gaulle 92200, Neuilly sur Seine, France. Phone: +33 1 47 45 45 28; fax: +33 1 47 22 26 73; email: info@studioequis.net .

The tonic irony of post-World War II Japan is that it emerged from nothing less than nuclear holocaust with an almost cheery determination to make a new start in a new world. Indeed, the powerful desire to transcend the horror of the war and rebuild coexisted with an equally powerful sense of Japanese tradition, which had not been diminished even in a new era of Western occupation and nascent democracy. Thus, postwar Japanese photography filled a need for the renewal of the nation's image, away from militaristic propaganda and toward a Japanese essence that was reinventing itself. Fed by the rampant popularity of Japanese photo magazines, Japanese photographers were free to document their society with a fresh postwar realism. But, as Marc Feustal points out in his introduction to this small catalogue, the dominance of pulp-paper magazines as an outlet for photographer left very few exhibition-quality prints for posterity.

Thus, the collection offered here--most of these images are gelatin silver prints in limited editions of 20, printed and signed--represents three of Japan's best and most prolific postwar photographers, each capturing Japanese life in distinctive ways, with an emphasis on the culture's noble survivorship. The late Hamaya Hiroshi captures everything from children on parade in traditional garb to groups of young and old bathers at mountain spas, and his work is uniformly expressive, clean, and unfussy. For example, an image of bathers at a hot spring shrine, holding candles aloft, is a wonderful essay in available light, while his semi-nude bathers are nearly classical in form.

The naturalism of Nagano Shigeichi is similarly free and easy, as he captures the geometry and casual humanity of folks taking a lunch break on a rooftop, seen from a higher window. His shot of a young family on a holiday, children scampering against the metal grids and smokestacks of a steelworks, is an image of pure freedom in the context of postwar industrialism. And his photo of business-suited men receiving their diplomas in management portends the new era of Japanese capitalist discipline. Finally, Tanuma Takeyoshi's camera seeks the telling moments of Japanese play and a certain lost innocence--boys pretending to swordfight, a small child dressed up for a shopping trip, girls in modern dress eyeing their teen counterparts in traditional garb, and a couple going for a drive in a tiny "hand-made" Japanese car: the nation's future incarnate, motoring happily away from its past.



137 Plates; Catalogue No. 1337, published by Bernard Quartich Ltd., 8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London W1F 9AU. Phone: +44 (0)20 7734 2983; fax: +44 (0)20 7437 0967. Email: rareboooks@quartich.com ; Website: http://www.quartich.com .

This recent catalogue from Bernard Quartich Ltd.'s trove of rarities displays a fine range of Asian imagery, beginning with wonderful views, posed dignitaries, and picturesque Cantonese images attributed to The Firm from the late 1800s, all of seemingly fine quality and a distinctive purplish tone. They were likely printed and sold by Afong's Studio. There's also a first and only edition (only 45 were apparently printed) of John Thomson's photo-illustrated book, "Foochow and the River Min," an oblong folio with 80 carbon print photos that reveal Thomson's iconic compositional touch in depicting everything from wooded temples to junks majestically floating in the harbor.

Images from Japan include classic albumen prints by Felice Beato, capturing street life along the Tokaido Road and in Odawara, as well as an album of 50 hand-tinted Beato prints. In addition, there are wonderfully subtle hand-tinted prints–including an ethereal view of Mt. Fuji–by Kusakabe Kimbei also featured. Rounding out the catalogue are several works from French Indochina (Cambodia and Vietnam), Indonesia, and the Philippines, including Woodbury & Page's fine documentations of Java, Balinese dancers, and other exotica.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)