Nina Poppe spent time on the coast of Japan investigating the commercial work of Japanese women who “free dive” in the pursuit of abalone, a type of sea-snail. These abalone hunters, known as “ama-san”, the majority of which are women, typify an aging Japanese profession. They dive and work in a traditional manner that is without any tanks or other contemporary diving gear.
Her narrative is broader than a focus on the work, as she investigates a lifestyle which appears to be fading as there are few young women who are taking up this profession. She mashes portraits of the aging women divers with those of young girls who are preoccupied with almost everything but diving. Fashionable dressed adolescent girls are placed into context with the functional clothing and attire worn by the divers. There appears to be little glamour or appeal for the lifestyle of the abalone divers.
Poppe reveals the companionship amongst the women away from the ocean, while the work itself appears difficult, lonely and isolated. The diver’s residences and work-shops appear to be located in places that are near or adjacent to the sea. The exterior of simple homes is adorned with the diving clothes hanging to dry in preparation of the next day’s labor. Her book speaks to an investigation into a cottage industry lifestyle as well as womanhood and identity.
At the end of the book, there is a photograph of two older girls at the waters edge, one is sitting and appears to be contemplating the water before her, while the second girl barely stands in the water with a ripple left from where she placed her other foot. Perhaps they testing the water out? What might they be thinking? Are these the next generation, tentative in their response to this possible career?
The book is a hardbound cover with an exposed spine, revealing the sewn and glued binding of this book. The limited text is provided in English and Japanese and is published without any essays, pagination or captions.
The exposed spine is a wonderful metaphor that the interior photographs (contents) reveal an investigation into the workings of something.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook