The PhotoBook

November 14, 2014

Hiroshi Watanabe – The Day the Dam Collapses


Copyright Hiroshi Watanabe 2014 co-published by Daylight Books and Tosei-sha Publishing Co., Ltd

First I need to declare that I may be a tad bit biased in my photobook review as I was one of the text editors for this book.

Hiroshi Watanabe’s (b. Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 1951, currently resides in Los Angeles since 1975) recent photobook, The Day the Dam Collapses, is unusual in as he is well known for his photographic projects utilizing black and white film while this book project is completed with digital color.

Watanabe has been making color digital “snapshots” for many years while deferring to his medium format camera and 120/220 film for his more serious projects. Since the birth of his recent child he has become a bit more reflective and over a period of five years built a large body of color digital work. What I find interesting is that Watanabe will zoom in to examine the details and introduce a high degree of ambiguity much as he does with his large format capture. In this regard he has a consistency of vision.

Watanabe is very familiar with a square image that results from his medium format camera that the square being an inherently a static framing as compared to a traditional 35mm format or 8 x 10” image. Even though his digital camera has the capability to create rectangular images Watanabe imposes the equal sided format that he is so comfortable with. After so many years working with a 6 x 6 vision he is able to introduce a delicate balance and tension within this structured format. The square image which is printed one per page seem to gain some dynamic energy due to the random placement within the page’s frames.

The photographs upon first reading appear playful but with closer examination an undercurrent of tension and drama develops. This is apparent as both singular images and as well as the carefully pairing of images as they play off each other across the book’s spread. In one page spread, below, an object that appears to be childlike is awash and submerged on the shoreline surf. There appears to be a large air bubble above the face as though the air is being exhaled. The agitation of the water and this object being total submerged is startling as it is disturbing.  One the facing page is photograph of a bare tree or bush situated in front of a wall revealing the skeleton of the plant’s structure. This plant may be dormant at the moment or has died. For the reader both of these images are ambiguous and both have a dark undertone that is further reinforced by their approximation on the page spread.

Interestingly the book’s title hints at a pending disaster creating more tension which is subsequently elaborated on by Watanabe in his Afterword. He acknowledges that the reader and everyone he knows will as some point die and when we never know. Nevertheless we take for granted the normal, banal aspects of our lives as though we might live forever, a somewhat fatalistic viewpoint. Watanabe is essentially advocating that the reader should remain grounded in the moment and see the wonderful things as these are today.  The book’s dust cover provides another metaphoric reading; perhaps life is as delicate and fragile as the wings of a butterfly.

The book was designed with the Daylight team in the US and subsequently printed in conjunction with Tosei-sha in Japan which is an interesting collaboration that was orchestrated by Watanabe. The dust cover is printed on a beautiful paper with a wonderful texture although I also note that this paper is also a dirt magnet; so handle carefully.  The essay was written by Watanabe with the text provided in English and Japanese. The pages are numbered while the photographs lack captions.

One aspect of this photobook that does bother me is that although this is a very beautifully printed object the binding does not allow a lay flat viewing for the reader as you will note the inclusion of my hand frequently in the book’s interior photographs, below. The flip side is that this is a stronger book binding technique.

Other Watanabe photobooks reviewed on The Photobook include: Love Point, Veiled Observations and Reflections, 99 Findings (iTunes which includes my interview of Watanabe), Ideology in Paradise, Findings.

Cheers! Douglas Stockdale

Note: this photobook review is co-published in EMAHO magazine.

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November 12, 2014

Photobook events

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:56 pm

This is just a quick shout out about some current and pending photobook events. These are always great opportunities to hold, see, compare and purchase photobooks. It can also be a slight bit overwhelming, so give yourself plenty of time, which is good advice that I need to take myself. Also, for some popular book stands, the crowds can get pretty dense, which does not lead to good opportunities to examine popular titles.

There are three interesting photobook events occurring in Paris (France) later this week. I am guessing if these were events you were planning to attend, you are already well on your way! Which is of course: Paris Photo, OFFPRINT and Photobook Fest. Regretfully all are located at different venues, but not that far apart as the Paris Metro is great way to get around.

If you missed last month’s Art Book Fair (hosted by Printed Matter) in NYC, you will have another opportunity when this event occurs in LA at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA next January 30 – Feb 1, 2015. This will be the third year for the LA version and again at MOCA, which is not a bad venue but can be a confusing facility with all of its nooks and crannies to hide the various exhibitors.

Also looking ahead is Paris Photo LA, a SoCal version of Paris Photo. Similar to Paris, this huge LA event draws a really big crowd, thus the spin-offs such as the Photobook Independent in conjunction with Photo Independent located literally across the street from Paris Photo LA at the Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Walking a film/TV sound stage backlot is almost worth the cost of admission! The dates are May 1-3, 2014. For the Photobook Independent, this is an opportunity for self-published photographers and Indie publishers to have an opportunity to show their photobooks and a great opportunity to meet and discuss directly with the authors. (Note: the cost to rent a half or full table for Photobook Independtent is fairly reasonable if you are interested in getting your photobook(s) in front of a large audience – I know that I am considering this option!)


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