Sunday, June 19, 2016

Self-made Photobooks as an Object - A Talk by Yumi Goto 14/06/2016 Review.

I am very interested in Japanese photography and it's history and like to collect photobooks by Japanese photographers. Photobooks are a very popular way for artists in Japan to present a body of work which makes it accessible to the public without having to visit a gallery.
Recently I became aware of a trend in young contemporary Japanese photographers to produce amazing hand made photobooks in very small editions . A number of these, which seem to be winning awards and helping some very talented photographers make a name for themselves, originated as part of an annual workshop run from the Reminders Photography Stronghold in Tokyo .
These workshops are titled " Self-made Photobooks as an Object " and are curated by Yumi Goto who established the Reminders photography stronghold gallery which also contains a photobook library and project space . Please click here to visit their website.

When I saw that The Japan Foundation had organised a talk in London by Yumi Goto also titled "Self-made Photobooks as an Object" I reserved a seat, booked time off work and bought a bus ticket straight away. Incidentally the ticket for the talk was free and refreshments of wine or soft drinks were included as well.
The talk was very interesting and as I am lucky enough to own copies of a number of the books discussed I thought I would try to write a short review here .

The "Trade" edition of " Silent Histories " by Kazuma Obara 

The talk was organised by The Japan Foundation in association with Photobook Bristol and took place at the Swedenborg Society building near Holborn which looked a very interesting building though there was no time to explore. 
Yumi Goto presented the talk in her native Japanese with an interpreter providing an English translation at regular intervals . This seemed to work well given the talk was organised by the Japan Foundation and the audience contained among others a mixture of Japanese and English attendees.  The talk was nicely illustrated with projections of photographs and some short videos plus a number of example books and dummy books had been bought along for the audience to examine at the end.

The first hour consisted of the talk by Yumi who firstly introduced herself and her gallery in Tokyo, explaining the photobook library they have established and how it was damaged by a water leak and subsequently restocked.  
The bulk of her talk focused on the workshops run over the last few years at the gallery, the methodology used to encourage the participating photographers to expand an idea into a book project and the development of a handmade book through various prototype stages.
This was fascinating, Yumi explained that before the workshops start each participant has two meetings  to discuss their idea each time being encouraged to develop the idea and collect more photographs. In addition it seemed they were encouraged to think about how the proposed photobook might tell a story to the reader . Then at the week long workshop they look collectively at how they might design and present the books.

As an interesting but important aside Yumi explained that a particular rare handmade book from Europe had inspired her technique : "Belgian Autumn" by Jan Rosseel which you can read about at this link 
The handmade book tells a story using a mixture of new photography by the artist , archive photographs, reproductions of leaflets , text and graphics. It is housed in a box and was limited to a very specific number of copies related to the story.
All of these techniques have resurfaced in the fantastic and critically successful books to have come out of Yumi's workshops.

For the remainder of Yumi's talk she presented a number of the books that have been made as a result of her workshops as a way to illustrate the techniques and ideas that were developed and used by the artists . Most of these books have won prizes or been nominated for awards and some have been reissued in factory made " Trade editions " that accurately reproduce the original handmade book and allow more people access to the work.
One of the artists Hajime Kimura was a guest at the talk and was able to answer questions and discuss his book project " Snowflakes dog Man" which was very interesting. This book is an amazing piece of art and sold out it's edition of 69 copies as pre-sales, each copy is handmade by Hajime and he is still working to finish production.

The rear design of Snowflakes Dog Man, screen printed case with pockets containing three books.

The three books and case, each book is bound in a different way, an incredible amount of work has gone into this project .

Other books presented as part of the talk included:
Red String by Yoshikatsu Fujii ( Original handmade edition of 35 Trade edition of 500)
Silent Histories by Kazuma Obara ( Original handmade edition of 45 copies Trade edition 0f 1900)
Recruit by Hiroshi Okamoto ( Handmade edition of 147 copies )

I've added photos of these books and relevant links at the end of this review.
Examples of these books were all on display at the talk and it was possible to look through them at the end of the evening which really added to the value of the event.

After the initial one hour talk a discussion between Yumi and David Hendley was scheduled for 30 minutes. David started the debate by asking about the graphic design elements of the books wondering if the photographers collaborated with designers, however Yumi explained usually the photographers design the books themselves as a result of the workshop process. Questions were opened up to the audience which raised some very interesting topics for discussion. 
One person raised the question of where do these very limited and wonderful pieces of art end up ? Do any get sent to national collections or museums or do they simply end up with private collectors ? 
It seems that they don't currently end up in public collections although copies presumably are held in Reminders own library. Apparently a number of copies are bought by photobook sellers and the rest sold directly to fans or collectors. 
The purpose of making such limited runs and the value of this to the artist was discussed, it seemed that it's a way to get noticed, to sell themselves which seems to be working well given prizes are being won and the best books are being published as trade reproductions in larger editions.
The pricing of the books came up , they are often quite expensive but as David Hendley pointed out they are objects of art handmade by the artist themselves and in this respect the usual price of say £50 - £100 seems pretty reasonable if not cheap. Hajime Kimura was asked if he made a profit ( his boxed set of books is quite expensive , selling for between £100 and £200 but it is very elaborate and took a fantastic amount of work ) he explained that after paying for materials and printing and when you factor in the quite amazing amount of time it is taking him to manufacture all this by hand he certainly will not make money. However the book is gaining him a lot of attention, I'm sure it will win awards and a deal will be struck to make a trade edition because it really is excellent so all the effort will have been worth it to raise his reputation as an artist . After the talk I was able to have a quick chat with him and he explained he was lucky because he had obtained a grant to study in Germany so he could work on the project as part of this study.

All in all it was a very good and very interesting event especially for me as I am particularly interested in the subject . However it was presented in a way that would have been accessible to people who had no previous interest in Japanese photography or photobooks. It was well illustrated and contained interesting anecdotes and personal stories. The books themselves, which are very impressive, were available for the audience to handle and examine which really added to the experience. Plus Yumi, Hajime and David were all available after the event to chat and answer more questions informally.
All this for an entry fee of zero !!

The books: 
all photographs here are taken by me and all the books are my personal copies.
You can click on them once or twice to view in full quality.
Original hand made copies of these books were available to view at the talk.

Red String ( Trade edition )
Cloth bound , sewn with red thread, a reproduction of the handmade edition.

Left half of the book about the photographer's Father, pages open to the left,.
Right hand side about his Mother, pages open to the right .

My copy came with a strong cloth bag with the same photo as the cover sewn with red thread .

Recruit ( handmade edition of 147 copies)

147 copies one for each day the photographer's subject spent looking for employment

The book depicts the process of graduate job hunting in Japan 
as experienced by the photographer's best friend.

Silent Histories ( Trade edition of 1900 ) this is a signed copy most trade copies were not signed.
Some copies also came with a signed print.

The book depicts the story of people who survived the fire bombing of Osaka in WW2 
It is illustrated with inserts of old photographs , reproductions of propaganda magazines and disability cards interspersed with new photographs of the subjects as they are today.

The hand made edition was 45 copies and the trade edition 1900
a total edition of 1945 copies representing the end of WW2

Snowflakes Dog Man outer box front cover, screen printed.

Small book contained in the side pocket hand bound Japanese style with double folded pages.
There are more photos hidden in the paper folds.

My copy came with a matching screen printed T-shirt.

I was lucky to get an original handmade copy, signed and numbered 10 from an edition of 69 .

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