Friday, March 28, 2008

bye bye photography

© Daido Moriyamo, All Rights Reserved

Sometimes I think the Japanese got it right all along - f*#k the print, long live the book. Having to contend with limited gallery opportunities, the photo book industry flourished in Japan and they developed innovative ways to push the boundaries of the printed image. This thought crossed my mind again when I went to Christie's in anticipation of their photobook auction next week. The previews don't open until next week - but I wanted to take a peek at the catalog - and see a few of the treasures like Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e, Towards a City, issues of Provoke and William Eggleston's Morals of Vision.

After looking at the catalog, I walked through the Contemporary Art Auction previews - which reminded me why I don't like auctions. Art work in all states of disrepair hung with a loose effort to create a vaguely meaningful dialog - after all it is a sale, not a show. There are a few photographs for sale - and with a few exceptions they looked like sad rejects cast off by their owners before they faded into oblivion. A relatively early Gursky (1993) had not only faded and developed a sickly jaundiced pallor but also looked like it was barely clinging to its diasec mount. It reminded me of the shock I felt at the Thomas Struth retrospective at the Met, where most of the prints had a noticeable magenta or yellow cast - suggesting their owners had placed them next to their windows and long hours of sunlight.

© Daido Moriyamo, All Rights Reserved

Perhaps it is the willful disregard of the "fine print" that seems refreshing in the face of over-sized megaprints. Artist's such as Daido Moriyama, Kikuji Kawada, Yutaka Takanashi and others (including American artists such as Lee Friedlander and the incredible John Gossage), have all used the book to magnificent ends. Give me a copy of Moriyama's bye bye photography (Shashin yo Sayonara) (1972) or Kawada's The Map (1965) over a sickly Gursky anyday.

© Daido Moriyamo, All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...


at this moment you are upstairs photographing people dancing..

letch said...

Funny, this. I just saw the Provoke Era show at SFMOMA and reveled in seeing those beautiful prints. I've seen lots of these images in books and I tell ya, you're missing out if you think those books got anything on a nice print. The huge poster sized images of Takuma Nakahira were especially revelatory. Kawada's photo of the Japanese flag was amazingly silver, beautiful in it's degradation. It is sad that it's so difficult to see prints but though they worked towards books this event showed that they made lots of gorgeous prints. It's a damn shame to view Hosoe's images of Mishima in that book after seeing the print.

I do like books and like the idea but unfortunately the age of mechanical reproduction has let us down. Small sizes, cheap papers and bad repro make for on "okay" viewing experience as opposed to an "ah hah" one. Not that all books are bad but some of what I saw in this show is a shadow of hand puppet in comparison to the print.

Adam said...

Thanks Letch. I agree the print is still beautiful and usually makes the reproductions pale by comparison, but they did make some amazing books.