Saturday, March 7, 2009

Navel by Yukikazu Ito

I recently did a book swap with Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures, a website dedicated to Japanese photography and books, and received the Yukikazu Ito book Tetsou which I reviewed last month and generously he threw in a copy of Ito's book called Navel.

As Ito relates in his brief afterword about the work that his interest in photographing the sky over Japan drifted into his interest in the ceilings of buildings that resembled the colors found in his sky pictures. Quickly he noticed the various fire sprinkler heads which peek out in any modern building and began obsessively photographing them much in the same way that the electric towers found in Tetsou were. This in itself is not deeply interesting to me but, like Tetsou, the book has a presence that is hard to ignore.

First off, the title Navel, which is your bellybutton of course, continues this almost childlike tone that can be felt in Tetsou. It also is the gaze of the photographer at work so does that lead one towards navel gazing? Introspection? Except it is the photographer gazing up and outward instead of down and inward. (Stop me please if I am over-thinking this and should pop my meds).

The small round "heads" appear in exactly the same place on the page in every photograph which, if you treat this like a flipbook you'll find them anchoring all of the industrial configuration surrounding them. Photographically these, for me, are not so interesting as individual pictures but taken into consideration with the rest of book's form it's hard to resist. Even the placement of the title on the titlepage prompts notice of the book's "navel" positioning throughout the book.

Small and with glossy pages to match the sleek, modern environments of the ceilings, Navel has a compact conceptual design much like Tetsou. Being that this is a vertical format book of square photographs, the designer has run about a quarter of each photo across the gutter which greatly disrupts the frame. Thus each picture has not just a navel but a huge appendix scar. (The meds haven't taken effect yet).

Published by WALL in 2005.


Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to a book coming this summer from Aperture on the history of the Japanese photobook. It's a field I know little about and my guess is many American collectors would like a further education on the development of Japanese photography.

You can see a page on the book here:

Hopefully they will follow up with another volume on the 80's and 90's.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I have seen a PDF of the new Aperture Japanese book, and it is not very good at all. The Japanese Photographic establishment has a very traditional view of what went on in the 60's and 70's. There are some very good books featured, but also a number a very bad choices by photographers who have much better books. There are as well some just very bad books. It all makes a very exciting period in photographic history seem pretty boring.
I think we have to wait for a better volume sometime in the future.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to the book also.

I am a little uncomfortable with the above comment as the book isn't out yet so can we reserve judgment for when it is and not judging by a PDF?

I am sure that, although the choice of books may not suit your particular opinion, it will be a very informative volume for someone like myself who has not spent a lot of time with the Japanese books.

Who may I ask is The Japanese photographic establishment you mention...Ryuichi Kaneko?...because this was actually edited by Ivan Vartanian.