Friday, May 16, 2008

Soul and Soul by Kiyoshi Suzuki

Before a few days ago I had not even heard of the Japanese photographer Kiyoshi Suzuki. By the suggestion of a friend I ordered the new catalog from the Noorderlight Photogallery in the Netherlands on Suzuki called Soul and Soul 1969 - 1999. Suzuki was a photographer who began his career in the late 1960s and he self published eight books between 1972 and 1998. He died at the age of 57 in 2000. By odd coincidence, the day I received a catalog in the mail I had also started cat-sitting for a friend who happens to have a large photo book collection and while skimming his book shelves I found the original edition of Kiyoshi Suzuki's first book published back in 1972. The Japanese title of Soul and Soul, Nagare No Uta can be translated as Song of Drifting / Song of Wandering / Song of Floating.

Soul and Soul is an odd little book in that it's structure of having chapters titled more or less after the subject. This implies a more objective/journalistic approach while the character of the individual chapters is one of a personal and somewhat enigmatic autobiography that sits closer to other books produced in the early 1970s by the well-known Provoke artists. For me the four chapters add up to the feeling of a personal history of growing retold through disparate images and very deliberate sequencing.

The first chapter, the coal-mine; so far away, opens with a photograph of a young boy with his head wrapped in a towel which is followed by a series of photographs of coal miners interspersed with what look like super eight film frames. This seems to represent the mining town of Iwaki City which was Suzuki's birthplace and the inclusion of the film stills gives the impression of these being experiences recalled through a hazy memory.

The second chapter called mid-summer seems to be constructed through the eyes of a mid-adolescent in that amongst photographs of the carefree nest of youth there is also a discovery taking place of the opposite sex in the physicality of bodies.

The third chapter, traveling actors, is a series of photos taken of Kyogen and Kabuki theater actors both behind the scenes and in mid-performance. This brings to mind in the viewer the long traditions and history of the country in conveying the teachings of morality through theatrics. It also implies a certain sense of conformity which is expected of young men and women passing from adolescence.

The last chapter entitled after hours places the young Suzuki into the modern world where we learn about the more 'sinful' pleasures of life with amorous rendezvous and alcohol blurred nights.

I appreciate much of the imagery but the overall tone of the book seems too conservative for my tastes. Mostly I think this is due to the design approach which when compared to Bye Bye Photography or other titles produced around this time would be considered very tame. If I were to compare the overall tenor of this book it would sit closer to many of the autobiographical Lustrum Press books of Ralph Gibson or Michael Mortone.

The Noorderlicht Museum is celebrating Suzuki with a retrospective and the catalog I mentioned above is a fine piece of work. The title refers directly to Soul and Soul but it is really an examination of several of Suzuki's books.

It starts with full page facsimiles of pages from Suzuki's Soul and Soul book maquette but instead of following their actual sequence, the catalog and exhibition's creator Michal Botman has taken creative license to scramble them up and make new pairings of pages. Included are all of Suzuki's handwritten notations and measurements as Suzuki had his hand in the entire process of bookmaking. After a few spreads of Soul and Soul Botman includes spreads from Suzuki's other books; The Light That Lighted the World (1976), Mind Games (1982), S Street Shuffle (1988), Southern Breeze (1992), Finish Dying (1994), Durasia (1998) and ends the catalog with another series of scrambled spreads from Soul and Soul.

Botman is an appropriate curator for such an exhibition and catalog as his own work in bookcraft directly relates to and is influenced by Suzuki. Kazuhiko Motomura, the man responsible for publishing two of Robert Frank's most beautiful and autobiographical books Lines of My Hand and Flower Is..., was also an early champion of Suzuki's books and was the person who introduced the work to Botman years ago.

The catalog is is as seductivly tactile as it is visual. The paper used has a nice texture and the cover design -- which is a full bleed facsimile of the maquette cover of Soul and Soul with crop marks etc -- looks wonderfully aged. Another aspect that I like is that the texts for the catalog appear in a small 6X6 inch booklet which is laid into the catalog. All in all, this serves as a fine introduction to Suzuki although I do take exception to the rearranging of the page order for the sake of the catalog. Suzuki seemed to be someone who painstakingly ordered his work to find the voice and here Botman has restructured labored sentences.

Buy online at Schaden