Jesse’s book review, Ariphoto Selection by Shinya Arimoto
Jesse shares with us a book review that I am very happy to have on the site. Shinya Arimoto is a great guy and a personal inspiration for me with regards to his total dedication to photography. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.
With Shinya Arimoto it is best to just be straight forward. Ariphoto Selection is just that, a selection from his airphoto series that he has been doing since 2006 that consists mostly of street portraits, here in Japan or Tibet. Releasing a volume a year beginning 2010, they go for 1000 yen and are limited to 500 copies. It is just straight forward photography shot in black and white in medium square with a Hasselblad.
Ariphoto Selection Vol.1 consists of photos taken in Shinjuku and are mostly of the homeless. Ethically, I have always had a problem shooting the homeless as it comes off exploitive or insincere. I think I was at his exhibition opening party at Totem Pole Gallery that brought this up to him. After he told me their names and stories, I went back and looked at the photos and you can really see the connection he has with all of them. I kind of sheepishly sipped my free nihon shu at the opening party, mad I asked such a dumb question. There is a closeness and connection with his subjects, an empathy that for the most part lacks from most who generally have no relationship and more often than not respect even for their subjects. This is debatable and people can make good arguments against this, but I appreciate this straight forwardness from Arimoto.
With that said, these photos are still tough. The opening photo is of crossed eyed albino man. It is an otherwise dark photo with the only tone range offered from the man hair and skin. A beautiful contrast that appears later on with an older man (the photo above).The interesting angle likens the photo more to a 19th century French painting than a street portrait composition. The adjacent photo shows a homeless man at a distance alone on some steps. This spacing isolates the man as he stares straight at us with an innocence indicated by his body language. Littered within the frame are ads for sex shops that are quite abundant in Shinjuku that gives the photo an offsetting feel.
My personal favorite is Ariphoto Selection Vol.2. Where Vol.1 is much more challenging in terms of his subjects, Vol.2 offers juxtapositions of human faces and elements around Tokyo. With this I find the whole book itself a lot more curious than the Vol.1 as many of the people are masked or have something obscuring their faces. The first photo is of a woman alone in the woods sitting on a pile of bamboo. We can’t see her face so we almost subconsciously look around the photo for clues about this woman. Her shoes are off so it looks as if she is taking a break. She has a bag with her so we assume a break from a possible job as the business style trench coat supports such an assumption. Her hands come off a bit oversized and weathered; this coupled with her disheveled hair leaves us to wonder. The next couple pages all feature people in masks, my favorite being of a girl in a black Victorian mask with her eye burned in (a lot of the joy of an Arimoto exhibition can be found in his prints which are all amazing!) Then the next couple of pages are filled with curious juxtapositions of people and objects resembling people (if that makes sense you will see what I mean). The remaining four photos are street portraits before finishing with a beautiful photo of a woman in a sakura tree.
Ariphoto Vol.3 is the latest one that consists entirely of photos from Tibet all shot in 2009. Out of the three I think this one makes the best case as to why Arimoto should be taken quite seriously. Travel photography I find poses the biggest problems for photographers. On the outside it seems easy enough being in an entirely new atmosphere, however more often than not, one lapses into clichés simply just looking for the exotic which would be everything since by nature it is all exotic. I find truly good photographers can do what they do anywhere. Arimoto in his travels engaged with these people and shot them, with the exact same closeness. Which is another thing! This closeness… it is really in the eyes of his subjects. They say so much via the trepidation of the man in the hat smoking a cigarette, the gentleness of the bearded man after another page, the intensity of the old man’s life experience on the next page juxtaposed against the innocence of the little girl holding a flower. The honesty involved is just really special. He doesn’t try to make his subjects anything else but who they are. Their eyes look at the camera and tell us everything.
Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
You can more of his work and passions at the following places:
Many thanks Jesse, I really appreciate this review. I have wanted to see Arimoto Sans work on this site for a long time.