Jesse’s book review, Kodomo by Gocho Shigeo
Jesse’s book reviews over the last year have been a wonderful opportunity to check out books that you may not know or would miss. I have really enjoyed them and I know he has some excellent ones coming in 2015. And to start 2015 we have a fantastic piece of work by highly regarded Japanese Photographer Gocho Shigeo. Check it out.
Kodomo is a compilation of Gocho Shigeo’s photography through-out the decades that focuses on children. This is quite suitable as his most famous photo book titled Self and Others is overwhelmingly about children as well, and many of the photos here are from that very book. I usually don’t like compilations but there is a heart and continuity to this aside from the fact that it is called children and goes about featuring them.
There is an overall quiet honest nature to these photos. Yet there is something more in his camera’s gaze, in regards to the relationship of his subjects that really made up the concept of Self and Others.
It is as if there is a longing for himself to in fact be his subjects and that the photographic process was his way of realizing this sort of yearning. You see, Gocho grew up quite sickly and would suffer from severe illness all his life. It was the virility of youth that he sought in these photos, a view quite unique to the medium with results that are just original. I can’t think of one other photographer who attempted to see their existence through that of others using the medium as the means. Going deeper his work can then be described entirely as being about himself up to a point.
There are 55 photos here, all shot in 35mm. Thus dictating the size and format of the book. All of the photos of children from Self and Others are here along with many more dating from the 60s through to the early 80s or rather his death. They are all taken at various distances; some are staged portraits in the streets while others are taking from a distance suggesting his relationship to his subjects. This distance also represents his varying attitudes towards his subjects over the decades. All of course are shot in black and white.
Picking out photos in particular and not sure how much thought went into the editing order, but the second to last photo of the book stands out to me. It is of what one can guess a stadium on a foggy night. In the distance there is a grouping of circles that represent stadium lights. There is a chalk line in the foreground that a group of kids are already across running into the background that is dense fog away from the camera. The kids literally disappear in this fog. This was the last photo in Self and Others and suggests his resignation in his attempt to see himself threw his subjects. The chalk line is in itself serves as a symbolic divide of this while the fog serves to erase any hope.
There is another photo a few pages before showing kids playing at what appears to be yet another stadium. This photo is listed as being taken in June of 1983, the year he died, suggesting it to be among his last ever. A blindfolded girl is positioned in the middle of the photo with two girls in the foreground making a triangle. Looking into, it as a prophecy would be redundant, yet is interesting for the simple fact that it was among his last.
Rather than examining more photos, I’d like to point out the ramifications of the book in relation to how it would be done now as books like these are quite rare if impossible today. There was that major shift in public consensus on the ethicality of taken photos of kids you don’t know. The obvious pedophilic indications aside, privacy is the other factor.
Printing into publication photos of strangers especially in first world countries is a liability. Major commercial Magazines in particular don’t go near the stuff, making things difficult for street photographers who want to sell their work. But kids in particular! I could imagine the challenge of putting one out in the USA without going around gaining consent and I can’t help but feel something would be lost in going through the process of trying to go back and then gain consent. Books like these just aren’t too plausible.
Like I have said Self and Others is the book by him to get, and would probably prove easier to find. This is one of those if you live in Japan a possible Book-Off or other second hand shop find that would set one back for somewhere less than 10 USD. The original price was only 1900 yen. A cool find really.
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:
Thanks for all of your hard work and wonderful insights into photography over the last year, Jesse. They have been immensely enjoyable and I really look forward to what is coming in 2015.
Want to read Jesse’s other great reviews? Then click here to go to the archives.