Jesse’s book review, JP22 by Taji Matsue
It may have been spring break, but Jesse was busy burning the midnight oil and he has produced a whole bunch of fantastic reviews for us. Let’s get started.
I always loved the “Where’s Waldo?” books as a kid. Not only did I not have to read anything, but I loved the explosion of visual information. I would not only find Waldo or his dog or girlfriend and all the other suggested search items, but I would look at each situation and make up stories for all the extras. Most would call them extras but I always saw them as being just as important. This was also the visual philosophy of the Italian Neorealist film movement of the 1940s that often held shots well after the main actor has left the frame allowing an extra to fill the void. The traditional shot structure would be to follow the main actor, but the neorealists found the extras just as important. Either way it’s in the spirit of Waldo that throws an overload of stuff at you that Taji Matsue does here with JP-22.
The book is comprised of overhead aerial shots of various Japanese landscapes both urban and rural. This type of photography was first done by the military to scout enemy positions in the trenches of WWI. They have since proved functional to geologists, map makers, etc. I believe it was first Emmet Gowin who pioneered aerial photography as art with his “Changing Earth” series. And not necessarily in terms of view point or subject but in the overall aesthetic, Gursky comes to mind when observing Matsue’s photos. This is where the detail comes in that is essential to both photographers in the visual overload they offer to us through high quality cameras at elevated viewpoints.
Matsue carves his path is in this niche of photography in that most of his work looks more like an abstract painting. The photo on the cover with its use of color and smeared appearance feels like a face of a Francis Bacon subject. Shapes play a large role in these photos whether it be buildings, roads, alignment of cars, shapes of various sporting fields, square farm lands, sprawling rivers, or ocean lines, Matsue uses it all to their full compositional potential. Also, it comes off more unique in that they are all shot in the Japanese landscape, where most often they were shot in the planned gridded landscapes of America or country lands in Europe. Relating to Gursky and less to Gowin he does it all in color, so like Gursky’s supermarkets, Matsue’s cities and industrial sites feel plastic. Yet his rural photos such as a series of forest shots become notable for their texture, while construction sites are plays on lines. You see each subject highlights a characteristic of photography.
I point to the above as being significant because with technology (really Google Earth) this can be replicated easily to an extent by taking screenshots of virtually any location aerially using the internet. I have a friend on Facebook who cleverly posted a photo album of photos taken by the Google truck that he selected, framed, and edited into a set. Think with technology and continuous video that photography will become less an art of capturing specific moments but more of an art of editing and selection. I am certainly not excited by this but it does offer some interesting possibilities into what can now be done and considered photography. It is like that period of painting that went from abstract expressionism to pop art that no longer saw the artist creating from a blank canvas but instead selecting something that already exists and changing its context. Photography can and will go this direction to an extent I believe.
Back on topic, much of the joy of the book is taking a step back and abstracting the photos in your mind to where they are no longer a representation. But also I enjoyed scouring every street rough top and person in the urban photos in the manner that I did with Waldo, simply because there is so much information offered in every photo. Not necessarily this book but his others can be had for around 30 USD (specifically TYO-WTC). It is a bit of an acquired taste but I think you will find it to be quite original.
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:
Another great one Jesse. This style of book really appeals to me. I shall look out for it.