Jesse’s book review, Shibuya, Shibuya by Yasuhiro Ishimoto
A great way to kick of Spring break, Jesse is back with another wonderful book review. This time we have a fascinating Japanese title. Check it out.

For such a simple photographic cliché, I have never seen it done to such an extent. Shot entirely in Shibuya, photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto went around just capturing the backs of people. You always see it done, especially by a beginner self conscious photographer, but settling is not the point here. There are over 200 pages of photos that one could conclude must have been taken over a span of a decade and half judging from a movie poster of The Matrix in the background to fashion styles of the people’s shirts that has everything from Fubu (remember that) to Bathing Ape. The extent to which this project is explored is what makes it such a pleasure.


First thing that came off interesting to me was the humor involved. Not saying Japanese don’t have a great sense of humor but the photos in the way they edited together contain a sort of wit that is a keen to American sensibilities. There is an afterward and a short biography in the back and in it turns out the photographer was born in California. There are a few photos that have (if you live in Japan can understand) t-shirts that are in English that make no sense that he captured perfectly which a Japanese photographer wouldn’t catch. Then you see his understanding of fashion imitations that show a hip-hop influenced Japanese couple with a 50 cent t-shirts or gothic couples with skulls everywhere…


This all my seem trivial but after going through the book you get the feeling that you know these people all from looking at their backs. This aspect I have always felt important, because in everything from dating, to snap judgments about character, to the photos we take… we always tend to rely on faces for the information we need. It is an interesting notion that I thought was explored well in the 1960s Japanese film, Face of Another by Hiroshi Teshigahara. It is about a man whose face is burned off after an industrial accident and he becomes a cynic as he sees how repulsed people are of him now. He gets an operation and is given a new face and while other people react differently toward him he himself changes his style and habits in ways that better suits his face. We all are over occupied with the importance of the face. So to shoot people’s backs forces us to look elsewhere for clues about the subject.


I also appreciated the photographer’s choice of framing. Appropriate to the subject he uses a variety of angles depending on what the subject demands. Also he off centers a lot of his subjects to better use the lines of buildings or crosswalks to guide our eye to his subjects. For instance in the bottom photo the woman’s head is framed perfectly in between his two subjects that one could say does nothing for the subject, but aesthetically it gives us more to look at although it is entirely extraneous. There is another photo that has man with a bag that says “Love Beer?” and in the extreme background there is a beer ad that says, “Beer?” In a lot of the photos there are these quirks so in addition to looking at the people and using their backs to explain who they are, your eye is constantly wondering around the frame to see what juxtapositions he also has created.


This is all shot in Shibuya which is the young fashion capital of Asia. His subjects are from all walks of life that all stop at the various intersections in the city. As people literally cross paths it plays to a symbolism that through his viewfinder, expresses reality. It’s not even the t-shirts, but the hands of the couples as they embrace each other, the bags with their objects of desire, the tattoos that they have that are a form of self expression, and their chosen styles that see a range of western influences from Marilyn Monroe to Louis Vuitton that all symbolize something. What it all comes to rests upon the viewer of his photographs.


Shibuya, Shibuya is not the easiest book to find. For this and my next few reviews I decided to utilize the photo library here in Tokyo. There are so many books that I have wanted to review and have been hindered financially to do so but unlike me I find the demographic of JCH tends to earn a lot more than myself lol. However, anyone in a major city can go to their library or museum library and find some of these books. But if anything this article should serve as inspiration to your own photographic development.


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 Jesse. This book is fascinating. I had no idea of this piece until now. I need to get back to the library.