Jesse’s book review, For a Language To Come by Takuma Nakahira
A fine day for a dose of classic Japanese photography. Jesse is back with another fantastic book review for us. Check it out.
Photography as a means of expression is a notion I have only really begin to comprehend after getting into Japanese photography. As a country and from the earliest Japanese photographers it was always this, where in the west it was pure documentation before the transformation begin. Even in argument for western photography I feel the western photographer at best tended to express a stereotyped ideal rather than anything individual as seen in say American photography from civil rights through Vietnam. There are of course exceptions for instance William Klein who inspired the photographer whose book is of topic here.
For a Language to Come was Takuma Nakahira’s first book coming out at the end of 1970. He begin photography in earnest just 7 years prior after graduating from Tokyo University with a foreign studies degree in Spanish. Instantly he came under the tutelage of Tomatsu Shomei who he met as a magazine editor. It was his essays on photography that would gain him prominence before his photography was to be recognized. This is interesting because he wrote the first essay in the first issue of Provoke (Moriyama wouldn’t be added until the second and the third final issue).
This book carries the spirit of Provoke with the grainy, blurry, and unfocused form that would just shake notions of what photography was. This would be his sole book until the 80s when his chances for publication increased. It was during this time that he would right a major essay that essentially went back on this book and his original notions of photography as a pure mode of expression.
Also, he was hit with a serious illness and miraculously came out of a coma with amnesia forgetting most of his past. It would be photography in the late 70s that would help him slowly piece himself back together before releasing two books in the early 80s. Still put off by For a Language to Come it would take a while for its republication to be authorized but finally done so as he admitted its historical importance.
The actual book consists of photos taken in Tokyo mostly at night, although due to the grain and blurriness it could be day. Any fan of Moriyama would be right at home here as they don’t come together and say anything at all. Their effect is simply to invoke a mood that is expressed. Allergic to flash, sources of light via street light or car headlight offer the only discernible details.
The original aim of all of this visual incoherence was to explore the relationship between language and photography. Aside from the title that alludes to this notion, Nakahira’s background of foreign language offers further proof. Even Provoke had this underlying goal when you read the subtitle: Provocative materials for thought. His opening essay would see the following statement: “Images are not themselves ideas. They lack the totality that concepts have, and do not function like interchangeable signs the way language does. However, as a result of their irreversible materiality-pieces of reality cut out by means of the camera-they belong to the world of language and concepts.
In such moments, language, which itself has become nothing more than immobilized concepts, surpasses itself and transform into a new language, that is, a new form of thought.” He would later expand on this with an essay titled, “Has photography Been Able to Provoke Language?” Like when an artist can bring what they are into whatever medium they come across.
How this all relates goes back to his preference in Spanish, as he was enamored by the Cuban Revolution and being a student in the 1960s was very political. The aim of this Provoke style photography for him or really this book was to reflect the violent agitations society was undergoing at the time. It was all quite political because in undermining the expanding city through inaccurately capturing it or downplaying it; he felt he was subverting it. Whether or not he achieved his aims is irrelevant to that fact that he did manage with this book to provoke new ideas on photography.
This book is moderately available through resellers on Amazon for about 100 dollars. This is certainly worth it. There are a few other books available by him that are in and around the same prices. With that said you can get on PDF his essays on photography which are quite enjoyable as well.
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.
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Thanks again to Jesse for a wonderful review. This is a fascinating book and I am going to have to have a look at it when I finally get to the library.