Jesse’s book review, Where Time Has Stopped by Ikko Narahara
Jesse is back with another fine review of a beautiful Japanese photography book. So many books, so little time. Enjoy.
I always felt some of the worst atrocities in photography occur when one is traveling. To be fair not everyone who picks up a camera is out to express any feeling or say anything beyond what is captured in a photo, but more so out to record that they in fact existed at a certain place in time. The atrocities I guess I can be attributed to the sheer volume of documentation one needs to remind themselves that “this is in fact how I look in front of the Eiffel Tower”.
Moreover everything is new; everything is a novelty so it all must be shot. This is the crux of the travel photographer. When I travel I found it amusing to discover things I know just in a different form, because I really do loathe exoticism. So I like to sit and have a beer with a book an observing as if I was at home. I look at people’s faces as I do as if I were at home, always looking for not the differences but the similarities. I do this with the feeling that I am a man, not a tourist.
Why is it then that when photographers go abroad to shoot the results are so bad? It is because they no longer behave like normal people. Even professionals admit at failing to overcome this, think Lee Friedlander said it quite well when he spoke of his admiration from Cartier-Bresson in his ability in being able to travel and still shoot photography as if he were at home. I would put Ikko Narahara in this same conversation.
Where Time Has Stopped was Narahara’s first publication releasing in 1967. It is nothing more than photos taken on his trip to Europe. Yet where it differs is in his theme and purpose. He tells of being up one autumn morning in Paris park observing couples of all ages coming and going.
To sum it up he saw it as the whole cycle of life and came to the conclusion that “man fulfills his life by dying, and death is an important element of life…” it goes on and I would paraphrase but I think if you can find this book you will take delight in his writings and thoughts and seeing them expressed through a camera. However, this what his travel inspired in him and this is what the shots reflect. I will mention that he sees these moments as something outside of time and this is where we arrive at the title.
I will take some time to provide this camera geek information as I will relate it thereafter. This was all shot on an Asahi Pentax SP SV with every lens from a 18mm-300mm, though majority were shot with a Super Takumar 28mm f3.5. The photos are both in black & white and color.
I was struck at how much gear he required for this, yet after a second viewing blown away at how well he used the strengths and weakness of the lenses to give his expression. In addition to his use of double exposure and other effects, none of it feels forced and it is edited well together. The photos are actually taken throughout Europe yet he manages to make it feel like one big country as he apologies for in his essay, this of course was not the point to give identifiably location for means of documentation but only to express his idea.
Previously I reviewed Narahara’s Tokyo the 50’s, a book consisting of mostly forgotten work from his early photo days as a hobbyist. I was lucky enough to see another book by him covering his journey across the American west. Haven’t been able to find the book since, but it was amazing and makes me wonder how much Friedlander has seen of it or vice versa (guess I can look into that when I find the book). But from Tokyo the 50’s to Where Time has Stopped you see such a massive of expansion on his ideas and motifs.
Where the earlier work saw witty plays on lines and form throughout Tokyo that is above average or superior but very doable to the average street photographer today this work required much more and makes more demands on the viewer. The shots are much more static in this work and experimental at times to the point that boarder on abstraction.
Much of the first photos are under/overexposed shots of classic cathedral architecture that often are shot from the inside looking out. This goes into chapter 2 that features window reflection shots that symbolically would be the reverse the outside looking in. This is what a more critical street photographer would call a cliché, but they don’t at all feel like a collection of window shots. They are done so well that they feel like frozen moments in time or more literally double exposures lol.
This leads us to chapter 3 that features photos over the course of an afternoon in which there are a series of interesting color shots that I cannot say I have ever seen done. He must have taken off his glasses, had a macro lenses and shot as if looking through the glasses focus through his own camera’s glass. The photo below can better explain it, but the juxtaposition he creates between the two isolated eye glasses really struck me as original.
Chapter 4 is quite short focusing on trees that are starkly contrasted to the point where there really are no grey tones and look like abstract lines on paper. Chapter 5 is called Fossils and focuses on statues and ancient ruins. From this I really liked two photos focusing on the feet of statues. The one on the right uses shallow focus, another cliché today, yet makes it work.
On the top left of the frame we see suspended the legs of a statue while the rest of the shot is out of focus. We can however make out a woman walking past and diagonal staircases that gives the photo tension. Whilst not spectacular, I found it one of the more peculiar images that fully exemplifies my idea of contradicting what one is suppose to see while traveling and taking photos.
The last three chapters are bit more abstract as they are titled Secrets, Dreams, and Where Time has Stopped.
Where time has stopped will make up the contemporary interest to the book as it is the only consistent chapter featuring more conventional portraits and street photography. Some of my favorites include two old women who are talking to each other in friendly manner; one woman is in white with a bonnet the other in black with a bonnet. She is holding a leash to a dog that is fighting with each other one dog black the other white in the same order from left to right as the women.
There is a great portrait of two men staring right back at the camera behind some iron bars of a fence, each of their left eyes are blocked by an iron bar. There is a elegant cafe shot that is reminiscent of Robert Doisneau that is done just as well. There are two pages of plays on lines using a fence: one that reveals to us a baby dressed in bright white and on the other side a woman coming up some stairs that the handrail leads our eye too. This section for me just says how well he can navigate genres of photography.
This is another one of those difficult to find books. The original from 1967 carried at the time 3,800 price tag which would have been quite high now. It came with a hard cover boxing and has a solid 135 pages of large photos, some of which open out into double sections. It is quite a delight and should serve as a testament to his range. Just a shame it hasn’t been republished, think I was only able to Google a handful of images from this book. SO Books here in Tokyo has a copy for 42,000 yen.
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 another great review. I would have totally passed this book by if it wasn’t for this.