Jesse’s book review, Shinjuku, day after day by Naoko Sakokawa
Jesse shares with us a Japanese book that he scored at a local used book store. And what a score it is. A thoughtfully composed book, and an even more thoughtfully composed review. Read on.
This is another one of those Book-off finds where I had time to kill, hit up the used bookstore chain, and found this for under five dollars. Finding any information on Naoko Sakokawa proved futile other than more social-minded work in a Shinjuku homeless project she was involved in and work relating to natural disasters that Japan is so prone to. (*Edit* We found a site http://berg.s1.bindsite.jp/)
It would then seem I would have nothing to write about and am just doing this out of compulsion. This book itself isn’t even social minded or purposefully like her work that I found on the net…instead with the title Shinjuku, day after day it is work of compulsion. And a lot of times you will find that the right art is purposeless. Maybe this is more of a Zen concept where the more obstinately you set out to shoot for the sake of one goal, the less you will succeed because what stands in your way is too much willful will. This may seem backwards, but the concept is very Japanese which you will see is a theme here.
Shinjuku, day after day is made up of 101 photos taking between 1990-2002. With really no concept beyond what the title suggests; it works because it restrains itself to being purposeless. These are just everyday scenes, moments in life simply captured over ten years. Her photos aren’t overly composed and there really are no particularly strong images. Like most Japanese photo books, instead of being occupied by single strong images, it is more about the impression the photos give when edited together. This restraint of the individual for the whole is also a Japanese sentiment and in turn the photographer shows restraint in never really getting close to any of the subjects as to influence their actions. Instead they are just quietly observed.
Take for instance the photo below a young girl is practicing her dance for a summer festival; I can say a summer festival not only because of her attire that suggests hot weather but also by the old man in front of his store watering the cement. Every summer you see people watering their store fronts which always struck me as wasteful, or just sad because there is no grass…but it’s not only a way to quickly cleanse the street but I read also too cool down average street temperatures. I never heard of anyone proving if this is actually effective or not, but this is only something you notice from really observing. Whether or not this is truly a great image or not is debatable, if I saw this on Flickr I may or may not give it a like, but when complied together with a hundred other such retrained everyday images showing this purposeless-ness it becomes special.
Going back to the earlier theme of compulsion, I really like this in photography and think it is one of the more underrated traits that the greats possess. And to begin with it has to do with doing it for the right reasons. I have seen so many photographers come and go, and you may know the type. They are social media friends with the who’s who in street photography, posts more photos of their camera then with their camera, and generally spend a lot of money on photo books and gear but not as much time to really get them…and the end result is usually the same after a year they burn out, sell all their equipment, and use the phrase “back when I was into photography”.
The problem was they were never in it for the reasons to begin with, I even knew a guy who got into photography the same time as me who had a .com and business cards before he knew what aperture was and yet networked enough, got an EK feature and now posts a mediocre photo every four months that usually begins with not being motivated lately. What is lacking is that compulsion that necessity (as in here) to shoot everyday in Shinjuku for ten years. This attribute is what makes good photographers and in this case good photo books…and more often that not compulsion is purposeless.
This perhaps is also a chance to deviate a bit more here but I stress the importance of smaller cameras. Just having a camera on your person everyday increases the interestingness of your photos. More often that not what you will find is that like this book the fleeting everyday moments are more interesting than the major events that you get your big camera out for. Really do miss how cheap those aperture controllable point and shoots used to be. But just having a camera everyday and that compulsion to shoot and not give up, makes this book and the photography of others interesting.
Unfortunately like the other random Book-off photo books I have picked up and reviewed, this isn’t readily available. That same Internet search into her revealed no place to buy this or any of her other possible books online. Instead, if you are ever in Japan swing by a Book-off and you may get lucky and find this or just take from this the potential to find good books like this for under 500 yen.
Some really interesting thoughts on the Japanese photographic mindset there, Jesse. And also on compulsion. I have been through periods of demotivation (I am currently in one now), but I have never truly given up. I may put the camera down for a year, but I am always drawn back to it. Certainly food for thought though.
Now, to try and track down a copy of this gem…
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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