Jesse’s Book Review – Eagle and Raven by Ariko Inaoka

“It’s beautiful.” 

This was the simple statement in a random conversation I had with Ariko’s partner, photographer Sean Lotman, the night before writing this. Not sure exactly what I was hoping for when I asked for any insight he would care to impart. As camera information and the such would be irrelevant for such a project; one that is the culmination of seven summers spent in Iceland, photographing twin sisters Erna and Hrefna, “Eagle” & “Raven” respectfully. It all began in a completely different genre of photography as she was working on a landscape project in Iceland that would eventually become her first photo book, “Sol”. We do have it in our JCH photo book library, recall flipping through it a decade ago, perhaps I will review later now with the context here. However, in order to do “Sol” she took commercial jobs to travel to Iceland and it was on one of these that the twins were casted and she effectively begin this project three years after.

The twins were shot in between the ages of 9-16, so rather nuanced, now in seeing the project in perspective, is the transition from childhood into adulthood and underlying this a general taoist metaphor of duality whereas everything has an opposite that is necessary for the whole. You get the sense in looking through the photos that to Ariko the twins symbolize this sentiment as you simply can’t have one without the other just as light & shadow or birth & death. This is reflected by the fact the the twins are never once shot separately. 

This also becomes interesting in the book itself, where her use of page breaks is actually made functional if not expressive. You always see in amateur photography zines the problem with page breaks when photographers do two page spreads with horizontal photographs and the subject is centered and thus obscured by the page break. Kind of sounds easy now but I am always shocked when we get zines at our office for features and you get ones where you can’t see the main subject of a photograph because of the page break, something that cheaper binding can crop out even more.

Ariko more often than not actually uses it to separate the twins with surprising results of seemingly separate photos that create the whole looking left from right. This, for example, can be seen in her photo where one is in the bathtub that would work as a single image and feels like one, while the other is sitting in a chair for what is more of a traditional portrait. The page break gives a feeling of two separate images but are one in a single photo. There are several more instances of this, perhaps working most symbolically in the bathroom mirror shot where the break cuts in half perfectly the faces of the twins in the mirror.

It is almost weird seeing the image itself without the perfect page break as one gets used to experiencing the images from the book. Most simply the point is compounded splitting the perfect circle of the moon in half with a page break. Off the top I can’t think of another instance where a photographer has used a page break to heighten the expression of their photos.

But within this duality is the general cycle of nature that she also shows in landscape shots that not only harks back to her earlier project but has its meaning here in reflecting seasonal change  for instance in colorful rainbow waterfalls to monochrome ice clogged rivers. But she goes beyond this shooting the stars and special to Iceland the aurora above to the magma that seeps from below Iceland’s volcanos…that is earth and our existence within in its entirety that also lends itself a spiritual depth. Yet, this all draws upon the simplicity of the twins going about their everyday where more often than not the images are made in coming and going from school or after ballet practice.

I write this to demonstrate the scope of “Eagles and Raven” that goes much further than what one could assume upon hearing about the project. Twins are especially a favorite motif in fashion photography and no surprise that she discovered them within this context, but Ariko brings so much more to it than the automatic visual appeal associated with shooting twins that really is the point of “Eagle and Raven.”

Released in 2020, the book is still widely available going for just above 40 USD. It comes in two arbitrary additions, silver and gold, a reference to the coloring of the title on the cover. The book contains a poem by Icelandic novelist Gudrun Eva Minervudottir in English and Japanese translation. There is also a short afterward by Ariko that concludes with something the twins once told her, “We dream the same dreams sometimes.” Ariko in an interview commented she had never seen such a strong connection between two human beings and the project is her connection to them… given to us. 


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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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