Jesse’s Book Review – Hatarakimono Project Tokyo by K-Narf

K-Narf’s Hatarakimono Project Tokyo is decidedly quite different. By a very loose definition this is a photo book as there are actual photos, but the photos only represent a third of the process presented here in which the book itself even is a project within the project. It is like a combination of two previous reviews in the topic of Hashiguchi George’s Work 1991-1995 and the construction of Kiyoshi Suzuki Soul and Soul…yet more obsessive.

Perhaps some context first! “Hatarakimono” is a Japanese word that positively describes with respect someone who is considered as a hard worker. It is with this that K-Narf set out to make just over a hundred portraits of Japanese workers over a little but more than a year, shooting in the context of a mobile studio that he would set up write at his subjects’ job site…thus Hashiguchi. He is also directly affiliated to the Bricolage art movement based around creating work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available (in French it means DIY)…thus a bit like Kiyoshi. But then the compulsion to the show the entire process…thus K-Narf and his Hatarakimono Project Tokyo.

The book is laid out in three sections: Documentation, Collection (making up the actual photographs themselves), and Catalogue. I like this because he expressed the process of photography itself is three steps in shooting, processing, and showing and within these he creates his own way. However the first part of the Documentation section shows a map of the job locations, his method of transportation, the studio set up and subsequent approach, the camera itself (a Lumix GH3 with a Pentax 25mm TV lens), shooting lists, checklists, and you get the picture…literally. This brings us to the second part of Documentation in making and this is where the Bricolage aspect really comes in as he converts the digital images into analog ones via his TAPE-O-GRAPH method. I would explain this method, but in the book he has QR codes that will show you videos of the process that enriches the book’s experience. The third part of Documentation would then be archiving, which is showing the finished product and he achieves this in three different formats (small, medium ,and large) with appropriate hand made frames that the book details complete with an installation even to show this. His approach shares that with a lot of the traditional Japanese art forms where the process is just as important as the result and in some cases more. Archery for instance, traditional training discourages you to ever look at the target to check if you hit it since the concern is only the form, if that is right the arrow will hit its target and you would know without having to confirm by looking. This whole section is the equivalent of such a sentiment.

The second section, Collection presents the actual photos featuring three (see the theme) shot angles of each worker, their occupation, and other relevant information. I do like how the workers when possible carry their tools in the photos. The meticulous documentation of these occupations that are increasingly becoming extinct carry not only an artistic concern but anthropological concerns as well. In regards to Bricolage, the movement has heavy ties to various Structuralists and in particular the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used Bricolage to support his attempts to re-use available materials in order to solve new problems. His are in regards to mythological concerns (Native American mythologies) where as K-Narf’s are dual layered through not only his documentation of these cultural occupations, but his methods of doing it through his TAPE -O-GRAPHS that display this in being digital photography that he perverts through this analog process.

This anthropologic reading into his work becomes even more evident in the third section, Catalogue that presents his system for archiving this work for 23 years to be shown again in 2042 in a selection of international museums for the purpose he states, “because we always see the beauty of what we lost when it’s too late.” Think when he initially told me this I was quite lost, but looking at Bricolage and its structuralist concerns the layers of this project begin to make sense to where it couldn’t had of just be a straight photo book with a nice foreword.

But it is the process that the reader should take away from this book. Think in photography, myself included, we tend to focus on actually taking the photos without too much concern of the editing/presentation side. One of the reason why I find the Visual Interviews rather important for concerning photographers with this other side of photography. But here K-Narf even shows in detail the approach…and it just a lot of fun.

Overall he put it like this, “At the beginning, photos where objects and each photo was presented as a beautiful object … just because it was so expensive.Then with progress and success (and because the patent was given to humanity) it became more affordable less precious until… instagram… and snapchat. Where photos are no longer even something made to be kept…so the key is to use that technology that trend to be un-material to go back to the photo as an object. That why with digital going so “everywhere” there is a real fight for keeping “analog” photography. But I believe, for me, the key is a balance of both.” I appreciate that outside of the box sensibility.

Hatarakimono Project Tokyo can be purchased from the link below:–hatarakimono-project-.html

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 see more of his work and passions at the following places:

Want to read Jesse’s other great reviews? Then click here to go to the archives.