Saturday, March 19, 2011

photo book review: Takashi Yasumura, Domestic Scandals

I'm taking a brief detour from That Pile of Photo Books I Bought in January to bring you a preview of ANOTHER PILE OF PHOTO BOOKS I GOT LAST MONTH EBFORE SWEARING OFF BOOKS FOR A WHILE.

The Japanese are well known for their photo books - in fact there's an English-language coffee table volume dedicated just to Japanese photobooks of the 1960's and 1970's. Your big-city chain bookstore might carry this anthology, where you might also find the occasional monograph by Daido Moriyama, who I wrote about here, or Nobuyoshi Araki, but beyond those international stars the Japanese photo book can be hard to come by in the brick-and-mortar world. I bought this from Dashwood Books in New York. Article first published as Book Review: Domestic Scandals by Takashi Yasumura on Blogcritics.

This collection of thirty-six photographs opens with what is in effect a visual overture: an image of a plain carpet hard by a set of sliding doors decorated with a traditional bonsai tree pattern. If what follows is a succession of isolated objects of the modern world, the humor and elegance of the images speaks to the timelessness of the tradition in that first image: the minimalism and grace present in the bonsai sliding doors are given to the most humble things, from a stapler to a garden hose to a coffee pot, and curtains that should have been replaced so long ago that they’re hip now.

Domestic Scandals is perhaps a sensationalistic translation of the Japanese title of Takashi Yasumura’s dryly hilarious photobook. According to one of three writers who contribute essays to the book, the literal translation is the more modest and unjudgemental Everday-like-ness, and such is the unassuming world the photographer shows you in this wrly humorous book. Like William Eggleston, Yasumura finds striking images in the ordinary: a pair of bedroom slippers under a bed recalls a sloppier image in the classic photo book William Eggleston’s Guide.

Art is open to interpretation, and the photograph is no different, but the assembled essayists perhaps over-emphasize the politics of Yasumura’s work. His beautifully composed images of mundane objects like coat hooks and vacuum cleaners are explained variously as a critique of consumerist culture and as a scathing indictment of the fall of Japanese tradition. And sure, the juxtaposition of a salmon-colored plastic tape dispenser nearby a mass-produced traditional-themed Japanese wall paper may have political resonance. But what of the coat hook on 70’s-era wood panelling? The images were all taken in and around the artist’s own middle-class house, and his dry observations are acute and funny and reveal a garish beauty in the most mundane objects. A stack of toilet paper and a plastic rose on a tile floor may well reference dying arts of scroll work and flower arranging, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the toilet paper rolls and fake flower, for all their artificiiality, are arranged with great care by the artist’s hand. The materials may change but notions of color and balance in composition live on. Which makes it a traditional work after all.

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