About photobooks – old and new.
Koji Onaka’s latest book, “twin boat”, emerges from a creative collaboration between the photographer and the publisher. Mr. Onaka provided a set of black & white photographs taken in the 1990s, from which Miwa Susuda, the publisher, made a selection, according to a storyline that resonates with her own views and feelings. The creative participation of the publisher in this project offers a new and transcendental perspective on Onaka’s photographs, inviting readers to also be active in the production of meaning.
The photographs included in this book are reminiscent of Onaka’s first photobook “slow boat”, published in 2003. They were in fact shot during the same period, when Onaka was still working in black & white. “In this sense, the two volumes could be considered fraternal twins” says Koji Onaka in the afterword. However, this new sequence organized for “twin boat” takes to an extreme the fragmented and spontaneous photographic language adopted by Onaka, who prefers to emphasize the depth of feelings over technique or astonishing scenes. The first images included in this photobook seem snapped by the camera out of train or car windows, effectively illustrating that spontaneous photographic style, recurrent in Onaka’s work, but also in other Japanese photographers’ work since the 70s.
The overall sequence starts off with pictures of trains, buses, and stations, often dark and devoid of human presence. These images of anonymous places transmit a strong feeling of distress. Progressively, the series of images transitions from the anonymity of these “non-lieux” environments to small inhabited towns. The photographer’s journey gradually explores more intimate lives, focusing on couples, children, and small homes. Despite a vague human presence in these additional fragments of the overall journey, many of these photographs are imbued with a deep existential angst. “Twin boat” can be viewed as a winding journey that explores the inner condition of the photographer rather than the surrounding world. This work can be associated with the existentialist Japanese photography, whose practitioners include Daido Moriyama, with whom Onaka studied and worked.
Ultimately, what is particularly compelling in this photobook is the creative contribution of the publisher. Ms. Sawuda selected the images and organized them in a meaningful sequence that rendered a more complex storyline than originally intended by the photographer. “While I was a bit surprised by the narrative of adolescent first love that she constructed from the photographs I provided, any initial trepidation soon gave way to elation. Her unique editorial sense achieves a storyline I could not have produced on my own.”
In this sense, it is appropriate to consider the publisher/editor, a joint author of this photobook, as has been the case with other powerful photobooks that gained international reputation, such as “The ballad of sexual dependency” – a close collaboration between the photographer Nan Goldin and the editor Mark Hellborn. “Twin boat” invites readers to construct their own interpretation and meaningful experience, instead of predefining a rigid and linear storyline based on the images selected.
“Twin boat”, 67 pages, was published in 2013 by Session Press.