Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Yumi Goto and Beautiful, Beautiful Books

Here at Photobook Bristol, we believe books are a pleasure, something you enjoy, that you take time over, that you take delight in. From the very act of becoming aware of a book and discussing it with friends, wondering how the physical version looks and feels, to the act of buying a book; from that feeling a little bit of virtue making the active choice not to buy from Amazon, to going if at all possible to a bookshop, or a stall at a festival or an independent photobook seller, and browsing shelves and talking to booksellers and photographers and getting an insight into a publication and the how and why it was made; it should all be a pleasure.

(The Pleasure of Books is something that will be talked about at Photobook Bristol 2016.)

And of course, one of the major, major pleasures of photobooks (and something that one cannot get a true sense of online) is their tactile nature, the delight one can take in holding, touching and smelling a book. That, ultimately is why we love books so much; bcause of the physical pleasure they can give us, and the thought that really great bookmakers put into tying that physicality into images and the outside world, and connecting them in ways that make us emotionally, culturally and physically richer. It's quite a thing that books can do, but when they do it right, they really have a hedonistic, sensual quality to them. They are a delight!

Two of the biggest delights we have had the pleasure to get our hands upon, two of the most tactile most beautiful, and smartest are Kazuma Obara's Silent Histories and Yoshikatsu's Fuji's Red String.

Both were originally made in handmade editions of 45 and 35 respectively. Both have now been published in large trade editions - Silent Histories in an edition of 1945 by Editorial RM and Red String in an edition of 500 by Ceiba.

Astonishly, the larger editions have kept the tactile quality and the detail of the original handmade editions. These are wonderfully made books. Silent Histories tells the story of people injured in the American bombing of Tokyo in 1945 (hence the edition number) through a brilliantly put together combination of archive materials, interviews, school photographs and drawings. It is quite stunning. Read a full review by Adam Bell here.

Red String is a wonderful felt-covered book that tells the story of Yoshikatsu's divorced parents. The Red String of the title is the string that is supposed to bind them together in eternal love. In his parents' case, the string broke. But it remains in the book, a fragile thread which symbolises Yoshikatsu as the link that binds. The book is made as two volumes joined beneath the felt cover, a family album, which, like all family albums has multiple readings.

These are amongst the most beautifully conceived and made books of recent years, and it is no accident that both Kazuma and Yoshikatsu's original editions came about through a workshop they both attended at the Reminders Photography Stronghold in Japan.

With that in mind we decided to ask Yumi Goto, Curator of Reminders Photography Stronghold, and an invited speaker of Photobook Bristol 2016 (funding is being sought to fly her over from Tokyo as we speak) a few questions about how these incredible books came into being, and the wider remit of the Reminders Project.

What is Reminders Photography Stronghold?

Reminders Photography Stronghold is a curated membership gallery in Tokyo making multi-photographic activities possible (exhibitions, workshops, events, photobook room, photographers in residence, photography grants, publishing).

How did you get started?

( This is taken from a statement Yumi wrote for the Invisible Photographer before she moved back to Japan from Bangkok)

I left Japan a very long time ago.

At some point, I determined that Japan was no longer my home.

Because of this, I realize that for many years I contributed little to my own country.

I came to this realization following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster. This catastrophe caused me to think about my life and my direction. Why do I live my life this way? What is my goal?

But I believe that I now have something to offer to Japan ­ the experience and knowledge gained while working for so long, so far away from home. For a long time, I have wanted to create a place where one can live with photography. A place where one can eat, sleep, see and do photography. A
place not only for myself, but also for anyone who loves and relies on photographs.

To make this possible, I needed a space, and it should be a huge space, big enough to fit my plans. When I started looking for such a location in Tokyo, it seemed unlikely ­ but the fates smiled, and I think I have found a great spot, one with amazing potential.

This place might be my last home ­ I could call it my fortress. It could also be a reliable fortress for those committed people who fight for photography.


The plan is to create a photographic gallery and library that offers programs and events that promote photography. In addition to exhibits and books, I plan for the STRONGHOLD to offer international and domestic photo residencies, photography project grants, events, workshops and publishing

For many years, the Reminders Project has had no physical space in which to settle or act on its many ideas: now it finally can.

There is a strong focus on the handmade photobook at RPS? How did this come about?

In 2013 I came across Jan Rosseel, the author of Belgian Autumn. I was in The Hague to check out a photobook workshop and Jan was there as one of its participants.

We spoke a little and he mentioned his book had just been published and when I heard the story behind the book I got excited.  He told me that there were only 28 copies made and the reason why and brought me the last copy left.

(Belgian Autumn tells the story of a gang of robbers which killed 28 people while committing their crimes - robbing supermarkets was their speciality. One of the 28 victims was Jan's father. And that's why 28 copies were made).

When I saw his book and knew about the concept, I was very moved; this is the best way the photographers can actually work on the project they are working. If they have a story to tell, they really also need to present how to read the story to the audience and in my opinion, I think the book,
particularly the artist-made book, can  do so most accurately.

Since Jan already had a plan to come to Japan so I invited him to do something and we organized very first photobook making workshop in 2014, Kazuma and Yoshikatsu were participants for the first edition and they produced Silent Histories and Red String through the workshop.

Also each little details have meaning, and when you know that, the books become more special.

For me, this was the really the important turning point as I was looking for an alternative  way to present visual story telling,

I was particularly looking into the book format. For Belgian Autumn, Jan used his own photographs, collected paper documents, archive materials and changed the paper type. But the thing I liked most was the meaning of the edition size, the number of copies made: 28, one book for each of the victims.

So our first workshop also required participants to  prepare a personal story. This story could be your own personal story but it might also be a story of someone else, visualized by you or a fictional story. The aim is to create a compelling story in a condensed way. Photography,(found) objects, documents, and letters can all be used.

How do you run the Workshops

We normally accept submissions from the end of year until February for our workshops. After February once we have  fixed the participants, we meet twice before the workshop, so for the first session, I know what they have already and can suggest what more they could do. Then they have something to work on for the 2nd session, In the 2nd session, they come back with new work and new materials they have produced, and if need it, they are given more assignments  and we meet again at the workshop.

During the workshop, at the very least they could finish the very first dummy, and then we schedule the end result showcase after the workshop - normally a few months later. So the participants still need to work on the book project on their own but they could again come back twice to receive our

Anyway, there should be a reason for each detail they include in the book design. Each detail should make more the book work more as and object for the audience, and make them even feel more and interact with the subject more.

We know Red String and Silent Histories. What was the process in making these?

Well I knew both authors already and Yoshikatsu was working on his project about his parents' divorce. I followed his work for almost a year, it was a really great story and though it didn't seem easy to convey the story just by presenting images it had to be in the format the narrative could best fit in.

Also back then, he  had only  photographed his father and there was less about his mother. If it was going to be about his parents he should make a balance, so he started to shoot more on his mother's side. Also he decided to take the workshop, so he could finally set the goal to make a book with this story. It wasn't difficult to think of making two separate books; one from the father's side and one from the mother's side.

For the cover, white felt was used; it¹s easy to get dirty and you get a really gentle feeling when you touch it, but also it gets aged by people looking at the book,  so it¹s just like a family relationship.

It's a good way but also a sad way of presenting the work. The red string in between the father's side and mother's side, that's also a very important detail. That's Yoshikatsu himself.

For Kazuma, he came to see me as he had been struggling with his photojournalistic approach and he felt that photo itself couldn't do much and look for the change.

As I had a story idea and I wanted to propose someone to do, it was about the victims of the pacific War when US forces massacred 330,000 and left 430,000 Japanese citizens injured. More than 9.7 million citizens were left homeless as 2.23 million houses were destroyed, and over 200 cities were damaged.

This is so little known compared with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I proposed him to do a story on the victims living in Osaka since he's based  there. It was December 2013. We had a conversation about this and he started research and he also decided to take the workshop, so the
final format was the book.

During the workshop and after the workshop, he was asked to use his book as evidence to submit to the supreme court so he made two books for them. It's really interesting to see that Kazuma found photos from them and the process to know about each old archives, he also developed the idea for the book.

Why is there such an emphasis on such beautiful and tactile objects?

To get the audience involved in the story, the book has to be a tactile object. Selecting papers, choosing details, those details have reasons why we do so. The latest book I distributed is Julia Mejnertsen's handmade edition "TELL ME, HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE A HYPHEN?". She is the workshop participants from Denmark in 2015.

She wrote an NB on the design of the book and why particular details were made in the way she made them. "A number of pages stick out from under the protection of the cover, which means the pages may become slightly damaged and/or will bend over time. The paper clip and rubber band that are used to keep the book closed may scratch the surface of the cover over time. All is intentional ­ wear and tear is just as beautiful on a book, as it is in life. Please bear in mind that the book is hand-glued and delicate, just like the human soul, handle with care."

How does touching  a book affect its reading?

Well touching is also interacting  and experiencing the book works. Take Kazuma's Silent Histories, and the photo replica of the school group photo for Ms. Anno. (this is a picture that is folded over to conceal the fact that Ms. Anno is missing a leg - lost when she was injured by a bomb as a newly born baby. It's a heartbreaking testimony to how she sees her own disability).

How she kept that photo is really touching. Also the missing certificate makes the audience wonder why there are only photo corners on the page (in the book, there is a page with a missing disability certificate - to many viewers, including myself, it looks like it's left out by accident, but it's omission is a kind of protest against it not being granted to the bombing victim).

What are the projects you have seen that challenge a particular historical narrative?

For me Jan Rosseell's BELGIAN AUTUMN is the one project. Also Kazuma's silent histories. And Amak Mahmoodian's Shenasnameh.

And what's upcoming for Reminders?

In March we'll have Yoshikatsu Fujii's photobook launch and exhibition for RED STRING trade edition. We also welcome our grantee have the exhibition in April. In May we have the photobook masterclass participants' showcase from the masterclass we did with them last December. all participants' now working for finalize their dummies.

And finally we have the Photobook as Object Workshop coming again with Jan Rosseel.

Buy Silent Histories Here

Buy Red String Here

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