Matthew Carson on Takashi Homma

One of the first things that you may notice about the words on the spine and on the title page of Takashi Homma’s New Documentary is that the title has been struck through. This is a typographic hint that this is not intended to be a new edition of Homma’s 2011 photobook of the same name; however, there is a relationship between the two books. The New Documentary of 2011 was thought to exemplify Homma’s neutral and distant
style. The new New Documentary is a further distillation of that concept through the process of book design and bookmaking.

New Documentary is a compilation of images from the 2012 exhibition Takashi Homma: New Documentary, held at the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art (MIMOCA), and the 2014 exhibition You reach out—right now—for something: Questioning the Concept of Fashion, held at Art Tower Mito and again later that year at MIMOCA. The clever conceit here concerns the way that the dense multi-platform content from those exhibitions—books, paintings, fashion magazine covers, video, and photo-based silk screens—is worked into this new photobook. Installation shots from the exhibitions are playfully intermingled with the original media, and multiple projects are shown without clear distinction or hierarchy. A tipped-in cover image of a well-known fast-food chain wraps around the spine of this sturdy clothbound book. The same image is again tipped in to the opening pages. Photographs of the restaurant are repeated throughout the book in varying ways: as close-ups, as details, abstracted, in silk screens, and in installation views. Around these images, Homma introduces diverse work from the two exhibitions. He includes familial and vernacular imagery; cityscapes and interiors; an extensive portfolio of his fashion work; and abstract photographs and paintings relating to the visual contrast between forest, blood, and snow, from his First, Jay Comes and Trails series. This is a compilation filled with visual puns and references. What we are seeing here is a photobook as exhibition catalogue (or catalogues), expressing itself as an artist’s book. Homma’s photobooks, like his classic Tokyo Suburbia (1998), have been somewhat confusingly described as being nondocumentary. The fact is, as this book proves, Homma has many styles and is comfortable both communicating and withholding in multiple genres. His work occupies that space between expression and record, personal narrative and document. Working within a realm of loose boundaries, Homma’s unique style has inspired many other photo-based artists to attempt to mimic his distinctive, allegedly unemotional images; not surprisingly, the vast majority of these Homma-san homages have failed, as they try too hard to reimagine his remote style without understanding how emotionally engaged he actually is with his subject matter.
&emsp:New Documentary is a book that you need to spend time with—to break down, unpack, and try to gain access to in its initial remoteness. One needs to understand the simple tricks of the concept underpinning this book. This book is not easy at first: it questions our instincts about what a photograph is and places doubt within us about what we are seeing. But the effort is rewarded by the intimate qualities of Homma’s work.

Matthew Carson is a librarian and archivist at the International Center of Photography. He is a committee member for the Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference at the New York Art Book Fair and a cofounder of the organization 10×10 Photobooks. In 2013, he was a curator of the book component of the ICP Triennial A Different Kind of Order.