The Photobook Review

Editor’s Note: Ivan Vartanian


Jane Mount, Ideal Bookshelf #845: Ivan Vartanian, 2015

In 1995, I began an editorial internship at Aperture. (Just one week before, Lesley Martin had started one, too). While I was there, Daido Moriyama sent in a copy of his publication Hysteric Daido. It was the most bizarre specimen of a photobook I had ever seen: large and softcover, with magazine-like paper, black ink everywhere, and a putrid purple bar on the cover. The images were presented in a scattershot fashion, running into the gutter carelessly without white margins, captions, or any other type of structure. It did not in any way, shape, or form resemble the organized bookmaking style I had been exposed to until then. I had no clue what I was looking at. And I was hooked! That wibbly-wobbly book seemed so alive to me, and completely beguiling.

Seeing that book that day eventually led me to look at more photobooks from Japan, like those of Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe (including the 1985 Aperture edition of Barakei, originally published in 1963), and Shomei Tomatsu. To my good fortune, about a year later I was given an opportunity to work in Tokyo. What was supposed to be a one-year sojourn working for a Japanese publisher, Korinsha, turned into a permanent move.

The components of this issue of The PhotoBook Review reflect the last eighteen or so years of my time in Japan. The books appearing in my Ideal Bookshelf, for example, are a partial representation of my work anthologizing and translating writing by Japanese photographers, which evolved into Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (2006). Immediately after that book was completed, I turned my attention to the photobooks I had scoured to find those texts, which led me to meet and work with Ryuichi Kaneko. I am deeply indebted to him, my guide to Japanese photo history and the books that tell its story. To honor that massive influence and represent the heart that goes into serious scholarship, an interview about his collection was essential for this issue. Sitting with him once again in his warehouse, surrounded by his collection, rain pouring down outside, I felt transported again to that time when I first encountered photobooks from Japan and was gobsmacked by the sheer intensity and alienness of the images, and by their accompanying texts.

I am driven by the questions of what defines a photobook and how those parameters can be stretched to such a point that “book” may no longer be an appropriate appellation for the thing in question—which we consider in a section on the relationship between photobooks and performance. Many of the ideas that I am dealing with now germinated in the research I did for Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s (2009). It taught me this: research leads to experimentation; looking back leads to making something new. Much of that material was more contemporary and synchronous with my everyday life than many of the photobooks I was looking at in the early 2000s.

As Lesley mentions in her Publisher’s Note, this publication is a companion to both the “Tokyo” issue of Aperture magazine and the Shashin Festival, held in New York this April. My goal and involvement in each of these activities is to present photography from Japan to the widest possible audience. It is my hope that this assemblage of activity will serve as an entry point for many more to enjoy the wide spectrum of the exciting photography, writings, and design that I have been fortunate enough to savor all these years.



Ivan Vartanian is a writer, curator, and publisher based in Tokyo. Under the imprint Goliga, he has collaborated on and produced many projects—books, exhibitions, installations, performances, events, and limited editions—with Japanese photographers. Vartanian is the coauthor of Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s (Aperture, 2009) and Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (Aperture, 2006). He is the founder and program director of the Shashin Festival: Photography from Japan. Vartanian is also the director of the Amana Collection.
Jane Mount (illustration) published My Ideal Bookshelf, a collection of the favorite books of one hundred creative thinkers, with Little, Brown in 2012.

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The PhotoBook Review is a publication dedicated to the consideration of the photobook—focusing on the best photography books being published, from the coffee-table book to the handmade artist’s edition, and on creating a better understanding of the ecosystem of the photobook as a whole.

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