Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Every once in a while we see a photobook that hits all the right spots. In Tundra Kids, Ikuru Kuwajima, a multicultural photographer – born in Japan, studied in the United States, and now lives in Russia – has successfully created a book that shows us a minority at the edge of “civilization” through the eyes of their children. They pose for portraits in their schoolrooms and in their rugged northern arctic Russian environment, and show us their perceptions through everyday objects, toys, and drawings, as well as with a native folk tale with a nod to Soviet influence.
It is a real pleasure to handle this photobook of 83 pages of color work, presented in leporello* (accordion) foldout style, printed on both sides. The effect is to create a continuity of images and subjects which, while linear, is more flexible than a conventionally bound book. You can pick up the whole sequence of images, turn them, look at both sides, and view many more than a couple of images at the same time. We get a feeling of interconnectedness as we view the enthusiasm and cooperation of the children who are learning about the big world out there, against the backdrop of their Nomad home areas, in which they spend the rest of their year when school is out.
Images include portraits of the kids joyfully posing in a studio setting created in their classroom; they show us such things as their tents and reindeer antlers, glimpses of their native environment to which they seem proudly connected as they are gaining a global understanding. It is the artwork they share with us that also lets us wonder about how they may maintain their identity in a faster-moving larger context so dominated by helicopters and planes and other forms of intrusion, in contrast to their natural home settings.
A wonderful book that lets us share a different world. Kudos to the Nenets kids and Ikuru Kuwajima!
*The leporello folding of paper, in an accordion-like fashion as shown below, is derived from the character Leporello in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, who, for comic effect, customarily is performed displaying a long list of his employer’s conquests on a long piece of paper folded in that manner. Note another effective use of this method of photobook presentation in Douglas Stockdale’s Middle Ground, which I reviewed in The PhotoBook Journal previously.
Photographer: Ikuru Kuwajima (born in Japan; lives in Moscow, Russia)
Publisher: Schlebrügge.Editor, Vienna, Austria; © 2015
Texts: Introduction; folktale “How the mighty eagle returned the sun to the Nenets people”
Languages: Nenets, English, German
Stiff covers leporello (accordion) foldout; 83 pages with 58 color images; 16 x 16 cm; printed in Austria by Rema Print Wien (Vienna)
Photobook Design: Ikuru Kuwajima, Dorothea Brunialti