Review by Douglas Stockdale •
A dream in which a deceased father speaks words of inspiration to his daughter, who, now inspired visits a snowy village in which her father was born and lived long ago in the north of Japan. Upon her arrival she is confronted by an ancient performance of Zaido, said to be based on Danburi-choja, the old legend of the Dragonfly Millionaire. Was the timing of her arrival and the occurrence of this event random fate or the underlying reason for her dreamy inspiration? Perhaps her father may have also participated in some manner for this annual local festival? Apparently transfixed, Yukari Chikura began her documentary journey to maintain Zaido as an on-going event and a cherished personal memory.
Her ensuing long-term project was to create a layered narrative. She intertwines surrealistic saturated color documentary-style photographs with lyrical black and white images. The delicate tonal shades are produced on a variety of papers. This results in a mash-up of documentary ‘facts’ with lyrical poetics, which in her hands is a brilliantly designed and executed narrative.
We follow along with her during the progression of the annual Zaido festival performance. Likewise there is a progression in the papers used for the printing; in the front-piece, we encounter a silvery luster paper that quickly transitions to thin translucent papers, each with progressively darker printing of the same image. It is as though a fog is gently clearing and the landscape of this region comes into clearer focus. Then in the pre-dawn, the performance begins to unfold, with the images printed on white paper with classic white margins framing the artwork. We are provided glimpses of the transpiring events as well as the surrounding frigid landscape, as it is in the dead of winter that this festival occurs. It is upon close examination that the facing ‘white’ pages are anything but. These pages have an ever-so-delicate patterning of what could be a momentary capture of falling snow, as she envisioned in her book-dummy.
There is another brief transition of photographs printed with a black background before returning to the white paper again, at which point we encounter a loose sheet that is protecting a traditional folded Japanese paper fortune. The folded paper fortune is glued onto a photograph of an expanse of similar paper fortunes that are tied onto a fence. This is a hand-made paper fortune created by Chikura for the reader’s good health and happiness.
As her narrative of this event continues, morning becomes afternoon, then evolves into dusk and finally turns into night. At the transition into the evening, her photographs are symbolically printed on black paper. The layout changes as well into several photographs that are printed full bleed. Shadowy ghosts emerge, reminiscent of her dreams. They represent her father’s spirit, a man who lived in this same region and probably participated in this annual festival in his earlier days.
The closing of her narrative has another change of paper to a matte finish. It begins an inverse of the beginning narrative as now progressively denser amounts of black ink that obliviate any discernible content on the pages. The darkness of the night slowly consumes any traces of the falling snow until we are left with complete black pages. Fade out
At the conclusion of the formal narrative, we transition to the afterword, supporting artwork, captions, credits and colophon. We also transition to a wonderful silvery paper, the same paper we encountered at the start of the book. Magical and a standing ovation ensuses.
It is not surprising that Chikura, a musical composer, would liken this body of work to a symphonic score, a performance that she plays for us. In her wake she leaves us in a trance with indelible images, similar to a wonderful tune, that we continue to carry around with us and we cannot seem to get out of our heads. Likewise, her formal musical training is revealed in the lyrical quality of both her photographs and artwork. This is a documentary of the annual ritual of the Zaido festival as well as a homage to retaining memories and celebrating of her late father’s memory as an inspiration. The latter is an aspect that resonates with me and perhaps I might read more into this body of work which fully engages my imagination.
The complexity of this book as envisioned by Chikura in conjunction with Yumi Goto at Reminders Photography Stronghold (Tokyo, Japan) required an extensive design team to produce this multi-layered narrative. The book shows that this team was paying close attention to every detail. As Chikura has stated, “Gerhard Steidl conducts many experiments” including his development of the very delicate “snowy” white pages that normally would have been a stark white page that bring to fruition the pre-visualization she had developed in her book-dummy. To state that the printing is delicate is perhaps an understatement as the subtle patterning representative of falling snowflakes are faint and can be easily overlooked. I have tried to illustrate this by emphasizing the visual effects of these printed facing pages, below. On close examination, each of the ‘snowy’ facing pages have variations. Each page is not the same, just as in real life, no two snowflakes are the same. Brilliant!
I find her book to be very inspirational, showing how an artistic concept is thoughtfully conceived, supported by well-crafted artwork, brilliantly designed and then carefully produced to realize the potential greatness of what an excellent photobook can offer.
This is an awesome book that was chosen for publication in 2017. After four meetings at the Steidl facilities to work out all of the myriad design details, it came to fruition and publication in 2020. The result is a production book that has all of the earmarks and subtle design details found in an artist book. Chikura’s book is already short-listed as one of my favorite books of 2020. I suspect the first edition will vanish onto collector shelves very quickly and I will not be surprised to see it make a lot of the year-end book lists.
This photobook received the Steidl Book Award Asia
Zaido, Yukari Chikura
Artist; Yukari Chikura, (地蔵ゆかり) born in Tokyo and resides in Saitama, Japan
Publisher; Steidl, Germany, copyright 2020
Essay: Yukari Chikura & The Tale of Danburi-Choja (Dragonfly Millionaire) folk tale.
Text: Japanese & English
Cloth bound book, silver embossed, tip-in image in a printed slip-case, with glassine envelope insert containing a saddle stitch booklet (The Tale of Danburi-Choja), and Japanese map, four-color litho, multiple types of papers, glued-in insert hand-made by the artist, List of Captions, Printed by Steidl, Gottingen, Germany
Photobook Concept Development; Yumi Goto, Reminders Photography Stronghold
Photobook Designer: Yukari Chikura, Theseus Chan, Holger Feroudj, Duncan Whyte, Gerhard Steidl
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