top コラムRecommended photobook18 Shuhei Motoyama "NIPPON 2010-2020" 本山周平『日本・NIPPON 2010-2020』

Recommended photobook

18 Shuhei Motoyama "NIPPON 2010-2020" 本山周平『日本・NIPPON 2010-2020』

John Sypal

This month’s recommended book is Shuhei Motoyama's "Nippon 2010-2020", an exceptionally beautiful collection of photographs of Japan published by Sokyu-sha in Tokyo.


Published in 2021, as the title explains, it compiles a decade’s worth of photographs into one finely printed volume. It follows his previous book, “Nippon 2001-2010”. 


Over these two decades Motoyama has photographed across one end of the archipelago to the other but to me what sets his work apart from so many others who have made Japan their subject is the consistent sense of distance in his pictures.


At first glance, there is an unaffected calmness to them. Everything is just barely out of reach. While countless “better photo” guides implore one to get closer, Motoyama takes a wider, longer view. I have a hunch that he knows enough to trust what his camera will bring to his explorations. The distance felt in his work isn’t “cold” or dry- In stepping back he’s able to see more. 


I feel that his use of space denies the usual, agreed-upon idea of what Japan traditionally looks like- or rather, how it “ought” to be shown. What I mean is, while there are obvious “Japanese” elements in his images- signage, architecture, temples, Shinto tori gates, etc. his pictures are never simply about those cultural elements- elements which are usually employed (close up) to illustrate an idea of Japan. 


If a shrine lantern or castle rampart appears in his pictures, it exists as part of the fabric of the landscape, possessing equal value to a vending machine or traffic sign next to it. The main subject matter of his pictures are not venerated (oft-photographed) Japanese Things, but rather, open, particular environments, in particular moments.


While humans play roles in his images I wouldn’t say that any who appear in his pictures could really be considered the subjects, either. They're closer to the inhabitants of old scrolls or ink paintings- figures which offer a sense of scale and life to an image. Each is obviously someone but they're no-one and everyone at the same time, across time. 


Another correlation to his visual consistency is Motoyama's technical approach to the medium. As far as I know, for his Nippon series he only used a medium format Mamiya 7 with a 65mm lens and Kodak Tri-X black and white film. 

Such austere simplification of equipment allows a photographer to free themselves from the “how” of photography and focus their time and energy into the “what”. Simplicity in tools allows one to pursue a steadier, deeper exploration of their craft. 


Motoyama's exploration of photography and his home country has resulted in photographs full of visual rewards to those who take time to look. 


“Looking” at a picture is the first step- but it’s a good photograph that keeps you around long enough to start *seeing*. In Motoyama’s often quiet photographs, there is plenty to see.



今月のおすすめ写真集は、個人的にも気に入っている写真集、2021年に蒼穹舎から出版された本山周平さんの『日本・NIPPON 2010-2020』です。タイトル通り、10年間撮った写真を1冊の立派な印刷物にまとめました。前作『日本・NIPPON 2001-2010』(蒼穹舎)から続くものでもあります。


























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