top コラムRecommended photobook19 Wan Chaofan "Yes, The River Knows" 宛 超凡『河はすべて知っている——荒川』

Recommended photobook

19 Wan Chaofan "Yes, The River Knows" 宛 超凡『河はすべて知っている——荒川』

John Sypal

Sometimes the best way to share a sprawling, huge photo project is through a huge, sprawling photo book.  Wan Chaofan’s newly published Yes, The River Knows is just such an object.



Over the course of five years- and over a thousand rolls of 120 film- Wan has undertaken a visual survey of the Arakawa River, photographing its environs its source in the mountains of Saitama all the way through the megapolis and on to its lazy, wide mouth in Tokyo Bay.

Long drawn to bodies of water, one of Wan’s earliest series, By The Water, was a set of black and white 35mm photographs which explored the interactions between individuals and a river in his native China.  In Japan, Wan’s curiosity widens in scope (and color) to explore the gradual transformation which the Arakawa river undergoes from a natural, untamed mountain stream to a wide, controlled, manicured entity well-utilized by communities and industry.  


Taking full advantage of Kodak Portra’s incredible capability for detail, Wan used a cumbersome yet fascinatingly practical Fujifilm GX617 Panoramic camera (stopped down to f22) to make the work. 

Thanks to this combination (and his own eye), his pictures are clear, informative, and grounded. They’re photographs, not metaphors.  The riverbanks he’s photographed are those which belong to ducks and joggers and little leaguers, assorted weekend golfers, and those who find themselves beckoned by the calmness of a river– not scientists or policymakers.  

And while this book would be a source of pride to the local governments through which the Arakawa flows, his images happily lack the burden of any direct environmental or political message. They’re as open in format as they are in opportunity to be experienced. Thanks to his nonjudgmental curiosity and sense of distance, viewers are offered a generous amount of space in which make their own conclusions.


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On Book Construction:  

This large book (20 x 47cm) is assembled in the accordion-like orihon binding style. At this size, and without a true spine, it is unwieldy in your lap. You’ll need a generous amount (at least a meter) of table space for proper viewing.  Or, with a long enough hallway you could open the entire thing up all at once- take one cover and start walking- a veritable river of photographs flowing along your floor.  

Text-wise this book includes an essay by Art Historian Ito Toshihara- in it he offers a plenty information on the Arakawa river’s geographical and cultural importance, helpful context which can deepen the experience of the work. While the text in the book is in Japanese a booklet with translations in Chinese and English is included.


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Yes, The River Knows is a book of particular focus done with captivating clarity and fascinating tools- Wan’s effort has produced a fine contribution to both photography and potamology. 


Wait, what’s potamology, you ask?  Until a few moments ago I didn’t know either. While writing this piece I learned that “Potamology” is the term for the study of rivers.  (“Potam-“ is the prefix.) 

Since Wan does his research with a camera, perhaps you could call this work Potamography? 




宛 超凡さんが新たに出版した『河はすべて知っている―荒川』は、まさにそのような写真集になっています。





水辺に惹かれていた宛さんの初期シリーズ「By The Water」は、母国中国の川と個人の相互作用を35mm判のモノクロ写真で表現したものでした。今作は日本において、荒川が自然のままの渓流から、広く管理され、地域や産業によってうまく利用される存在へと徐々に変化していく様子を、好奇心の範囲を広げて表現しています。




















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