top コラムRecommended photobook21Issei Suda "Minyou Sanga" 須田一政『民謡山河』

Recommended photobook

21Issei Suda "Minyou Sanga" 須田一政『民謡山河』

John Sypal

Recently I was asked what my five “desert island” photobooks might be.


Ok, I’ve never really liked the “desert island” question- especially when it comes to photobooks (All that sand). So instead, let’s ask  “What books would you put on a 20cm wide bookshelf”.


Should I ever be limited to such a narrow shelf, I promise you that my copy of Issei Suda’s Minyou Sanga would take up a centimeter and a half of it.  This book, published by Tosei-sha in 2007, is the exquisitely printed compilation of a series of Suda’s 6x6 work which was serialized in Nippon Camera magazine in the late 1970s.  


The photographs in Minyou Sanga can, in a general sense, be described as dealing with Japanese folk festivals. In it are the young and old- kimono/yukata, dances, drunkenness, a humidity created in the melding of daily life and the sublime- all caught with Suda’s flash and intuition. From the nooks and crannies of mountain villages to Tokyo streets, as with all of Suda’s work, there is a shared sense of mystery linking every image. The same sorts of things are there in all the other countless books on festivals. “Matsuri” (festival) photography is a genre itself. But Suda’s work is unique in the way it so effortlessly transcends the particularities the locations and individuals he encountered on his travels across the country. As documents these photographs would be of nominal interest to historians or anthropologists. On an artistic level, these images, even after countless viewings, remain an intensely fascinating experience.



That Suda photographed so well, so consistently, is something I’ve never been able to get my head around. To me his photographs are ponderable imponderables: acts of (a photo) god. 


In fact, this book in particular is so damn good I have no problem admitting that it, or at least my enchantment of it, puts the whole thing beyond my intellect to write about properly.  There’s nothing that I can say that will enhance your encounter with them.




I recently found something that Suda himself said that’s worth sharing. What follows is an excerpt of an interview in the October 1979 issue of Cameraman magazine.

It opens with the interviewer noting that Suda photographs a lot of festivals.


Suda:  “Yeah, I shoot a lot of festivals but not like how tourists take photos of them.  Wherever I go my photos of them all seem to feel the same.  Even though it’s a “festival”, people are the main subject. For example, even if a matsuri float comes by, I rarely point my camera at it. Much more interesting than the float are the townspeople with their kids casually passing by.


Also, I’m never around when the festival is at its peak. I photograph as everyone is still getting ready, and then soon go home.  And like I said, since I’m not there for the matsuri itself, I usually never know what any of them, even the ones I regularly go to, are actually about. But now, no matter where I go they’re basically all the same. Most of the old characteristics of the local places have disappeared.”


Perhaps it was this severe, wonderfully adroit aloofness- going home before it’s started- that kept him at just the right distance to take the photographs he did. With a sense of resignation, too, this psychological distance, despite physical proximity, took his eye beyond simple individuals or moments to a dimension (somewhere deep in his Hasselblad?) where all first became phenomena- and then, luckily for us, photographs.
























  • 「ええ、お祭りは撮っていますが、僕はお祭りを観光写真的には撮っていないんで、どこへ行っても同じようになってしまうんです。お祭りといっても、だいたい撮るのは人間が主なので、例えば山車が出ていても、そっちの方にカメラを向けることは少ない。それよりもその山車を見物している町の人とか、無造作に通り過ぎる子連れの人なんかがとってもおもしろい。
  •  また、お祭りっていっても、そのお祭りがピークになるときには、そこにいなかったりして。ピークの前に、まだちょぼちょぼっとしか準備されていないときに撮ってすぐ帰っちゃったりするのが、またいいんですよ。
  •  それから、さっきも言ったけど、お祭りそのものを撮ってないから、何回行ってもどんなお祭りか詳しくは知らないなんていうお祭りも多いですよ。でも今はどこへ行ってもたいして変わらない。その土地の風土的に特徴のあるものなんていうのがほとんど無くなってしまいましたからね」





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