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Today, I want to introduce you to a photography project I am working on, The Old River. But first let me bring a few things up to date.
This spring, I completed a handmade artist’s book, The Consolation of Dew. It’s a very personal work, dealing with loss, grief, and mortality. The photographs are all of my immediate neighborhood, which I walked over and over again this spring. I pigment printed them on six meters of mulberry paper. Following historical Japanese forms, I folded them into an orihon — an accordion book — and bound them in linen. I crafted a matching hardcover triptych case and wrote an essay. For the moment, it’s still an edition of one, but I’m working on publication. I’m deeply honored that Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey is providing an afterword.
I followed that up this summer with a short series of new work, Summer Dreams. Less of an essay and more of a glimpse into my momentary state of mind. Again, I took all of the photos close to home. This time I handmade a limited edition of 20 booklets, and it sold out very quickly. I am grateful to everyone who purchased one.
Japan has a long tradition of ehon, or picture books. Artists here have been making them since the eighth century. Many contain essays, poems, or other texts. Their content and structures vary widely. When done well, the design of an ehon adds to and reinforces the message of the pictures.
Photobooks and zines can be understood as part of this tradition. For the artist who wants to outsource some of the labor, there is an incredible array of options for printing and binding in Japan. However, I find that I can be more creative when I do the work by hand, and the ideas I want to share become stronger. My craftsmanship is not perfect, but even the imperfections are, for me, part of the story.
With that, let me introduce you about what I am photographing now. I feel that it is also going to become a book, though I won’t know for sure until I’ve taken more photos and thought about what they have to say. I plan to talk about the process during the coming newsletters.
About 300 meters from my home is a river, the Furukawa. Its name means, “the old river.” Once it was an important part of the life of the city, responsible — together with many other rivers — for much of the movement of goods and people throughout Tokyo.
As the city modernized, many of its rivers were filled in to make way for roads. The Furukawa suffered a different fate: a segment of the metropolitan expressway was built above it.
Though its commercial role disappeared, the Furukawa was not forgotten. From time to time it would flood, sometimes disastrously. After the nearby Azabujuban subway station was inundated in 2004, Tokyo began construction of a massive reservoir under the river that would absorb the river’s overflow until it could be safely pumped out. Now, the river is all but ignored. Even residents of the neighborhood seem to have largely forgotten its name. It’s simply a crack in the city that must sometimes be crossed.
While there is some new construction near the Furukawa — most notably a 45-story, 1,247-unit apartment building in Shirokane — the presence of the expressway means the land is less desirable than other areas of Minato ward. And so the pace of change is slower. Close to the water, one can feel the layers of Tokyo’s history.
For months, I’ve been walking up and down the river, from its beginning to where it empties into Tokyo Bay. It’s short — only four and a half kilometers. Most of the bank is fenced in and inaccessible. It’s most easily viewed from one of the river’s 23 bridges, each of which has its own name and character and history. I stand on these bridges a lot, watching. Not just the terrain, but the pattern of traffic, the way the water rises and falls, how and when the sunlight slides through the neighboring buildings.
And yet, every day is different. Different weather, different people. And shifts in smaller things: the resting place of turtles, the accumulation and disappearance of cigarette butts. With my camera, I record the what I see, and meditate on age and change.
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and will stay with me. (And if someone forward it to you, please feel free to sign up!)
In my next email I’ll take you deeper along the Furukawa, and show you my photos of the wildlife that makes its home there. I also intend to write about various kinds of paper that are used for bookmaking.
P.S. If you’re in Tokyo, you still have a few weeks to see the Ishimoto Yasuhiro exhibition at the Tokyo Museum of Photography. With 166 prints from across his career, it’s one of the year’s best photography shows.