Daisuke Yokota, Cloud

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2017 (here). Softcover, 124 pages, with 124 black and white photographs. There are no texts or essays. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota initially made his art world presence known via his self-published zines Back Yard and Site released in 2011 and 2012. These small publications, reproduced using a photocopier, showed Yokota’s daringly experimental approach to post-production photographic processing. This early work was centered around the themes of repetition and change. He would take simple snapshots, and then further experiment with them by photographing, developing, printing, and repeating the process multiple times. As he continued to explore these iterative production techniques, he started to push toward limits and extremes: applying acid to the photographs, developing the film in hot solutions, adding deliberate scratches, and even investigating the physicality of film without making exposures.

Yokota’s image making process displays exceptionally well in photobook format and book making remains the most important medium for his work. Since he started publishing, Yokota has produced nearly 60 books (in 2017, G/P Gallery in Tokyo (here) held an exhibition of his many photobooks). His books range widely in their format and production quality, from simple xeroxed zines to more sophisticated offerings like Untitled, a set of ten images treated with an acetic acid mixture, or the one-off book Matter, with randomly chosen images, printed and coated with hot wax. Yokota has also staged several performances, inviting the public to witness his elaborate post-production machinations. 

Yokota’s most recent publication Cloud seems like a return to where he started with his photocopied zines, yet it is more daring and confident. Cloud is a black and white zine, and like most of Yokota’s self-published work, it doesn’t have any text. The handwritten word “cloud” appears close to the spine (in silver) along with artist’s signature and the year, but these are the only deviations from the included imagery.  

 As the title suggests, the book is about a cloud, and this elemental simplicity is exactly what makes the project so unexpected and exciting. Yokota uses one single image of a cloud as the foundation of his efforts. Through editing and (re)processing in Photoshop, the image changes drastically, and this step-by-step transformation is documented in the publication. In image after image, we observe the gradual metamorphosis. It is not immediately obvious what Photoshop techniques were used to process the image, yet it doesn’t matter.

The image of the cloud first appears on the cover, rather blurry and almost unidentifiable. The book then opens with a sequence of few blurry images, which incrementally coalesce toward a more clear shot of the cloud, bringing a sense of an evolutionary process. This identifiable shot of the cloud is followed by a very abstract variation of it, and throughout the book, the image keeps changing, taking various shapes and variations. Most are abstract and elude straightforward description – some of them look like washed out water stains, others like waves. In a few images, the contours of the cloud are where the action takes place, the transformations occurring in the changing balance between black and white. The individual end results differ greatly, even though they come from the same source image, and this is, of course, the point.

Another variation of the project entitled Cloud re offers similar manipulation of an image, but this time with more added visual noise from physical scratches, pieces of dust, hair etc. This experiment goes along with Yokota’s idea that a photograph not only captures a certain moment, but that the process of ongoing manipulation effectively adds time to that single instant.

Cloud is printed on inexpensive newsprint-style paper and simply stapled together. The choice of paper for the project goes well with the visual content of the book, playing with the smudged physicality of reproduction, repetition, and transformation. The book format also reinforces the progressive experience of the visual flow – as we flip the pages, the image morphs before our eyes in surprising ways.

In the end, Cloud is a small self-contained project, yet it once again shows Yokota’s fearless desire to experiment and explore. In it he has stripped back process-driven photography to its very core, allowing one humble image to blossom into seemingly endless subtle variations.

Collector’s POV: Daisuke Yokota is represented by G/P Gallery in Tokyo (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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