Daisuke Yokota, Taratine

JTF (just the facts): Published by Session Press in 2015 (here). Softcover, 160 pages, with 90 black and white photographs. Includes an essay by the artist and afterword by Marc Feustel. Edition of 500 copies. The book comes with a poster. (Cover and spread shots below.)

The book is also available (here) in a special edition. This includes a copy of the book with a signed and numbered 8 x 10 inkjet print. Edition of 40.

Comments/Context: Daisuke Yokota has become one of the most talked about representatives of a new generation of Japanese photographers. Known for combining multiple tools and often breaking the rules, he has developed a distinct visual language that challenges the usual limits of photography. As he meticulously experiments with various post-production processes, the physicality and texture of his photographs come to life – developing film with hot solutions or applying acid to the photographs are just a few of his unorthodox techniques, and visual noise, scratches, and other intentional imperfections have become his unique signature.

Yokota’s new photobook Taratine continues with this now familiar aesthetic and image making process, but it is definitely his most personal and intimate project to date. The title of the book borrows its name from a thousand year old ginkgo tree, known for its power to restore fertility. Yokota encountered this legendary tree during a road trip to the Tohoku region of Japan in 2007. The photographs he made during that journey were inspired by nature and its connection to spiritual side of life, and he later mixed them together with recent shots of his longtime girlfriend. Taratine weaves together childhood memories and the two most important women in Yokota’s life (his mother and girlfriend) into an intimate visual narrative.

The book opens with several grainy shots of ephemeral black and white clouds. These images have the distinct texture and visual noise (hair, pieces of dust, scratches) particular to Yokota’s work. They are followed by even more abstract color photographs in shades of red and green (an uncommon occurrence given the history of Yokota’s previous works) – these mystical images are the close-up photographs of a taratine tree and its invasive roots, found in the forest of Northern Japan. As we flip further, we encounter the road that leads to the empty snowy streets of a town, followed suddenly by the image of a young woman – she is nude on a bed, turning to us with her elegant back; she might be sleeping. In the next few pages, we see her again and again – as she wakes up, lying on a bed in various poses, standing next to the window, sitting on a sofa. As we progress to more intimate shots, images of the forest and nature are blended into the visual flow, taking us back into the woods. And then she is back, a line of rather intense close-up images of her face, showing expressive signs of desire and pleasure. But with the abstract structure, the blur, and the other visual interventions, the images hide more than reveal, creating a dream-like experience. As Yokota brings color back to the pages, we see her asleep yet again. The photographs interweave memories and fantasies, reality and imagination, artfully playing with their imbalances, the color images adding warmth and coziness to the flow.

A very personal essay penned by Yokota (the first time one of his books has included his own writing) adds substantial context to the mystical visual narrative. In it he shares many of his childhood memories – going to a summer festival with his brother, buying food for dinner (and a favorite apple candy with the change), and returning home to find his mother inexplicably not there. The memories of that hot day, the melting sticky candy, and the absence of his much admired mother reveal his hidden fears, vulnerability, and his need for maternal love. The sensual images taken during his road trip are filled with these emotions, made visual by mixing symbols, associations, and intimate tactile interventions.

As a photobook, Taratine succeeds not only in conveying its particular open-ended narrative, but also the essential physical experience of Yokota’s photographs. This is achieved by combining and employing different types of paper and printing techniques. Several images are printed using thermographic ink (all the photographs in the book are full bleed), and as a result, the graphics are slightly raised, creating surprising texture and dimension; all of the text is also reproduced using the same method, as are the page numbers which appear only a few times. This thoughtful design and production takes the interaction with the narrative a step further, creating a stronger connection between the visual and the physical.

Since the beginning of his career, Yokota has been unusually prolific – his photobooks (and images) seem to multiply with each passing year, most becoming highly collectible. In the midst of this prodigious output, Taratine stands out as Yokota’s most carefully articulated narrative and his most intimate photobook. Its final images depict the sea and the birds flying over it, almost like an homage to Masahisa Fukase’s Solitude of Ravens. As Marc Feustel notes in the afterword, Taratine places Yokota in a Japanese photographic tradition of personal journeys, along with such masters as Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki. That’s pretty esteemed company for such a young photographer, but not necessarily misplaced. As he moves forward with his own distinct visual language, and steeps those images with more emotion and sensitivity, he’s both grounding himself in a rich historical tradition and cementing his place as a contemporary innovator.

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.

Daisuke Yokota, Session Press

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