Daisuke Yokota, Vertigo

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2014 by Newfave Books (here). Hardcover, 96 pages, with over 90 black and white photographs. Includes two foldouts. There are no essays or texts. Edition of 500 copies. Vertigo was shortlisted for the 2014 Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation Photobook of the Year award. (Spread shots below.)

Vertigo is also available (here) in special edition. This includes a copy of the book in a box case, a choice between 3 archival pigment prints (numbered and signed) in editions of 10+AP each (8×10 inch), and one piece of heat developed film.

Comments/Context: Daisuke Yokota belongs to a new generation of young Japanese photographers who are radically interweaving photography and bookmaking, breaking rules, combining multiple tools, and pushing experimental limits to the extreme. Yokota’s creative process starts at the point where many other photographers are almost finished. He takes simple snapshots and then creates his final image by applying various techniques and interventions – he photographs, develops, prints, and photographs each image again and again, and he continues experimenting in his homemade darkroom, taking the process even further by developing film in boiling solutions, leaking light, or leaving deliberate scratches. Very often he repeats the process several times and rarely follows the same steps the same way twice, and he employs digital manipulation, but finds that working with film adds more natural distortion. All of these extra layers of intervention combine to create deformation, imperfection, and visual noise, bringing a distinctive visual language to Yokota’s photography.

Yokota’s original aesthetic and image making process translate quite well into book form. His earlier work was exposed to a wider audience through self-published zines (Back Yard and Site) reproduced using a photocopier. Yokota also did a few live photobook performances, allowing audiences to witness his ‘editing’ process. This most recent publication Vertigo is a step further in this deep examination of photographic process and bookmaking.

Vertigo, as a series of highly processed black and white images, is a haunting journey which evokes ephemeral memories and emotions. The book’s title (which appears only in English) most likely refers to Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film and the vertigo effect itself, a moving sensation within space and time. Yokota layers up his images rather than conveying a traditional storyline; his editing and arrangement create a shadowy atmosphere, playing with our desire to see the unseen. The sequences in the book seem to be assembled by free association, jumping between images of clouds, close ups of blurry whitened nudes, abstract industrial structures, and nighttime landscapes. Paging through the book is like wandering through a dream, the images never quite disclosing their exact subject matter, always leaving us with the feeling that much more is happening than the images reveal. Yokota’s interest lies in memories, dreams, and shifts, and he constantly plays with their correlations and imbalances.

The book opens with an image of what seems like an abstract close up of a nude washed out into gray tones. It is followed by an even more abstract shot overloaded with visual noise, like looking through a dirty foggy window. Magnified pieces of dust, hair, and scratches dominate these images, transforming intentional imperfections into something integral to their essence. The physicality of the film and its resulting textures become even more important for Yokota than his documented subjects, and it should come as no surprise that he feels few restraints in recycling images from previous work and putting them into multiple contexts. He continues his reprocessing alchemy, revealing new potential, and his manipulations make us question an image’s ability to accurately reflect a specific reality.

Few recognizable people appear in Yokota’s images. Most of his bodies are abstracted close-ups of nudes, often shapeless and shot at such an angle that it takes few minutes to guess what exactly is happening in the picture. Is it a snapshot of a knee, or maybe an unusual angle of a shoulder? There are many images of industrial spaces and some of them echo Yokota’s earlier projects; whitened blocks of a construction site on a rich black background, dark empty rooms, white cold walls – these are not places where one wants to linger. These tight shots and empty tiny spaces are mixed with wispy landscapes and shots of clouds. The images suggest that almost anything can be a subject of photography.

The book has two gatefolds, just enough to add some depth to the movement. The silhouette of a naked figure disappearing into the complete darkness of a processed image opens to an haunting nighttime mountain landscape and what seems like a lake or maybe a road (or again, it could be something else entirely). One of the last photographs is a blurry light image of a woman sitting on the edge of the bed. A version of this image appears earlier in the book, but in this iteration Yokota has digitally removed the body and added more texture with dust. This only further stresses its sense of loss and timeliness.

As an artistic statement, Vertigo shows that Yokota has evolved quite a distance from his days of self-publishing. The book is the result of a nuanced collaborative process between photographer, designer Goshi Uhira, and publisher Kohei Oyama, the production altogether more complex and full of additional elements. All the images are full bleed – there is no intrusion of any text, page numbers, design, or graphic details. The flow encourages the viewer to dive completely into the haunting atmosphere. Board covers and uncoated paper with a slightly cheap feel help to reinforce Yokota’s sensibility and moody feeling. The book has a good size and is pleasant to hold in your hands; flipping through the pages and smelling the scent of the ink adds physicality to the whole experience and the process of opening and closing gatefolds is pleasingly engaging.

In the end, Daisuke Yokota’s fearless desire to experiment brings together analog and digital tools in a sophisticated and clever way. He’s rethinking and redefining what process-driven photography might mean, extending his engagement with the physical materials of the medium into a new area of elegant photographic improvisation.

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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Mark Steinmetz, ATL

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