Satoshi Tsuchiyama, Heat of Sand

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2022 by Landskrona Foto Publishing, Witty Books (here), and Breadfield Press (here). Softcover with dusk jacket (23×30 cm), 108 pages, with 60 black and white photographs. In an edition of 350 copies. Design by Eric Dahl Palmér & Dada. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Heat of Sand is the first photobook by Satoshi Tsuchiyama, a visual artist working primarily with photography, video, and installation. He often works on collaborative projects with contemporary dancers, and after graduating from the International Center of Photography, Tsuchiyama worked with dancers in New York City, before starting to spend more time in Israel and exploring the contemporary dance scene there. Between 2017 and 2019, he made trips to Israel and Palestine to capture the region through the lens of contemporary dance, and in 2020, the series was presented in an exhibition in Tokyo, accompanied by a dance performance and installation. The resulting photobook won the 2020 Landskrona Foto & Breadfield Dummy Award; the publication was delayed by the pandemic and was ultimately released in September 2022. 

Tsuchiyama says that the title of the book, Heat of Sand, was inspired by the atmosphere he visually felt while taking photographs in Israel, “sand and its heat, affecting the whole environment, coloring the air and buildings.” As a photobook, Heat of Sand seems rather simple, yet its design is very effective. It is a medium-sized softcover book with a dust jacket; a handwritten title in embossed gold takes up the entire cover. The paper, both on the cover and inside, is of a light brown color tone, reinforcing with the connection to sand, and the book has an open spine with visible orange stitches, adding to the physicality of the experience. Inside, the photographs vary in sizes and their placement on pages, creating a visual movement similar to dance. 

Tsuchiyama’s experience in Israel reminded him of The Woman in the Dunes, a novel by the Japanese writer Kobo Abe. In this deceptively simple tale, the main character gets trapped in a village increasingly covered by sand. Tsuchiyama has translated quotes from the novel into Hebrew and Arabic and they appear at various locations in the book. Heat of Sand opens with a short excerpt in Japanese setting the atmosphere for its visual narrative: “Sand dances. The sun is gazing viciously at the sand, and its heat coloring all the things. Architectures, street graffiti, flesh of humans. Ignited and the borders melt. Lines and forms, all are fused together into one. While the cold eyes wander in-between.” A small photograph of a hot air balloon appears on the following spread, placed at the top right corner.  

The visual narrative is rather open-ended, full of allusions and associations. Tsuchiyama worked with dancers, and photographed them in both urban and more remote landscapes. He was curious about this religiously and culturally rich region, and its current political context, and had many questions while working on this project: “what kind of normal everyday life can be found there? What colours and scents does a country like this retain, and how do the dancers appear and move under the influence of an environment like this?”

One of the first photographs depicts a nude female dancer posing in the desert. It is followed by a striking full spread image of a city photographed from the above, and it takes a moment to realize that this is actually a scale model of Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period. Landscape, time, history, and the present all come together on the pages of Heat of Sand.

Dessert, surveillance cameras, rock formations, barbed wires, wrecked cars, and architectural spaces appear together with shots of bodies in fluid movements. A close up of a dancer’s body in a movement with his chin up (seen from below) is paired with a smaller picture of a mobile cell phone tower. And the following spread captures another dancer whose motion resembles the shape of a dry tree on the left side of the frame. The narrative unfolds in paired movements like these, back and forth.  

The sequence and editing of the photographs are particularly important for this book. The similarities in shapes and movements create an exciting visual flow, as it moves between images and pages. One spread pairs a vertical image of a dancer next to a building wall, and the shape of the cable on that wall repeats the shape of a dry branch in a smaller horizontal photo on the right. Another great pairing is a shot of a small waterfall and a figure of a dancer swirling in motion. Throughout, there is a feeling of humans reckoning with an existential threat through a physicality that only we are capable of.

The photograph closing the book is a bird’s-eye view of the landscape with a vast horizon line, with tiny silhouettes of people seen in the foreground. The physicality of the book, its paper stock, color, grain, and smell all add to a sensuously tactile experience. As a photobook, Heat of Sand is beautifully produced, lyrically sequenced, and elegantly designed. Tsuchiyama uses a clever visual vocabulary to create a nuanced and complex narrative as he considers how we adjust and adapt to a vulnerable and raw environment. “It gives the sense that humans must adapt when faced with the complexities of our world; conflict and terror, environmental or political threats.”

Collector’s POV: Satoshi Tsuchiyama does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).

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Read more about: Satoshi Tsuchiyama, Breadfield Press, Landskrona Foto, Witty Books

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