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A Closer Look -- A Tree of Night

A Tree of Night
A Tree of Night by Japanese photographer Tomoki Imai is a beautiful slim paperback volume of understated color images. The book is an experiment by the photographer, an endeavor to see if a photographer could sympathize with a blind person. Using a visual art form to attempt to compassionately comprehend the world of a person without vision is a tricky task, but Imai has navigated it in a fascinating way. Borrowing the title from a collection of stories by Truman Capote, the title is also a explanation of several of the images in the book -- photographs of soft white pages of Braille text. These pages are in fact from a Braille version of Capote's short story book.

Taking cues from the tactile nature of Braille, Imai presents a series of images that may feel mundane to the sighted, yet each connects with the other senses forming a series of guides to draw the reader through the book. An array of repeating patterns appear -- the glass panels on a door framing a tiled floor, sun and shadow; the wet square tiles of concrete in a public space; squares again in a walk/don't walk sign, likely also to chirp to those who cannot see its glowing red and green eyes; the damp spray from a fountain, its circular structures audibly crying water; soft smell of smoke; a tiled wall and bathroom mirror, its blind face ghostly reflecting tile on its surface; a bird in a cage, again, the repeating rectangles of its wire enclosure, its gaze and almost certain squawk; cross walks, the most ready analogue to Braille itself, raised bumps, a readable texture, composed, yet again, from series of squares; and finally a wet sidewalk, cubist in tile composition, and a tree, the smell of the wet concrete and tree bark.


from A Tree of Night
By the end of the book, as a viewer fortunate enough to have all her senses, what emerges for me is a synesthetic experience -- the flat images have become immensely tactile, the repetition of pattern has movement and texture. In this book Imai moves between the visible and invisible, those things that exist with and without our vision, but perhaps are not as obvious due to over-reliance on sight. Beautifully composed, the photographs are pleasing to the eye but indicate a world beyond. One that may be lonely, but also rich in its treasures.



from A Tree of Night
 The images in A Tree of Night are printed on a rich cream paper, hand stitched with white chord into a textured brown cover. Printed in an edition of 700, signed copies are available. A Tree of Night was selected as a Best Book of 2010 by Laurence Vecten of LOZ and Lozen Up. -- Sarah Bradley

Purchase a signed copy here

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