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Book Review: Sheets


Book Review Sheets By Rinko Kawauchi Reviewed by Blake Andrews What does Rinko Kawauchi really care about? Nature? Light? The Mundane? Looking at her photographs it's clear she has concern for all those things. But so do many photographers. In fact such subjects are very common fodder, inspiring some of the most boring photographs in history. Think of Hallmark cards or stock photographs of fireworks and babies and water drops teetering on edge. But Kawauchi's certainly aren't boring.

Sheets. By Rinko Kawauchi.
Kominek Books, 2014.
 
Sheets
Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Sheets
By Rinko Kawauchi

$75.00
Kominek Books, 2014. 152 pp., 62 color illustrations, 5½x8¼".

What does Rinko Kawauchi really care about? Nature? Light? The Mundane? Looking at her photographs it's clear she has concern for all those things. But so do many photographers. In fact such subjects are very common fodder, inspiring some of the most boring photographs in history. Think of Hallmark cards or stock photographs of fireworks and babies and water drops teetering on edge. But Kawauchi's certainly aren't boring. Why not? What is she doing differently? What is at the heart of them? What does she really care about?

Well, one possible method of inquiry is to examine her contact sheets. A contact is the id of photography, or at least it was back in the film era. It shows not just the chosen image, but also the working drafts leading up to it and, ideally, something of the photographic unconscious. It might express something the photographer is not even aware of. That's why most photographers are reluctant to make them public. But Kawauchi is unlike most photographers.

Sheets. By Rinko KawauchiKominek Books, 2014.

Kawauchi's new book Sheets shows 50 of her contact sheets culled from the past decade or so. "A reassembly and re-editing of her filmstrips as a reinvented whole," in the words of publisher Kominek. Also: "randomly selected." Hmmm. Maybe they're random. Maybe. In any case they just happen to showcase some of her best known images. The cover of Illuminance, for example. And the crowd below the waterfall. And the aforementioned fireworks shot. These images and many more are presented as elements of actual size contact sheets, reproduced twelve to a double spread in a tidy 8" x 5.5" book.

Sheets. By Rinko KawauchiKominek Books, 2014.
Sheets. By Rinko KawauchiKominek Books, 2014.

Every so often a double foldout shows a magnified image, but not in the way one might expect. Generally with contacts (Magnum Contact Sheets, for example) the final image is presented near the contact sheet as a sort of working sequence. A series of rough drafts leads to the final image, which is then blown up and presented nicely. But in Sheets the enlargements aren't final at all. They're roughly cropped across frame lines and expanded to the point of blurriness. And it's not clear if they represent some selective process or are just random film footage. I don't think the implication is that frame choice is unimportant. But the effect is a tease. The gatefolds simply lead you back where you started. The overall emphasis is decidedly not on the image. It's on the process surrounding them.

Sheets. By Rinko KawauchiKominek Books, 2014.

OK, so perhaps that's what Kawauchi really cares about: Process. Her photographs have always exemplified a sense of everyday promise. The working premise is that a good photo can be plucked from just about any scene. And by de-emphasizing the final image in Sheets, Kawauchi promotes searching, looking, being open to serendipity. Fine. But that leaves one nagging fact, which turns out to be quite crucial. In Kawauchi's work, the final chosen image does matter. It matters quite a bit, in fact. Some of the contacts in Sheets show very little action apart from one or two frames, and editing those frames is not a task left to chance. It's clear from her other published work that Kawauchi knows this. Weeding out punctums is not just her forte. Her work depends on it.

Sheets. By Rinko KawauchiKominek Books, 2014.

So where does that leave Sheets? The design might offer a clue. The cover is black faux-leatherette, with camouflage embossed lettering. It looks less like a monograph than an old writer's journal stuffed in a vest pocket. The open binding and plain matte pages underscore the anonymous character. This book is the opposite of precious. It's mundane. It's everyday. It doesn't promise much. But for those willing to put in the time, its pages promise revelations.—BLAKE ANDREWS


BLAKE ANDREWS is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

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