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Book Review: Yoshino


Book Review Yoshino By Cuny Janssen Reviewed by Sarah Bradley Yoshino is immediately striking for its size. It's a thin book (about ¼ inch) but it's a big book — measuring over 13 inches tall and about 3 ft wide when open. It is outlandishly oversized and initially feels strange to handle, but its physical awkwardness is quickly forgotten once one gets used to the rhythms of its design.

Yoshino. By Cuny Janssen.
Snoeck, 2013.
 
Yoshino
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley

Yoshino
By Cuny Janssen
Snoeck, 2013. 58 pp., 20 color illustrations, 18x13¾".


Yoshino is immediately striking for its size. It's a thin book (about ¼ inch) but it's a big book — measuring over 13 inches tall and about 3 ft wide when open. It is outlandishly oversized and initially feels strange to handle, but its physical awkwardness is quickly forgotten once one gets used to the rhythms of its design — opening with beautifully layered partial pages of poetry, texts peaking out from behind each other, finally revealing large and sumptuous images. They are reproduced on such a scale that it's easy to get lost in the huge photographs.

The project is a collaboration between Cuny Janssen and Jos Vos — Vos created a tight anthology of prose and poetry whose dates span centuries, all of which reference and are inspired by the Yoshino mountains. He also contributes an essay about a trip there himself. Inspired by Vos's selections, Janssen created a series of images during two extended trips made in spring and fall, when Yoshino is reported to be at its height of beauty.

Yoshino. By Cuny JanssenSnoeck, 2013.

Poems and snippets of larger works fill the mind with characters and experiences, and suddenly we are presented with the place itself, every bit as magical as described. It's easy to see why this place has inspired so many — not simply because of the delicate cherry blossoms and vibrant reds of maple leaves, but the details, the lichen that clings to branches, so similar in texture to the fluttery edges of the blooms; the color pallet so attuned it's almost otherworldly. The density of the forest is apparent through the gaps between a diversity of trees, sometimes elegant and spindly limbed, other times, a thick tangle. Eventually the forest gives way to a village and houses appear between the trees. Both traditional wooden structures and modern homes are pictured; tree branches sheltering both aged tin roofs and a modern boxy car. Bright red persimmons hang from nearly bare limbs and ubiquitous cherry blossoms obscure a Buddhist shrine. We see the river pass through abundant wildlife, but also an industrial landscape. It is a place of enormous beauty.

Yoshino. By Cuny JanssenSnoeck, 2013.
Yoshino. By Cuny JanssenSnoeck, 2013.

Text and photographs can often compete in book format, but here they find balance. I cannot imagine reading the texts without also seeing Janssen's photographs — and her images, while stunning on their own, seem aptly weighted by the accompanying words. The texts are diverse and range from lovely haiku descriptive of the cherry blossoms to excerpts from longer pieces that use the Yoshino mountains as a staging ground. Yet Yoshino did not emerge as a character for me, rather, it proved to be an immovable backdrop. Yoshino can clearly provide sanctuary for those who seek a balm for the soul, but it does not seem to extend itself. Fraught with the desires of those who visit on trips that could easily be spoiled by the crush of tourists, Yoshino seems unresolved; longing cannot be erased by the indifferent beauty of the mountains.

Yoshino. By Cuny JanssenSnoeck, 2013.

Yoshino is a book that overwhelms the body — one may feel a bit like a small child with a large storybook — but engages the senses subtly. The book comes together more and more as you read it, from the selection of texts to the photographs to the design.—SARAH BRADLEY

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SARAH BRADLEY is a writer, sculptor and costumer, as well as Editor of photo-eye Blog. Some of her work can be found on her occasionally updated blog.

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