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photo-eye Book Reviews - Best Books: For a Language to Come

For a Language to Come, Photographs by Takuma Nakahira. 
Published by Osiris, 2010.
For a Language to Come
Reviewed by Colin Pantall
Takuma Nakahira For a Language to Come
Photographs by Takuma Nakahira.
Osiris, 2010. Hardbound. 160 pp., 100 black & white illustrations, 8-1/4x11-3/4".

Blurred, grainy and out-of-focus was the modus operandi of the Japanese Provoke photographers of the early 1970s, and Takuma Nakahira was the intellectual granddaddy of them all. This reprint of his classic For a Language to Come, is shot with harsh black and white images printed full bleed across every page and is essential viewing for anybody with an interest in the twentieth-century history of photography.

For a Language to Come is a book of landscapes, urban landscapes where life clings to the shadows and corners of the pictures, where light burns like fire and the only solace is to be found in the underpasses and tunnels of the city that Nakahira portrays. And what a city! It is an unwelcoming place, a Tokyo where post-war modernisation and political protest have combined to create a world that lacks any warmth or humanity. Nakahira's Tokyo is a pre-apocalyptic dead zone. Or perhaps it's a post-apocalyptic deadzone. It doesn't really matter because the effect is the same; a place where people lie injured in waiting rooms, where phone lines and power cables suggest an entity that has taken on its own hostile life, where the only means of escape are suggested by the trackways in the road and in the repeated pictures of a cold and turbulent ocean.

For a Language to Come, by Takuma Nakahira. Published by Osiris, 2010.
 And that's the fun part. For a Language to Come also serves as a thesis for Nakahira's complex forays in the semiotics of visual language and his existentialist idea that photography "consists only in clarifying the fact that material things are things."

For a Language to Come, by Takuma Nakahira. Published by Osiris, 2010.
A few years after For a Language to Come was published, Takahira wrote that "Extremely grainy images and intentionally unfocussed photographs in particular, have already become mere decoration." I can think of many examples where that might be true, but in Takahira's case, it most definitely is not.—Colin Pantall

Colin Pantall is a UK-based writer, photographer and teacher - he is currently a visiting lecturer in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales. His work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Manchester and Rome and his Sofa Portraits will be published as a handmade book early next year. Further thoughts of Colin Pantall can be found on his blog, which was listed as one of’s favourites earlier this year.