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photo-eye Book Reviews: New Documentary

New Documentary, Photographs by Takashi Homma.
Published by The Asahi Shimbun, 2011.
New Documentary
Reviewed by Alexandra Huddleston
Takashi Homma New Documentary
Photographs by Takashi Homma
The Asahi Shimbun, 2011. Softcover. 203 pp., Illustrated throughout, 8-1/4x11".

New Documentary is a bilingual exhibition catalogue (Japanese/English) published in conjunction with a traveling retrospective of the photographer's work to date. The exhibitions are being held at three major contemporary art venues in Japan between January 2011 and September 2012. The book itself is a beautifully designed, engaging, and accessible introduction to the work of one of Japan's most prominent contemporary photographers and gives the reader a taste of seven of Homma's major projects from the last ten years: "Trails," "Tokyo and My Daughter," "Widows," "M," "Together: Wildlife Corridors in Los Angeles," "Seeing Itself," and "Short Hope." While it's the Homma of the museum wall and the contemporary art world that's featured in this book, his work from years as a fashion and editorial photographer are also included in a section entitled "re-construction" in which he re-cropped and re-photographed in black-and-white clips from his commercial work. Perhaps most illuminating is the section "Photobooks," a comprehensive list of Homma's published books, zines, and magazines, complete with illustrated excerpts. Different types of paper are used for the different sections of the book, reinforcing the visual diversity on display with a tactile diversity. Also included are essays by Noi Sawaragi, Elein Fleiss, Francesco Zanot, and Motoaki Hori.

New Documentary, by Takashi Homma. Published by The Asahi Shimbun, 2011.
  Takashi Homma rose to art world stardom in 1999 when his book Tokyo Suburbia won the Kimura Ihei Commemorative Photography Award. Homma's high fidelity large format photography and harsh, direct, unsentimental gaze gave a visual voice to a wave of concern in both Japan and the West about trends in contemporary consumption and culture. Even in recent years, as his work has widened to include images of the natural world (in "Trails" he supposedly photographs the blood trail of a dying deer, and "Seeing Itself" depicts Europe's most famous mountain peaks), a dry, clinical, and conceptually ambiguous approach defies the lyrical and romantic potential in his subject matter.

New Documentary, by Takashi Homma. Published by The Asahi Shimbun, 2011.
New Documentary, by Takashi Homma. Published by The Asahi Shimbun, 2011.
 The problem with such an approach - and it's an approach taken by a plethora of contemporary photographers - is that it doesn't just critique and demystify our landscape and lifestyle, but it adopts the very nihilistic perspective that erodes our contemporary psyches and souls bait, hook, sinker, and line. A problem is diagnosed, but no cure is offered. In this state of freefall, Homma's work slides from excellent documentary photography into middling conceptual art. It's not surprising that Noi Sawaragi ends his introductory remarks to this book in a nervous rhapsody about the "mortality of photography." Nonetheless, as an introduction and overview of the work of Takashi Homma, New Documentary is a thorough and elegant new document.—Alexandra Huddleston

Alexandra Huddleston is an international documentary photographer whose most recent work focuses on exploring the transformation of traditional religious practices in the 21st century. In 2007 she spent a year in Timbuktu photographing the town’s legacy of traditional Islamic scholarship, supported by a Fulbright Student Islamic Civilizations grant. Her current work explores a pilgrim’s life along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Huddleston earned her MS in broadcast journalism from the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2004, and her BA in studio art and East Asian studies at Stanford University in 2001. She currently works as an adjunct professor in the photography department at the Santa Fe Community College. Huddleston’s photographs have been included in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Division as well as exhibited at numerous solo and groups exhibitions around the world.