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2016 Best Books: Éanna de Fréine

Books Éanna de Fréine: 2016 Best Books Éanna de Fréine Selects Blocks, Tokyo, and By Rail and by Sea as the Best Books of 2016
Éanna de Fréine
Éanna de Fréine is the founder of The Velvet Cell - an independent publisher dedicated to photography projects on architecture, urbanism and the built environment. He is currently based in Osaka, Japan.

BlocksBy Dustin Shum
Inertia Books, 2016.
Photographs by Dustin Shum
Shum’s project is a fascinating documentation of Hong Kong’s public housing estates. Shot mainly in a documentary style, the project does an amazing job of portraying what was one of the most important monuments of the HK Government’s social policies during the post-war years that have now come to represent typical living spaces in Hong Kong.

 Shum’s images bring us through different public housing estates in his own eyes. In many of the images, he documents the changes that have happened over recent years as efforts are made to renew such spaces. Shum is photographing as an insider, as someone who has lived in such a public housing estate for most of his life, yet yearns to escape.

 This book was really significant to me as a person living in Asia, but hailing from Europe. In Europe, public housing is very often seen as dangerous, dirty and unwanted. But here in Hong Kong, we see a different side and we become aware of different realities and possibilities.

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TokyoBy Kojima Yasutaka. Sokyu-sha, 2016.
Photographs by Kojima Yasutaka
I can not say I was blown away by the power of Kojima’s images initially, but over time his images grew on me. Perhaps it is because his project is a very simple document of Tokyo shot in a very neutral way. His style differs significantly from most other approaches by Japanese photographers to capture the capital.

In his images, Kojima captures Tokyo’s forgotten spaces. His images show a different side of Tokyo, away from areas such as Shinjuku and Roppongi. If anything, the key to these images is in their banality. They only hint at the magic of Tokyo, the biggest city in the world. Looking at his photos, one is left with the sense of awe, or even regret, at this urban world we have created. Nature is hardly even to be seen, and when it is, it is only in the form of man-made reserves. Instead, the city seems to be a landscape of metal boxes, each ranging in size and colour. Houses are pressed up against apartment blocks, and highways squeeze their way in between buildings.

I believe that what makes this book so powerful is the restraint with which Kojima shoots his images. It is almost as if he takes this multi-layered world for granted, and maybe he does.

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By Rail and by SeaBy Scott Conarroe
Black Dog Publishing, 2015.
By Rail and by Sea
Photographs by Scott Conarroe
By Rail and by Sea is a fascinating project and a very ambitious attempt by the photographer to capture the infrastructure of North America is a way that is both beautiful and inspiring. His project harks back to a time when North America was at the forefront of infrastructure building and America was the most interconnected country in the world.

Conarroe’s photos are shot in a deadpan style, and range from inner-city to rural landscapes. His images allow the viewer to understand how the railways and roads of America weave through the landscapes and connect the country. Furthermore, his images show how we, as people, have come to integrate ourselves and our surroundings around these two forms of transport in our post-industrial society. We live side by side, with little or no separation.

By Rail and by Sea is beautifully printed as a large format book. Each spread carries a single image, isolating the scene presented to the viewer. Each image has its own story to tell, but the strength of the project comes truly from the collection of images together.

Picked as Book of the Week by Mary Goodwin
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