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Book of the Week: Hiroshima 1965, by Kenji Ishiguro

Book Of The Week Hiroshima 1965 Photographs and text by Kenji Ishiguro Reviewed by Laura M. André Printed in an edition of 900 signed and numbered copies, Hiroshima 1965 is a haunting reminder of the lingering impact of devastation and photography's role in our attempts to picture something incomprehensible.

Hiroshima 1965 By Kenji IshiguroAkio Nagasawa, 2018.

Hiroshima 1965
Selected as Book of the Week by
Laura M. André.

Hiroshima 1965.
Photographs and text by Kenji Ishiguro.
Akio Nagasawa, Tokyo, 2018. 160 pp., black-and-white illustrations, 9½×8¼×¾".

Last week marked seventy-three years since the atomic bomb attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (respectively, August 6 & 9, 1945). The two events and their impacts have figured prominently among the most unforgettable photobooks ever produced: Ken Domon: Hiroshima (1958), Shomei Tomatsu & Ken Domon: Hiroshima-Nagasaki Document 1961, Kikuji Kawada: Chizu/The Map (1965), and Shomei Tomatsu: 11.02 Nagasaki (1966).

Another title fit for that list is Kenji Ishiguro's Hiroshima Now (1965)which was originally to have been only the first volume in a set of three. Composed of photographs made in Hiroshima during 1964 and 1965, copies of Hiroshima Now are quite scarce and carry a hefty price tag. However, Akio Nagasawa's latest release, Hiroshima 1965, is effectively a new, updated edition of that classic book, and is printed in a signed and numbered edition of 900 copies.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

Hiroshima 1965 is a reminder of how consistently we rely on photography in our attempts—both successful and failed—to comprehend the incomprehensible. A similar problem exists in language. For example, in Ishiguro's afterword, "Mystery Hiroshima," he recalls how, upon his first visit there, he sensed he could actually smell something burning. But then he elaborates that it was more "like being wrapped entirely in some kind of burned air." That same, oppressive sensation fell upon him again when he returned to Hiroshima in 1965 to shoot a "twenty-years-later" photo essay for the now defunct Nihon Dokusho Shimbun newspaper.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

Ishiguro's intent was to eschew the kinds of evidentiary images of destruction (melted bottles, frozen timepieces, scarred flesh, charred concrete) that Shomei Tomatsu, Ken Domon, or Kikuji Kawada made famous. Instead he wanted to photograph a city and its people reborn, back to work and school and play, in sleek, mid-century modern offices and trains, on lively urban streets and in verdant parks.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

And, while many of these images seem to convey the streets of any modern Japanese city of that time, our knowledge that we're looking at the specific city of Hiroshima, and our understanding of what happened there twenty years earlier, powerfully impacts what we see. It's as if we are indeed seeing the blanket of "burned air" that Ishiguro describes.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.
Far more than the images of the now iconic Hiroshima Peace Memorial (the Atomic Bomb Dome)—Hiroshima's most prominent ruin—or the museum, cenotaph and other memorial markers in the Peace Memorial Park—it is Ishiguro's general street photographs that capture a palpable anxiety, or a future-past tense sort of looming doom.

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

Nearly three-quarters of a century have passed since Hiroshima was leveled on the morning of August 6, 1945. In that instant, at 8:15 am, 70,000 people died. Another 70,000 would die from the bomb's effects in the days, weeks, months, and years later. In the face of this, Ishiguro concludes, "[t]o capture Hiroshima in photographs seems to be impossible..."

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

Ishiguro's Hiroshima may look toward peace, but I can't help feeling like he might as well be talking about today's global political and social instability when he asserts, "there is 'something' that is getting more and more intense. That mysterious, invisible air can smell like unrest, solitude, melancholia or absurdness..."

Hiroshima 1965By Kenji Ishiguro. Akio Nagasawa, 2018.

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Laura M. André received her PhD in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at the University of New Mexico before leaving academia to work with photography books. She is the manager of photo-eye's Bookstore.