Book: 328 Outstanding Photographers

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Book review of 328 Outstanding Photographers. Collection of short biographies and sample photos by 328 Japanese photographers in the collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.


328 Outstanding Photographers - 日本写真家事典

Published: March 27, 2000 Publisher: Tankosha ISBN: 4473017508 Price in Japan: ¥2,940 Qualities: Soft cover, B/W photos Size: A5, 363 pp. Language: Japanese

The curators at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan's largest museum devoted to photography, have compiled this excellent collection of biographies of almost all the most famous and important Japanese photographers, both living and deceased. There are 328 biographies in the book. Why 328? That's the number of Japanese photographers whose works are in the Museum's collection.

One page is devoted to each photographer. Along with the biography, one B/W photo (from the Museum's collection) taken by the photographer is inserted. It is a book that only this Museum would be able to produce. If a publishing house wanted to publish such a book, it would have to contact each photographer and secure permission to print the photographs. A time-consuming and troublesome task.

There have been books in the past introducing Japanese photographers. However, they were quite limited in scope, perhaps presenting no more than 100 of the most famous Japanese photographers. This book is therefore the most comprehensive compilation of biographies ever. (Not to mention a great boon as a reference source for PhotoGuide Japan's PhotoWho'sWho page.) The Museum's collection includes works by not only famous photographers, but also by the winners of photo contests it has held. Therefore, a few biographies in the book are of unknown photographers/amateurs who were lucky enough to have been winners (such as in the Tokyo International Photo-Biennale). The Museum was kind enough to include them as well.

The biographies include all the basic facts you would expect--birthdate, birthplace, education, employment history, etc. However, it does not list past exhibitions and publications. Of course, that would require more space, time, and research, luxuries that this cash-strapped Museum lacks. The book states that the information was mainly gleaned from previous materials such as exhibition catalogs, and it admits that the information may not be 100% accurate. I find this a little disturbing because errors have a tendency to be perpetuated far and wide and for a long time. No doubt, there will be people (like me) who will use this book as a reference source, and they may unwittingly further spread the inaccuracies by publishing it in other places (including Web sites).

Also, the photographs used in the book may or may not be the photographer's most famous or representative work. It is just one that the Museum possesses. And they are all in B/W. Sometimes it is a little disappointing to not see the photograph that the photographer is often associated with or most famous for. For Nobuyoshi Araki, the photo is a humdrum street scene of kids playing. No nude women in bondage hanging from the ceiling. (The Museum probably would not want to purchase such a photograph anyway.)

The big drawback (from our point of view) of this book is that nothing is in English, not even the photographer's names. Only the book's title is provided in English: "328 Outstanding Japanese Photographers." An English version of this book is probably a pipe dream.

When you look at this book, you can't help but wish for more. I don't really care for a list of past exhibitions, but I do want to read a synopsis of the photographer's work or style, his or her significance in (or contributions to) Japan's photography world, and other things that give us reasons why he or she is important. Having only factual information is not enough. This is where the book is lacking in a major way. The layman who buys this book will still not really understand any of the Japanese photographers covered.

Nevertheless, this book is better than nothing, and it is useful if you can read Japanese and need basic information on Japanese photographers. There is also a useful appendix with a glossary of terms that includes an annotated list of organizations and movements that were historically significant in Japan's photography history. There is also an annotated list of Japanese photo magazines and a brief chronology of Japan's photography history (which stops at 1995). It is an excellent first step to a more expanded version (hopefully there will be one). (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)