Overflow marked an important transition in Takuma Nakahira’s photography, away from the aure, bure, bokeh of the Provoke era, and concretely anchoring his ideas of the Illustrated Dictionary. In person, I’m sure the 5′ x 20′ arrangement of photographs is arresting and captivating. In book form, though, I’m not sure…
The book begins with a scholarly essay on Nakahira’s practice by Franz K. Prichard, “An Illustrated Dictionary of Urban Overflows: Takuma Nakahira’s Photographic Thought and Practice,” that situates Overflow in Nakahira’s oeuvre and takes it as exemplifying Nakahira’s theoretical pursuits.
From what I gather, Nakahira’s philosophy was part Merleau-Ponty (the gaze) and part Deleuze & Guattari (rhizomes). There’s a shifting and slippage between my human gaze, the object of my gaze (say, the water glass in front of me), my desire for a sip of water and the imagined sensory experience of grasping the glass and taking a sip, and the repulsion of my gaze by the cup, which is always already completely ungraspable in any sense. And this distance, the gap between my gaze and the world, as it gazes back at me, is where we find reality, and what we must hold onto tightly, despite its ever-shifting contours.
Following the essay, there’s an installation view of Overflow at the National Museum of Art, Tokyo, in 1995 and a translation of the essay into Japanese before we get into the pictures themselves. Now here’s where it falls apart, for me, or perhaps where the theory interferes with work.
For the book, in 2017 Mike Nogami photographed the exhibition prints with a digital camera, and color was matched to the exhibition view from 1995. Each of the 48 panels is presented in situ, with bits of the adjacent photographs on the edges. Some occupy the center of a page; some span the gutter; others are pinned to one corner or another. I think it’s meant to simulate walking by the exhibition (and, by extension, walking out in the world), trying to look at each picture in turn, and always being distracted by the bits of other photographs that crowd the edges.
As a work of theory, Overflow the book works just fine. And, maybe, as an illustration of Nakahira’s theory. But as a photobook, it somehow fails, largely because so many of the pictures span the gutter. If this was a lay-flat type book, well, ok, but it’s perfect bound, so the images warp and swerve into the ditch.
Overall, Overflow as a book just doesn’t quite work for me, though the exhibition object itself is likely great, and I’d love to experience it one day.
Overflow is available at shashasha and elsewhere, and with a limited edition tote (like the one I got) from L’Ascenseur Végétal. The essay alone is probably worth 1/3 of the price of admission, especially for those interested in mid- and late-twentieth century photo theory and Japanese Art. Others can probably give it a pass.
This copy will go into the bookshelf and maybe get sold off at some future date.