Sakiko Nomura: Ango is a sort of three-way collaboration between author Ango Sakaguchi, photographer Sakiko Nomura, and designer Satoshi Machiguchi, and it follows Daido: Ango, which readers of this blog may remember.
Ango’s story, ‘Senso to Hitori no Onna’ (“The War and a Woman”) was heavily censored by the American and Allied Powers upon its release in October 1946. The story follows a man named Nomura and an unnamed woman as they navigate the war together, sort of. Reading the story in 2020, it’s sexist and disturbing, and I wonder what the censors were thinking when they left in a scene of violent rape, but cut out some sections containing scenes of consensual sex.
The logic of occupiers, especially paternalistic and puritanical ones, mystifies.
Sakiko’s photographs depict a woman, most often nude, as well as various snapshot/landscape/whatever shots, all in moody black & white. I wonder if the woman is Sakiko herself, if the portraits are self-portraits. It would make some sense if they are, but it would also make sense if the sitter was a model, and it doesn’t make much difference either way.
Sakiko is mostly known for her portraits of nude male models, mirroring Araki’s work, under Sakiko studied under in the early 1990s. The work in Ango reminds me a bit of Araki, but Sakiko’s work is her own, and the variety of scenes and content work well in the context of the story. Working in concert with Sakaguchi’s layout and design, the photographs provide some pacing, inserting breaks of anywhere from half a page to 8 or 10 full spreads, and allowing time for the bombs to fall, for the man and woman to make love or ride their bicycles or clean up after a bombing.
And speaking of Sakaguchi’s design, I was initially put off by the “twist cover” binding, but after sitting with the book for some time (a couple of years) and spending several hours with it, I don’t mind it so much any more. I’m not sure it adds anything to the reading or viewing experience, beyond being a heavy-handed commentary on the protagonist’s attitude and the story in general, but it also doesn’t detract much.
Recently, my mom became aware of my unboxing videos and she asked me a bunch of questions about photobooks. She was under the impression that photobooks were primarily of an exhibition catalog or best-of type, and I was at pains to properly expound on the various types of photobooks out there. I had Sakiko Nomura: Ango with me at the time, and probably should’ve shown it to her, but I didn’t want to muddy the waters with the text.
The photographs sort of echo or reflect the story, but without really illustrating it. And if I could cleanly separate the photographs from the story, I think they would still work, would still provide a narrative flow, albeit one that is quite different, more subjective, than a written story.
As with Daido: Ango, Sakiko Nomura: Ango is as much an object as it is a photobook, as much a product of the book designer as the photographer, and it all works together pretty well.
Overall, I give Sakiko Nomura: Ango a solid 4.3 stars.
It appears that the English version remains available at Shashasha. I haven’t checked on the French or Japanese versions. You can find a brief selection of photographs from the set on Sakiko’s website, and for another, perhaps better, review, Fisheye has a nice one, and it’s pretty much the only other review I’ve found. I’m not sure why these collaborations aren’t very popular in the photobook reviewing world, but they’re not, and I’m glad to have them in my collection.