Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu is one of those photobooks that I read about many times, looked for many times, always blanched at the price, and expected I would never see. First edition copies from 1965 rarely come up for sale, the Nazreli 2005 version runs about $1000, well above even my most
wasteful outrageous photobook purchases, and even the 2014 Akio Nagasawa Reprint is quite out of range for me, most of the time anyway.* So when Mack announced its printing of the Maquette Edition, I preordered a signed copy immediately.
Now, I’ve never seen Kawada’s first published version of Chizu, 1965, nor the Stanley Barker one, nor the Akio Nagasawa, nor have I seen any other editions of it (if any exist), so I have no idea how the Maquette Edition compares, really, though I may pretend to…. Suffice to say that earlier published editions came in one volume, with (from what I understand) a series of gatefolds that mix more or less recognizable scenes (volume 2, white cover) with the abstract “stains” images (volume 1, black cover). The single volume with multiple gatefolds, concealing and revealing, likely reads very differently from the Maquette version, and more on that later.
Kawada made the pictures that later became Chizu over several years. In 1958, on a trip to Hiroshima with Ken Domon, Kawada wandered into a chamber and was struck by distinctive stains on the walls. I found his description of the moment, from the “Conversation with Kikuji Kawada” by Joshua Chiang and Miyuki Hinton, interesting and typical of my life experience, if not so much with photographing things, and it’s worth quoting in full:
I went back early in the evening and in might have been lightly raining when I reached the dome. Inside, it was damp, dark, there was a strange smell… my eyes took a moment to adjust before I noticed the stains. It was an unspeakably powerful moment. I felt like I had encountered this terrifying, unknown place. I had the illusion that I could almost hear faint voices merged with the wind and crawling sounds coming out of the walls. I believe that when one experiences an event as foreign and improbable as this, it is felt as a full sensory experience. New events like that are often connected with my senses of smell and hearing. When I encountered the stains, I felt electrified. It was unlike any previous images I had pictured in my mind…Chuang, Joshua and Miyuki Hinton. “Conversation with Kikuji Kawada,” in “Texts,” volume 3 of Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu. Mack, London, 2021. p. 12 (emphasis mine).
I’ve felt things like this my whole life, back into my childhood: I enter a place and I feel something in my gut; my hearing becomes hyper-attuned; hairs on my arms and legs tingle; everything comes into focus, as if my astigmatism is gone; my mouth goes dry. When this feeling overcomes me, it’s rare that I have a camera; when I do, it’s rare that I’m able to photograph: I often flee. And I never think to go back to try to capture what I felt. Similarly, Kawada didn’t make the images straight away. He went back home, back to work, and only later** returned with a 4×5 camera to make the negatives that would become the stain pictures, as well as 35mm cameras to make pictures around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and elsewhere.
Kawada first exhibited the work that would become Chizu in 1961, and images from the series appeared in exhibitions and publications between 1962 and 1964. Between 1962 and 1963, Kawada worked with Kōhei Sugiura (well-known photobook designer who worked with Hosoe and Robert Frank) to develop the Maquette, which is now in the collection of the New York Public Library. And it’s this early maquette that Mack reproduced (and this is the book I’m talking about). The first printed edition of Chizu, the famous one-volume, gatefold, unobtanium one, appeared in 1965, and quickly became one of the most famous and talked about photobooks in history. And speaking of history, that’s enough of it, methinks.
My first hours with Chizu Maquette were more of a “what the?,” ho-hum type of response; I didn’t get it at all. In some sense, there’s not much to see: the images in both volumes are mostly abstract, indistinct; at first I thought there wasn’t much to it. Plus, the sequencing is absolutely relentless: it just hammers you again and again, page after page. Looking again, I think that’s part of the point.
Looking at and actually thinking about it in advance of this review, the work reminds me somehow of the ways car crashes and things were depicted in mid-20th Century film and television. I can’t think of any real examples, just some dim recollections, and the only thing I can come up with is a fight scene from the Batman tv show. Maybe you get my point? I think this would be even more apparent in the original, gatefold versions of Chizu, and it’s probably what made the book such a success. Well, that, and the photography itself.
The photographs in Chizu are anything but straight. Kawada cropped in extreme ways, flipped negatives around, made montages, stacked negatives together, and did all sorts of things to process his images in the darkroom: like a 1960s version of “fix it in post.” In the context of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima, it makes total sense. I can’t imagine how that event turned the world upside down. How could I? I was born 33 years after, in the most “patriotic” part of the country that did the bombing. Sure, we did bomb drills (the 1980s version of “duck & cover”) in elementary school, and, sure, I did a fair amount of research on the ethics of war (and especially atomic and nuclear weaponry) in college, but I honestly never really thought much about what it might’ve been like for Japanese civilians.
Kawada was a tweenager when the bombs dropped. I was about the same age when my parents divorced, give or take, and not that there is any similarity between nuclear holocaust and a fairly run-of-the-mill divorce, but I suspect we both carry some baggage, or carried some baggage from such monumental events well into adulthood. And I suspect he channeled some of that into Chizu.
In the original, one volume edition, order gives way to chaos, or, rather, chaos lies behind and underneath the regular, ordered world. Once the break happens, you fear it behind every turn. In some sense, the Maquette Edition ruins this effect. Or, if not ruin, then certainly change. Instead of the chaos hiding behind, underneath everything else, it sits beside, alongside, and in such a way that we can compartmentalize it in an entirely separate volume. Maybe that’s why it took 50 years for the Maquette to see a wider audience?
Of course not. The reason we have the Maquette today comes down to two things: technology and affluence: the technology to print the thing in acceptable volumes for an acceptable cost, and at acceptable quality to give proper respect to the work and be able to sell it and make some amount of profit. I hate to be jaded but is there any other way anything corporate gets made in 2022?
And I digress. Chizu (the Maquette Edition) is a great thing, and I’m privileged to have a signed copy. It may not be a book I look at every day, but I’ve come around to it, and think it’s an important document. The extra volume of texts, in both English and Japanese, with essays (from Joshua Chuang and Miyuki Hinton), an interview with Kawada (by Chuang and Hinton), and a timeline of events that relate to Chizu and it’s making, is engaging and clarifying, and the accordion fold comparing the Maquette to the first edition makes me want a copy of it (or one of the reprints). I’m thankful to be in enough debt after finally becoming adult enough to buy a dining table and chairs to avoid just buying a $700 or $900 photobook for no reason…
I’d give Chizu a fairly high rating, probably in the high 3s or low 4s, but even the Maquette is going for too much money these days. It’s 2022 at time of writing, and things remain a bit topsy turvy, economically speaking, for me to recommend anything as frivolous as a photobook. Suffice to say that if you can afford one and have the interest, you should hunt down a copy. (They’re becoming a bit scarce, I think.) Otherwise, my video of it is above, and there are others, and maybe we’ll see another reprint one day, or an Errata Editions version or something.
One can hope.
*At time of writing, mid-December 2022, the most I’ve ever paid for a photobook was $600, smh, for a copy of Garry Winnogrand’s 1964.
**Kawada’s comments in the interview suggest it was a few months at most; the timeline included in the “Texts” volume puts trips to photograph everything in 1961 and 1963.
Edit: an earlier version of this essay made some erroneous claims that are not worth repeating.