“I believe in the power of clothes just as much as I believe in the power of photography,” so goes the opening of a short essay by the revered Japanese fashion photographer Takay in the new book of photography devoted to the work of Yohji Yamamoto. So do I, and I was excited to flip through it because there hasn’t been much new in terms of creative photography to document the late output of the Japanese grandmaster of fashion. I wish I could report that I finished the book with the same level of excitement.
Its awkward title notwithstanding, if you want to enjoy the book, you’ll have to first get past the expectation that this is a tome of fashion photography or a document of Yamamoto’s work, because it is neither. It is a book of splendid, atmospheric photography in that dark, crisp, highly contrasted, black and white style that quite a few Japanese photographers are famous for. The 130 photographs, mostly taken in Tokyo, in themselves are, well, beautiful. The subjects are a mix of professional models and cultural figures like Char, the great Japanese guitarist, and the legendary photographer Daido Moriyama, to whom Takay undoubtedly owns a debt. The model photos are interspersed with those of the city.
My main problem with these images is that in most of them you’ll hardly see the clothes. And I am not against a measure of abstraction by any means, but when too much is left to imagination while photographing fashion, the point of the entire thing is lost. That is not to say that I am arguing for some lookbook type photography in a monograph, but surely there must be a balance where the photographer’s style shines through without compromising the clothes (i.e. Paolo Roversi). Making a book ostensibly about the work of a master like Yamamoto, without giving sufficient role to the said work seems like a missed opportunity.
The 208-page book advertises a text by Terry Jones, the now-retired founder of i-D. But instead of some thoughts one would hope to read from the publishing legend, we get a perfunctory interview with Takay. And here is another pet peeve – why do so many fashion books insist on texts by these fashion figureheads who disrespect the project by blatantly phoning it in? Do we really need to witness their jadedness in print?
The above complaints do not render the new book worthless. You won’t see a StyleZeitgeist review complaining too much about black clothes eerily photographed, and some of Takay’s photography is indeed gorgeous, mesmerizing even. It just the book itself could’ve been so much more.
Fluence: The Continuance of Yohji Yamamoto – Damiani, $90, out now.