Jun Abe’s Citizens

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Published by Osaka based Vacuum Press, Jun Abe‘s book Citizens is a fantastic collection of photographs taken in Japan from 1979 to 1983.

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I have not been able to put it down since picking my copy up at Gallery Kaido last weekend. The pictures seem to have been created by a photographic precision which is sorely lacking in most street photography. They don’t tell any stories and anyone looking for an accessible narrative will be left on their own. Facts are clearly described, but not what exactly is happening. (Thanks Garry)

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The fine line that Citizens exists on is one that runs straight and true. The sequence references water, isolation, and intense photographic form, but tends to reserve judgement about a particular culture or even society at large. They aren’t talking about too much more than Photography.

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For the past year I’ve become somewhat turned off with Street Photography. It got too easy to just fire off pictures at strangers crossing the street- betting that the dynamism of a crowd of people would be enough to make a good picture with. Sometimes it is, but more often than not the pictures have been only as challenging as I let the situation be. It’s too easy to slack off with street photos- which is why I don’t particularly consider myself a “Street Photographer”. For some the mere fact that they pointed a camera at someone they don’t know in and of itself qualifies the picture with “meaning” and “insight into the human condition”. Too often weak street photography is the result of a photographer trying to present a story, or a concept of something, as opposed to a photograph of a thing that was there. The pictures in Citizens invite contemplation, but defy expectations.

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Abe’s photographs are dense- they stop you with their marvelous framing and baffling juxtapositions. It’s not just that these things were actually there before Abe, but that they exist in any photograph at all. But photographs are all that they do exist as, since there is no way that reality could look this interesting without four edges. The boundaries of each frame encapsulate a very intelligent and sometimes bemused way of seeing.

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Despite the fact that the pictures are over 25 years old, Abe’s book proves that tough pictures made on the street are possible. Photography without the usual Arty gimmicks, pictures that are competently created with a well honed understanding of how amazing the world can look in photographs is something worth working towards. The recent publication of Citizens has surely raised the bar for anyone else with a camera on the street.

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Citizens is available from Japan Exposures.

10 thoughts on “Jun Abe’s Citizens

  1. It’s not an easy book to find in a basic Kinokuniya- I didn’t even see it at Rathole but if you check out Sokyusha they’ll probably have a copy or two. Well worth the suggested retail price…

  2. John, I totally agree with your thoughts on “street photography”. As Garry the great (as I call him) said “street photography….I feel stupid just saying it”. Granted, I shoot a lot walking around my city and am probably guilty of having uninteresting pictures but I feel that the digital age has made it more about shooting a million pictures than just one good one (look at flickr and see how many people have 5,000+ images in their stream). Anyway, thanks for giving me an interesting review to read for once.

  3. Yes, this book is worth looking for and buying. (I’ve bought two or maybe three copies so far.) Abe is far, far better than a lot of photographers who are hugely better known and fawned over. The comments above are right on, the samples above are representative; now all you peoples, hurry up and buy your own copies and let the book go out of print and thereby start to restore my faith in the intelligence of the photo-book-buying masses.

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  5. jun abe’s works are sublime.

    sense of depth and tactile sense of lighting

    juxtapositions like visual poetry

    i love the image of the kid holding the net, wished he didn’t dodge the center image so much and just let the image flow

    the mannequin image is a work of genius !

    WOW !

    thanks for sharing this wonderful photographer !

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