This Week In Photography Books – Risaku Suzuki

by Jonathan Blaustein

Karl Marx got it wrong. He prophesied the demise of Religion and Nationalism. Bad call. I know it’s ballsy of me to quibble with a dead great mind, but it was never going to be thus.

As long as humans have been upright, they’ve looked to the night sky. Before pollution, every part of the planet would have provided proper vantage to see the billions of stars above. Speaking as one who retains the privilege, you don’t need to know what those things are up there. You just feel, in your genetic code, that you are a small, insignificant nothing in the face of it all.

From there, it’s not a long leap to name that feeling of awe and worthlessness. And then to worship that name, and then again to ask for favors. (And to pray.) That progression happened everywhere on Earth, and many names developed as such. My wife was just telling me the other day that we Jews have multiple names to suit the many faces of our lone deity.

We, the people of the book, who have such a prominence in the state of the safety of the World, are but .2% of its population, I recently read. (Seriously, Bibi, you can’t keep building on what will obviously be Palestine.) Christianity leads the way with 31%, and then Islam is second with 23%.

Both religions seek converts. And we wonder why countries with those tendencies are oft at each other’s throats. (ie, the Bush Wars.) Nationalism is nothing more than our need for the tribe, of which I’ve already written, and that’s never going away. Put the two together and the reptilian brain takes over, leading to conflict.

Elsewhere in the world, there are Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and many other types of worshippers. In Japan, Shintoism remains popular. To those believers, there are entrances to the sacred world called “Torii.” Which is also, conveniently, the name of a new book, out last year, by Risaku Suzuki. (Superlabo)

(You knew there had to be a connection there, right?) The mid-sized hardcover consists of a set polaroid photographs, taken in Japan, in 1993. Almost all contain the presence of the large scale shrine-temple-type structure. It looks like the entrance to something that ought to be just behind it, or above it, but that got vaporized into a parallel dimension. (Or razed to make another mini-mart.)

The pictures look vintage, and some are washed out or have disintegrated edges. The colors might have shifted a touch here or there, but it serves the look and the meaning. Seeing these Torii in parking lots and dwarfed by city architecture hammers home the point that some ideas are eternal, and times always change.

The repetition of the beautiful, shape, over and over again is mesmerizing. Such a beautiful shape, this portal. Peaceful. I loved the one framed against the open car door. Not a big leap from this to the oft-mentioned Murakami vibe. (Pass through and you too can talk to the Sheep Man.)

I hate to state the obvious, but the book and pictures within are Zen. They close that loop on religion, in the way they inspire some immediate mental calm. And that is high praise from a man who’s staring at a snow covered mountain peak as he’s typing these words. (No easy feat.)

Bottom Line: Super-Zen Shinto shrines from 1993

To Purchase Torii visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 13 Comments On This Article.

  1. Pretty book, nice color palate, but I will not be reserving a space for it on my kamidana. Scenic photos are okay, and decorative, but they don’t move me. Were I a tree, a tree I’d like to see, but as a person I want to see people. And I know many will strongly disagree, but I just don’t think scenic photos take much skill, with the exception of Ansel Adams, despite the fact that half domes bore me unless they come with shoulders.

    Photographers are expected to do themes. I get this, but it’s like Old McDonald’s Farm – here a Torii, there a Torii, everywhere a Torii. Wait they’re different because this Torii photo has a distressed edge, and these others are desaturated — makes my tongue hit my inner cheek repetitively. Why does a photographer mess with a photo’s edges, or use Instagram filters and other gimmickry? Answer, because they’re trying to salvage a photo that isn’t tripping their shutter finger. And they shot it! You don’t like a shot, put it on the bus Gus.

    I award this gaggle of Torii 2 green bathrobes. Hey, I’m just a wacky gaiijin, what do I know from Torii? These reviews occasionally remind me of John Candy consuming the Old 96-er steak. However, I must admit the Torii shopping cart corral is très feng shui. Cheers :)

  2. You are right Jonathan to not quibble with a great mind. Karl Marx was right about religion. Since his remarks on region were made in the 1800’s, the percentage of people who attend church or believe in God has diminished dramatically. People have abandoned the Catholic Church in droves over the last 50 years. In the long view of history Marx will no doubt be right.

  3. Interesting website, i read Photography Books – Risaku Suzukii, but i still have a few questions. shoot me an email and we will talk more becasue i may have an interesting idea for you.

  4. Really beautiful work! The ‘look’ is quite a nicely matches the subject matter. My favorite shot is the cable car above the village. Very nice!

  5. James Anderson

    I am afraid as time goes inexorably forward Karl Marx is proved more and more wrong.
    Today there are more Christians than ever before in the history of Mankind, not to mention new converts to all the other religions too! (While established “churches” in the West have declined the same is not true for the rest of the World!)
    Unfortunately nationalism is alive and kicking as well and continues to spark war after war! More people have died in conflict since the end of the Second World War than in both World Wars combined!
    Just goes to show that having a great mind doesn’t keep you from being wrong…
    Thanks for the lovely article, looks like an interesting book, I’ll try and find it at a local bookstore some time.

  6. I don’t know why, but the polaroid to me strongly conveys nostalgic feelings. Must be those colours shifts and warm tones. This book really does have a zen feeling about it, beyond the repetition of the image of the portal.

  7. Oh dear. Zen. It is about Japan. Japan=Zen to foreigners.

    Zen is Buddhism. Shinto has nothing at all to do with Zen Buddhism. Completely different religions. Much, much more different than any difference among the 3 major religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism.

    I digress, as this is a lost cause. I have seen the book, and it is not bad, but it isn’t everyone’s taste.

  8. To add to above:

    It isn’t to everyone’s tast because of the colors and the subject itself is not especially interesting to ost, I’d guess.