The Country of the Rising Sun is the first book of photography from Shinji Otani (b. 1972), and winner of the Unpublished Dummy Award of 2012 from the Unseen photo festival of Amsterdam. "The title refers to the idea that one needs light to make a photograph and it's also a reference to my home country of Japan, where people are really proud to be in 'the country of the rising sun'," Otani said in an interview for Foam magazine #34, which focused on photo book dummies. "But in reality the sun rises in every country – even in Sweden in the wintertime."
Presenting 66 black and white images taken over three trips to Sweden, mostly during winter, the book takes an interesting format which rather dominates the experience of viewing the photos. The book is made from 8 photographs printed to A1 size paper – the images being photographs of Otani's photographs printed and pinned to the wall. Those large sheets of paper are then folded in quarters and bound together to make the book - a relatively common form of bookmaking – yet Otani has intentionally positioned the images in a way that they do not align in an expected manner: some images are cut off, upside-down or side-ways, preventing a linear narrative and forcing the viewer to turn the book every which way while examining it. This experience may tickle those with a penchant for the art of bookmaking, and frustrate those who do not.
The images themselves offer an unromantic vision of places distinguished by their lack of distinction – suburban and mid-urban street scenes and interiors that appear markedly uncharacteristic. Occasional shop signs or street signs offer peripheral information, but almost pointlessly so. Otani's images of concrete buildings and sidewalks, cars parked along streets or in lots, offer a near perfect vision of the anywhere-ville of modern city construction. The apathy of location matches then the anti-chronology of the book – start wherever, finish wherever, hold it however – to form an object that is imprisoning in its refusal to let viewers orient themselves in a place, either within the book or in a location. The greyness of the images – and they are indeed more grey than black and white – adds a further disconnect from place as well as emotion. The innocuous scenes of trees, walkways and windows lend a certain lethargy that is simultaneously disquieted by the feeling that you cannot make yourself at home here.
This sense of discomfort, and the accompanying feeling to not really want to be in any of the places pictured or the labyrinth that Otani has created with them, will not necessarily make for a pleasant viewing – but it's an experience.
The Country of the Rising Sun is available for sale from Lecturis.