Bookmarks: Masao Yamamoto

artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book. 

The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.

The photographs of Masao Yamamoto harken to ethereal beings, memory, and that mysterious fine line between the physical world and that “other” world. The vignette images in his “Nakazora” series are inspired from a Japanese Zen philosophy of “emptiness.” The simple compositions and rich tones allow the viewer to relax into the space of the photographs in a way that begins to feel meditative after a few minutes of viewing. Though the images are contemporary, they have an “out-of-time” quality that feel like found vintage photos, again pulling at the viewer’s link to nostalgia and memory. 

   Nakazora , Masao Yamamoto, Nazraeli Press, Tuscon (2002)

Nakazora, Masao Yamamoto, Nazraeli Press, Tuscon (2002)

Often printed and exhibited in small scale, Yamamoto’s photographs draw the viewer in to an intimate world where a single image can stand alone, or communicate with those around it. For the book version of the “Nakazora” project Yamamoto, working with Nazraeli Press, chose to showcase his work as an 18-foot-long scroll, housed in a wood and acrylic box. The photographs are printed in different sizes and located at different heights along the “page,” again echoing the “found” quality of the images and creating the second composition of the image on paper, in conversation with the others around it. In the act of rolling out the scroll, the viewer has control over how many or how few images can be seen at once, influencing those compositions yet again.

I have had the privilege of spending a few afternoons with a copy of “Nakazora,” and can attest to this scroll form of Yamamoto’s project as perfectly elegant, if a bit ungainly in person. The thin Japanese paper stock begs careful handling while being quite strong, and the seams between sheets of paper are only noticeable if one is looking for them. Handling the object is easy as it first comes out of the box, and gets more unruly the more the viewer tries to take in at once (similar to life, no?). When completely unrolled, it’s almost as if one is viewing a miniaturized gallery in which the images have been hung salon-style; the viewer can approach and inspect one image, or stand back and observe the grouping—both are equally rewarding. 

Margaret Hall is a book artist and photographer living and working in Asheville, NC. Before moving to Asheville to train in book restoration (and live life in the mountains), she taught book arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, where she also received her BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History and Book Arts.