Photographs by Eikoh Hosoe.
Aperture, New York, 2009. 112 pp., 48 tritone illustrations, 9½x12¾".
Kamaitachi (Aperture, October 2009), a classic and groundbreaking body of work, was originally released in 1969 as a limited-edition photobook of one thousand copies. A unique collaboration between photographer Eikoh Hosoe and Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of ankoku butoh dance, the work documents their visit to a farming village in northern Japan and the improvisational performance that resulted, made with the participation of local villagers and inspired by the legend of kamaitachi, a weasel-like demon who haunts the rice fields and slashes those he encounters with a sickle.
In 2005, in close consultation with the artist, Aperture released a limited-edition facsimile in homage to the original. Aperture is now pleased to make this enchanting body of work available, for the first time ever, in an affordable trade edition. This new version was painstakingly reworked by renowned graphic artist Ikko Tanaka, designer of the original volume, shortly before his death.
Hosoe and Hijikata, who first met in 1959, share the same birthplace, the Tohoku countryside in Northern Japan, where most of the images were made. Hosoe photographed Hijikata’s spontaneous interactions with the landscape and the people they encountered. A magnificent and seductive combination of performance and photography, the two artists enact an intense investigation of tradition and an exploration, both personal and symbolic, of Japanese society during a time of massive upheaval and change. In an accompanying personal essay, published here for the first time, Hosoe rcounts how he became one of the Beat Generation artists, who were willing to try anything new, and his exploration of how traditional documentary photography and personal expression could be merged into what he describes as “subjective documentary.”
This excerpt from Hosoe’s essay perfectly reflects the spirit of the work: “As the series evolved, it became a kind of collaboration between me, Hijikata, and the villagers who participated in our shenanigans. Later on, I felt I probably owed an apology to those people, who must have been surprised when these two young men appeared out of nowhere and inserted themselves into their daily lives and rituals, snatching babies from cribs and shouting over their shoulders, ‘Sorry, we’re just borrowing your baby for a few seconds.’ In our performance, we became, for just a moment, two kamaitachi.”
Aperture is honored to reinterpret this paragon of Japanese bookmaking, which now includes four never-before-published images from the classic Kamaitachi series and a new text by preeminent Japanese scholar Donald Keene.
Read Sara Terry's review of Kamaitachi in photo-eye Magazine.