The Map.  Photographs by Kikuji Kawada.

The Map.

Photographs by Kikuji Kawada.
Nazraeli Press, Tucson, 2005. 49 pp., 23 four-panel b&w gatefolds., 9x6".

Over the past decade we have been witnessing the birth of a new academic discipline—the study of the history of the photographic book. Originally published on August 6, 1965—the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima—The Map ("Chizu") by Kikuji Kawada is one of those milestones in photobook publishing that lands on everyone’s list of the most important photobooks ever. It has appeared in Roth’s Book of 101 Books, where Vince Aletti applies his keen insights and elegant writing style to critique of the work, as well as in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s The Photobook: A History, Volume 1. The selection committee commissioned by the Hasselblad Center to curate an exhibition on the history of the photographic book, entitled The open Book (the catalogue to which is reviewed on p. 29), also readily placed the book among the select few worthy of inclusion. What makes The Map so important is the masterfully distilled experience this book object presents. Post WWII Japanese artists necessarily had to confront the specter of war on both a personal and societal level. The issues were dizzyingly complex—they had been defeated, humiliated, occupied, and bore the ignominious brand of being the only people upon which the Atomic bomb had been used. Kawada attempted to tackle that dark legacy head on. The photographs in this book (printed so heavily that the book reeks of ink the minute you open it) are primarily of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall, originally constructed in 1915 as a base for promoting the sale of goods produced in Hiroshima Prefecture. The building was at ground zero of the atomic bomb blast, which ravaged the building instantly, killing everyone within. The dome and many of the walls were left standing, it is believed, because the blast reached the building from directly above. The entire ground zero acreage has been turned into a war memorial, with this building at the center. Kawada photographed details of the dome and the charred, burned walls, rendering the abstract textures and forms nearly incomprehensible save for their reminiscence of burned flesh. Every other page is a double fold out, which slows the viewing process down to a methodical ritual. The reissue is altered only slightly from the original. DARIUS HIMES

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