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Japanscapes: Three Cameras, Three Journeys    by Ben Simmons, Johnny Hymas & Gorazd Vilhar order for
by Ben Simmons
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2003 (2002)

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* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This stunning collection of photographs features three eminent photographers: Ben Simmons, Johnny Humas, and Gorad Vilhar. Although the three come from different countries - the United States, Britain, and Slovenia respectively - they have in common a talent for photography and a passion for Japan. Their photographs are accompanied by text written by an architect, Azby Brown, and writers Charlotte Anderson (wife of photographer Vilhar) and Lucille M. Craft.

The organization of the photographs, into City, Country, and Culture, is an effective one. (Brown's introduction is worth the read, as he explains the reason for this division.) Simmons begins by smashing the stereotype of gracious, traditional Japan. His kaleidoscope of images presents the frenetic, high-tech, urban reality of a country that has learned to compete successfully in the modern economic rat race.

Lucille Craft's accompanying breezy commentary gives us an idea of what modern Japanese society is like. I did find one of her comments (about Japan's isolation from the problems afflicting other parts of the planet) jarring in its insensitivity, since Japan is by no means immune (witness the recent poison-gas attack by terrorists). I also found the interruption of the text by several pages of photographs annoying. In the following sections, this was handled more smoothly, with the text preceding the photos.

The second section, Country, gives us a sense of the peace and beauty of Japan, easing us smoothly into Culture. These re-establish the importance of tradition, even in the twenty-first century, and are a welcome reminder that the beauty of the past has not been forgotten. The photographs in these two sections are captivating, and Anderson's accompanying text is both informative and interesting.

In short, the photographers and authors give us a tantalizing glimpse of Japan, which many will find a 'teaser' enticing us into a deeper look at an exotic society and culture. The fact that this work is by well-informed outsiders rather than by Japanese makes it more accessible to westerners, for the commentators seem to have a good sense of what might be unclear to those unfamiliar with the country. And Japanscapes is certainly a gorgeous introduction.

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