Dark cities, by Shyue Woon

The subtitle of the book could have been, « A tale of a forgotten future » as Shyue Woon takes us to a long journey exploring some emblematic areas in three huge cities : Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul.

Each of these cities is the object of an autonomous work, the three being collected in a superb box that gives its name to the trilogy. Shyue Woon is a trained architect and an architectural approach is evident in the way he looks at the places he passes through. He takes us with him in his wanderings, as if to make us visit the recesses of his unconscious. Of the three megacities chosen, he shows us almost nothing, or very little. In each city, he chose to isolate himself, at night in places that were, at other times, symbols of a prosperous future, utopias of the twentieth century.

The first book is entitled « Carpark » and Shyue Woon takes us for a night walk in a multi-storey carpark. I have always had a particular affection for the nooks and « non-places », well… all those places in front of which one passes without ever stopping or even taking a look at it. A succession of details slowly builds an abstract vision of this world of the night. Our imagination creates a parallel universe in which memories reappears. A silhouette draws itself in distance, or is it a ghost? We meet people whom we can’t reach, separated from a window or a blur that prevents us to get in touch.

Shyue Woon evokes the idea of a purgatory in which one evolves, trying to solve a crime story, reference to the black films or an insoluble enigma coming straigh from mythology, which proves impossible to solve. We meet our demons but we also get rid of our fears in a cathartic ordeal.

The second book entitled « Capsule » takes us, as its title indicates in the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza – Tokyo, futuristic project of the early 1970s which today, is on the brink of abandonment since the maintenance there is no more assured. Shyue Woon guides us through this labyrinth of doors and corridors. The light is more present, as if, out of purgatory we found our way to the surface, to the inhabited world. We get lost in this maze of colors to always end up in front of a wall, but with the hope of a light that will deliver the outcome.

Here again the author stops on small things, trivial details that say long about the state of the premises. We find ourselves locked in the past, as in the brain of a brilliant architect who would find himself trapped in his project too futuristic, and here the term capsule takes all its meaning, recalling the films of anticipation in which the deplacements were supposed to be done in some so-called capsules.

« Euljiro », third opus of this trilogy leads us finally in a district of Seoul. It is always dark and our wanderings continue in this dehumanized world. Lights seem to illuminate a vanished world, or at least of which the inhabitants would have leaved places in a sort of hurry. Cables guide us through the streets, like a ball from which we pull the wire to guide us to the exit, ponctuating our way of many traces of life, proof that we are on the right path. The light returns slowly, passing from the structuring spheres of the city to its surface state. If the first book was purgatory, we wonder now in what universe we will emerge.

The three books highlight Shyue Woon’s vision of the city, which is reminiscent of Marc Augé’s definition of « non-place » (one of the texts accompanying « Carpark » refers to it) and the architect he is can only wonder about the spatial organization of the city and the spaces that compose it. How do we go from one place to another, spatially first, but also temporally and here is appearing in the background of the three books, the influence of time on the « project ». Would the futurism of an era become now only old fashionned and, finally, what is this articulation of the present that tilts one towards the other? It is thus as an architect that Shyu Woon uses the night to deconstruct what was built, in order to understand the inner structure of buildings and cities, and to reorganize the spaces around a fiction stemming from our imagination, a little bit as Alice’s world by Lewis Caroll.

Three hardcover books 14,5 x 21 cm, open spine with silkscreen cover, in a box set.

More info : http://shyuewoon.com/


Tobiko, by Gabriele Harhoff

What a strange name that little word « Tobiko ». My first reaction was to googlize it : it means « flying fish roe », as mentioned in the back of the book. A food popular in Japan, especially for the production of sushi. But what is most amusing are the photos found associated with this word: small piles of eggs with incredible colors. Originally, the eggs are orange, but we find some green, flavored with wasabi, black, with squid ink, or orange-red tainted with soy. Well, it is a festival of color. And thus, knowing Gabriele, we understand the reason for the title of this book. Her first book was titled Pelikan, from the boxes of the famous brand of water painting for children. Let’s bet this one will also deal with color matters…


Gabriele is what can be called a colorist. The colorful pattern prevails over all other considerations. After a previous work in Thailand and Malaysia, she now, turns her camera to Japan where she realized the photographs for this book, mainly in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But what I especially appreciate in Gabriele’s work, is the delicacy and subtlety of her use of color. Her work remains delicate, as these little fish eggs. What stands out is both vibrant saturated colors and tranquility of desaturated monochrome, enhanced with a touch of light or shades of gray …


To guide us, Gabriele has added to her book a little map of the Tokyo subway. Entirely in Japanese, it is impossible for a foreigner to understand anything whatsoever! But it rather works as a color-code to help our moves. It uses the same colors that are in the photos and one wonders if it is possible to find a scheme, if this work would not be, finally a stroll through the streets of Tokyo, with for sole guide, not the language, but the color.


Gabriele manages remarkably well to give us back the atmosphere of the city. We see no monuments, no spectacular sights, but the everyday world of Tokyo inhabitants. Little things we see every day which gradually disappear from our eyes. Far from any anecdote, we walk the city aimlessly. Our attention is drawn to an object on a piece of wall. The city is petrified, it seems deserted and the only characters that are crosses stood still like statues, frozen in a pose that seems eternal. It is not known if they live in the city or have been left behind in a polite waiting in front of a pedestrian crossing, transforming themselves in a sort of urban furniture.


It should finally be noted that this book is beautifully handcrafted. The folds and binding are of a Japanese elegance. 56 copies only, then there will not be for everyone!

« Tobiko » is published in an edition of 56, signed and numbered. 31 x 23 cm, French fold, hand bound with Japanese stab binding, digitally printed on 150 g Profimatt.

More info : http://www.gabrieleharhoff.de/tobiko-book-2/

Read Gabriela’s review : https://gabrielacendoya.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/6-de-febrero-2016-tobiko-gabriele-harhoff/


Zona, by Nuno Moreira

Zona is not the easiest book to understand it was given me to see recently. In a very neat formal aesthetics, the book is divided into “chapters” that are punctuated by texts written by José Luis Peixoto. The two overlap remarkably, black and white photos on the white pages and silver text on black pages. The words come chanting issues that emerge in photographs.


As I said above, the book is not an easy access and if we are not careful, we can easily slip on the aesthetics and ease through the book without even realizing the story that weaves itself. But if only one wants to take the time to enter it, this book becomes fascinating. We discover the imaginary of the unconscious, the relation of the self (the ego of the viewer) to himself and the relation of the self (ego again of the viewer) to another. Nuno Moreira plays with the ambiguity of images and text. Do we stand in the picture, or are we the person questioned in search of the other, or more precisely, in search of another presence.

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The images have the precision of a dream, the details of a clinical precision that refer to surrealist experiments (tongue and scissors that can not fail to remind the eye of An Andalusian Dog by Buñuel). This book explores the unconscious and guides us without knowing what the outcome will be. Some images, stronger than others (but this is an individual choice), will remain printed in our mind. We do not really understand the narration, but snatches of memory keep coming to that memory makes emerge this impalpable unconscious. We discover ourselves, here to tell our dream, unable to decipher all the signs. Emerges finally what is hard to say but which, brick by brick, built our personality in the individual awareness, but also, and this is very present in this book, in its relation to the other. Nuno Moreira dare sketch here the assertion that we only exist by this relation to the other and thus the loss of this relation is our own loss, the loss of this individuality.

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There are also symbolic emotional loads in these images : a key, a milky liquid, hands that touch, that soothe; all of them are deeply charged with psychoanalytic symbolism. The face of a woman, struggling to be revealed. Who is she, hidden back, blur, behind a mask or in the shadow of a door. She reveals herself at the end, only to better escape, leaving behind the withered branch that makes us doubt having seen her for real.

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When finally we close the book and we go out of this dream, we are exhausted and excited at once. Flooded with sweat, we debate among afterimages, seeking a way out and a sense of it all. Finally, this book raises more questions than it answers. It has the charm and intimacy that make it a precious object to which one returns constantly in search of a perceived image, to which one reads backwards, like going back in time.

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The photos were shot during a live performance organized in sequences directed by the photographer and, if the kinematic side remains present, the layout abstracts itself from reality and takes us by the hand to say: tell us your dream !

Hardcover book with a grey linen cover with title embossed in black. 15 x 21,5 cm, 108 pages with 30 black and white photographs. Limited edition of 300 copies.

More info : http://nmphotos.org/