So began the duo’s journey into the surreal world of the master photographer who throughout his decades-long photography career concentrated his lens in and around a stretch of coastline in Tottori Prefecture, Japan, where he lived for much of his life. The book features 90 black and white and colour images from Ueda’s archive, many of which have never been published before.
The aim is to show the range of Ueda’s vast body of work, which takes in the idyllic coastal landscapes of his home in all seasons, and the comings and goings of the folk he encountered there. We see stark snow-covered beaches, but also figures drenched in summer sun. While the majority of his subject matter was daily life, Ueda captured the stranger aspects of life.
His images, otherworldly and beguiling, often suggest a sense of the uncanny. But aside from the suggestion of supernatural happenings what we learn about this area of Japan from the 1930s to 1980s is that it is a place where nothing is quite as it seems; we witness the fragility of man against the vast might of nature – tiny figures against bleak skies and bleaker seas – yet in this fragility there is strength and light.
Readers interested in learning about Japanese society at this time may be disappointed – this is not a historical documentary-orientated photographic account; the collection is focused more towards the poetry of landscape and nature. But all credit to a photographer who unflinchingly forged his own path, one who, when most of his contemporaries were grappling with Japan’s identity in a post-war world, created a body of work that eschewed all of this and sought out and found the lyrical in the everyday.
SHOJI UEDA with a short story by Toshiyuki Horie; Chose Commune; £60 (hardback)
This review was published in the January 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.