A photo book. A book of poetry. Yoko Tawada: Ein Gedicht in einem Buch.
As the title “Ein Gedicht in einem Buch” (one poem in one book) says, the book is carrying one poem. At the same time it shows two narrative streams by two media. One is the poem, talking about words and thoughts, spread over 22 folded sheets of paper by typography. The other is a series of photographs capturing people in Japan reading in public or in an inner dialogue with themselves, printed in black and white on a translucent and crispy paper. The two layers are interwoven by the layout. There is no defined or restricted space for typography, nor for photography. This distinguishes the characteristic of this artist book, that is created by three artists: a poet, a photographer and a graphic designer.
The words change their position on each page. The line of the previous page shines through the paper and additionally it is mirrored and repeated by print. Small photos, collaged into the page-filling photos, repeat in a similar way as the text.
The three components visually create a harmony, but when it comes to reading, the one starts to hinder the other. To read the poem smoothly and avoiding to get lost in the images, the book requires the reader to stay focused. The position of the text needs to be detected quickly while rushing to the next page. Ironically Yoko Tawada, the author of this poem, who lives in Germany since 1982, wrote about the difficulty to read a text in German set by Latin letters. In her essay “Schrift einer Schildkröte oder das Problem der Übersetzung” from 2001, she compares her reading experience of German and Japanese. According to her elaboration, to grasp the meaning of a text typeset in Latin letters, it requires her to read fast, in a speed where the letters starts to disappear. The script needs to be turned by the brain into phonetic words quickly, if not, the meaning of the text will be hidden behind the wall of letters. (Tawada 2001, 25.) Regarding Tawadas reflection on Latin letters, the book seems to ask the reader for special attention.
Gerard Unger said: “(…) it is almost impossible to read and look at the same time: they are different actions.” (Unger 2007, 38.)
To read the photo book “Ein Gedicht in einem Buch”, the actions of reading and looking have to be separated in the first instance. Only after a repeated flipping through the pages, the two layers can be reunited by the interpretation of the reader. A passive reading approach leaves the reader out of the story. The photography covers the major area in this book and still I don’t tend to categorise it as a photo book. I rather see it as a book devoted to one poem, in which the photography becomes part of the scenery, if not a visual noise.
The book is a cooperation between the writer Yoko Tawada, Stephan Köhler who took the photos and Clemens Tobias Lange who designed and published the book. Lange published two editions of the book. For 45 copies, hand made paper was covered by silver-gelatineto with the images directly exposed on it. The text was add by letterpress. Those copies were signed and numbered by the creators. Lange published 1000 copies that he calls the “small experimental edition”, in which he printed text and images by Xerography on transparent paper. The book that is described and shown in this review is part of the edition of 1000. Its soft cover is made by a black paper with a white print on it, while the content is printed in black on transparent paper.
I bought this book when I was a student. It was my first visit to the international Frankfurt Book Fair and I found it at the booth of the CTL Press, where the designer and publisher Clemens Tobias Lange himself presented his precious books. Since then, this small and light booklet became one of my treasures.
152 x 212 mm (w x h)
Yoko Tawada: Ein Gedicht in einem Buch.
Photography by Stephan Köhler
Layout by Clemens Tobias Lange
CTL Press, Hamburg, 1996
Edition of 1.000
Tawada, Yoko: Schrift einer Schildkröte oder das Problem der Übersetzung. In: Tawada Yoko: Verwandlungen. Konkursbuchverlag, Tübingen 2001.
Unger, Gerard, While You’re Reading. New York: Mark Batty Publisher, 2007.