JTF (only facts): Published 2021 by M Library (here). Softcover, red stitch binding, 290 x 200 mm, 68 pages, with 18 color copies. Includes an article by the artist in English/Japanese, as well as a short biography and list of photos. In edition of 500 copies. (Cover and post the shots below.)
Comments/Context: Cover of The Last Picture Book by Ken Kitano Others from the future It features what at first glance looks like a soft pink wash of watercolor, with a darker area of red beneath a group of superimposed text. But a longer look reveals that this ephemeral figure is in fact the little leg and foot of the child, seemingly floating in the white surrounding it, as if it were falling through the air or falling from the sky. Flip the cover back and the mystery continues, with an almost indeterminate silhouette in monochromatic red, which seems to have the faint echo of a head and an ear near the top, perhaps of a child again. And then it was discovered that the red thread connecting the book was so long, falling almost a foot below, in an afterthought, perhaps like an umbilical cord. It’s a strange and elusive beginning for a picture book that deliberately intervenes in an unknown void.
Drama for Others from the future (As the artist explained in a short article) Provides some useful context. Kitano had the opportunity to meet an obstetrician, who had seen his work in a museum and wondered if he would be interested in producing a body of work with children as his subject; The show I saw featured Kitano’s extensive composite photos (a handful of them were shown in New York in 2015, reviewed here.) He later visited her clinic, and started a project to photograph newborns and babies.
photos in Others from the future Color photographs, each spread or half spread in the book is filled with a 1:1 scale cropped image (ie the child is life-size) with a smaller 1/10 scale full frame overlay. These are photos based on a darkroom that doesn’t have a camera, and they were made in complete darkness, so the child’s situation and placement is somewhat at the mercy of chance. And while colors can be visualized and managed to some extent, they are by their nature at least partially improvisational. (For another example of how this type of color photography process can be used, see the more abstract work of Maria Robertson, here.)
As Kitano recounts, the first photographs of children he drew were red figures on black backgrounds, which prompted him to take a leap into a vague imagination—perhaps the prenatal world was red, making his negative images of children in the recently come “this world” From “out of this world” red on black. Indeed, the first four photographic compositions in the photo book follow this idea, with babies moving on their backs and stomachs, their colors switching from red to electric purple and back to the bright white glows, especially when Babies touch the hard surface.They appear to be flying and swimming in an ocean of complete darkness, and their little fingers and the recognizable curves of a human infant are the only separation from their environment.
The corollary of this line of reasoning would of course attempt to capture what the “out of this world” child would look like, and Kitano simply inverted the tones, creating photographs in which the child appears in red (or pink) as white. From there, the artist’s color experiences veer in less defined (or overtly indicated) directions, resulting in shades of yellow glowing toward green (or orange) on their way to black, and multiple variations of blue (blue on white, white on blue, blue on black etc).
Kitano’s exotic compositions have more of a spiritual advantage than Adam Voss’s well-known photographs of Children in the Water (from the 1990s). Voss’ babies splashed in the gushing water, turning that environment into a thicket of amniotic fluid or the primordial soup from which humanity emerged. The Kitano children seem to be flying into an uncharted space of another world, where spirits or ghosts may remain before crossing to the other side. This is especially true when Kitano reverses tones and the shaded parts of the children glow white – when this happens they seem to glow from within like angels. And when Kitano picks up the same child three or four times in the same frame, the movements appear to stutter with impossible multiples, or quantum states where the child is in different places simultaneously. There is a comforting calm to these photographs that pique our curiosity without giving away too many answers.
Since Kitano’s images are very saturated and dark, the only solution to avoiding bleeds between pages is to host each spread with nothing printed on the back sides. When grouped and linked together, the result is a picture book with more white pages than images, and a sequence that systematically alternates between spreads of white and glossy images. As strange as this may sound, the effect is actually positive, as the page-turning speed is controlled, and each numbered composition is given a chance to have its own presence.
Kitano’s challenge with this project was how to transcend the fuzzy clarity of children’s images, and introduce some resonant uncertainty into such a distinctive shape. In these color photographs, he creates a sense of mystical mystery and asks us to wrestle with the impractical notions of creation and consciousness, while also allowing us to step back from those unknowns and simply enjoy the aesthetic aspects of his installations. In the end, there is something so fundamental and universal in these images that permeates deep-rooted human instincts, asking us to allow the potential wonders of children’s forgotten memories.
POV collector: Ken Kitano is represented at IBASHO Fair in Tokyo (here), MEM in Osaka (here), Priska Pasquer in Cologne (here), and ROSEGALLERY in Santa Monica (here). His work has quite a bit of secondary market history at this point, so the retail gallery will likely remain the top choice for collectors interested in keeping an eye on.