Oshogatsu on Sado Island, 30 years ago

From 'Sado Yo!' photo series by Shigeru Iwama: click for series

Just to be clear that isn’t my image above, but one from Japanese photographer Shigeru Iwama. I use it to help illustrate a wonderful series of images I found this evening on Iwama’s site, taken on Sado Island 30 years ago. This discovery seemed worthy of more than just a short link in the sidebar.

What’s interesting about this series is that the images, which total 131 in all, were taken over the Japanese New Years holidays (or oshogatsu) of three successive years (1973 – 75). They are presented chronologically and I would urge you to start at the first image and work your way through to the last, for there is a cumulative power to the images seen in succession that is difficult to put into words. (Just click on “01” from the main page and then continue to hit the “next” link on each page).

In a way it’s not unlike watching a film: there are some wonderful “cuts” or edits as one makes one’s way through the series, sometimes photos melding into photos, a narrative of sorts ebbing and flowing. At other times, such as the shot above of the rabbit hunter and the one that comes before it of a torii (gate) set against a dramatic and rough sea, a discordant jarring: something that keeps us unsettled, our expectations at bay, yet at the edge of our seat.

The elements help here too, and the often snow-swept island makes for compelling vistas and lyrical backdrops for Iwama’s candid portraits of the island residents he comes across, much of them children. (If there’s perhaps a wrong note played in the series, it may be that there are — like much of candid Japanese photography — too many damn kids, and too much of that dreaded sentimentality they often bring).

Also worth looking at is Iwama’s brief attempt at a sort of weekly photo diary as part of the “Shashin MAC” collective. There are only 7 weeks presented (8 actually but one link is dead) but, working in B/W and medium format, each week has a nice consistency and unity to it so that they are less a diary and more a chapter to a book Iwama has chosen not to continue.

2 Replies to “Oshogatsu on Sado Island, 30 years ago”

  1. Hello Kurt,

    I just wanted to take the time to say thanks you for introducing the photosite above. Excellect work. Thanks again.


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