After much deliberation, the judges of the very first Unpublished Dummy Award (organized by Unseen, Offprint Amsterdam and Lecturis) chose Shinji Otani’s 'The Country of the Rising Sun' (see preview below) as the clear winner. Unseen caught up with the photographer and spoke with him about his photobook project.
Could you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? When did you start taking photographs?
Well, I was born in an area of Japan where ceramics have been made for generations upon generations. My father became a ceramicist and I decided to follow in his footsteps when I finished my studies. After some years, I became interested in Dutch contemporary ceramics and left Japan to study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. It was actually at the Rietveld that I discovered my real interest which is photography.
Why and how did you start making photobooks? What is the importance of photobooks for you?
This is my first book project. I tend to work in complete series or collections of photographs and believe making photobooks is a great way to show them.
How did you hear about the Unpublished Dummy Award, and why did you decide to submit your photobook?
Since I’m a resident of Amsterdam, rumour about the competition came quick and I immediately thought this might be a great way to publish my first book. The dummy for The Country of the Rising Sun was originally designed by Our Polite Society in 2008 but for various reasons, publication was halted and the project was shelved for 4 years. After hearing about the Unpublished Dummy Award I decided revisit the idea of publishing it.
Can you tell us a little more about the photobook you submitted (and the winning dummy!), The Country of the Rising Sun?
The Country of the Rising Sun (see preview below) is my first mature, photographic body of work. The black and white photographs in the book are of Swedish suburban neighbourhoods, which share a striking commonality with other suburbs found elsewhere in the world. Suburbia, for all its site-specific peculiarities is paradoxically a zone of universal déjà vu. Similarly, Country of the Rising Sun is intended to be a book about the specific and universal characteristics of familiar, neutral spaces.
Some important characteristics of the book are: it consists of 8 large photographs which are folded to create 64 pages. The images are not adjusted to correct direction or placement on the page. Importantly, there is no chronological beginning or end to the book. This is meant to formally indicate the psychological dimension of sameness. On all of the pages you will notice that large, blank areas of the exhibition wall are included within the photographs. These blank areas depict the specific and universal characteristics of the white cube, or the neutral exhibition space where the photographs were presented. The photographs also vary in dimension and magnification and are meant to communicate feelings of closeness and distance that the viewer experiences as they walk through the exhibition.
What's next for you? What does winning this award mean to you?
Winning the award is a really big deal for me. I know that this book is not for everybody. It’s structurally complicated and I feel conceptually very rich, but regardless of that, I put a lot of my soul in it. I am very happy to hear that jury really got what I was trying to do in the book. This is a big encouragement for me to continue pursuing the publishing of my work in book format.
Here are a few photographs of the winning photobook dummy, The Country of the Rising Sun.
The Country of the Rising Sun © Shinji Otani
Congratulations to Shinji Otani, the first winner of the Unpublished Dummy Award!