Masaki Yamamoto’s highly anticipated first photobook presents one of the most daring family portraits in Japanese photography.
Shot entirely in his family’s tiny apartment, with walls yellowed from cigarette smoke, broken doors and trash covering the ground, Yamamoto’s unashamed, uncompromising black-and-white photos nonetheless depict a strong and rare sense of familial intimacy and affection. Not quite dysfunctional, but decidedly atypical.
“As we grew up, we had different experiences of being bullied, socially withdrawn, sick, badly behaved and so on. These experiences intertwined with the Yamamoto family’s history and are what makes up our lives as well as the family’s bonds today”
— from Masaki Yamamoto’s afterword
Fishbones, cigarettes, dirty dishes, chopsticks, missing teeth, mahjong, naps, bad skin, videos games… this is the stuff of Guts, the first book from Japanese photographer Masaki Yamamoto.
Guts is a gritty stream of consciousness, a claustrophobic mess of black and white snapshots, all of them chronicling daily life in the one room apartment in Kobe where Yamamoto lived with his parents and siblings.
At first glance Yamamoto’s pictures might seem to aestheticize poverty and dysfunction - this is not unfamiliar territory for art photographers. Boris Mikhailov, Bruce Gilden, Shelby Lee Adams, Bruce Davidson, Roger Ballen… all of them and many others have been accused of morally ambiguous voyeurism.
But Guts is different, Yamamoto is actually at home, he is witness and participant - making hard-boiled but affectionate pictures of his own life. Those might be his dirty ramen bowls, his stubbed out cigarettes.
Yamamoto seems like a fly on the wall here, and some of the best pictures are shot close-up, but also as if from a blind. A sister sits in the bath, mother puts on makeup, father stands in underpants - shaving his head. The book ends with a thumbnail index of images captioned with descriptive fragments of text - matter of fact and sometimes humorous:
“My mother licking her hands stuck with sticky rice,”
“My eldest brother caught a yellowtail and brought it home,”
“My younger sister puts her knees up to make it look like she has big breasts.”
Guts functions as conventional social documentary, but only Yamamoto could have made these pictures. In this sense Guts resembles Ray’s a Laugh by Richard Billingham, Living Room by Nick Waplington, Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home, and even The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin - all of them the truest and toughest pictures of life and family.
- Jonathan Levitt