If God is dead, he’s surely rolling in his grave. Momo Okabe’s Bible, in both stature and spirit will not fit into your bedside table, although its alluring gold foil stamping and crimson suede cover will persuade you to keep it close. Juxtaposing images of underground Tokyo nightlife and the destruction wrought by the tsunami in Miyagi, and India between 2008 and 2014 Bible is a testament to the unwavering complexity of Momo Okabe’s everyday life with her lovers and friends. Alongside their pursuance of a genuine identity and sense of belonging, Okabe unfolds the “sad, yet beautiful scenery that they could perceive after overcoming the long and difficult struggle out from their traumatic past.” The sincerity and depth of Okabe’s work unwinds a sweetness within the tension of collective alienation; a window into a kaleidoscopic heart.
Bible is published by Session Press as a part of an ongoing, earnest mission to acquaint Japanese artists to an international audience. This is Okabe’s second US monograph published by Session Press following her unique artist book Dildo, an incredibly labored small edition in 2013. Okabe has been highly acclaimed by Nobuyoshi Araki at New Cosmos of Photography in 1999 and Masafumi Sanai at Epson Color Image in 2009 as well as by many other prestigious competitions in Japan. It is difficult, however, to position Okabe’s work into the norm of contemporary Japanese photography often associated with its perfection in composition and quiet meditation with subjects. Outside of the mainstream photo community, Okabe has pioneered her own electric yet sensitive color pallet to convey her overflowing emotions onto her work. It’s the kind of color that reminds me of what wandering around a desert would look like; the purples your eyes find after you’ve stared at the sun, the reds that hover over hot sand and the depths of blues and greens that are only remembered through your imagination.
Since I first finished Bible it continued to swim around my head and churn up a poignant realizations of all how so few things are our own that we can really talk about. Take our designated terms — a mother, a father, a family — words that describe what we already know as feeling above all. The language in Bible — of a boy, a girl — struck this same cord as a visceral dichotomy, headlining what photography handles that words cannot. Okabe has brought a new breed of personification forward to a Japanese subculture long deserving of a platform. Her pulse between landscape and body imagery is not for the faint-of-heart, Okabe’s intimate access to gender identity (both pre and postoperative) is as urgent as it is courageous. Her rhythm continues to kick up the sediment of my mind once settled in the overtly intellectualized practice so prevalent in today’s contemporary photography scene, and begins to reposition critical perspectives towards compassion, intimacy, and camaraderie. Momo Okabe is enlightened over the weight of the history and tradition that stands before her, and keeps dear a why to live that endures almost any how.
Bible by Momo Okabe can be purchased here.
Betsy Clifton is a book designer and distribution manager at Dashwood Books in New York, NY. She has contributed to numerous Dashwood publications over the past three years, most recently with artists Jason Polan, Stefan Marx, and Ari Marcopoulos. She received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts and is currently an M.Arch candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.
This review was also featured on Japanese Photobook Review here.