Photobook Review: Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water - Asako Narahashi


Photobook Review: Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water - Asako Narahashi

Review by Melissa Miles


Asako Narahashi’s Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water is a feeling as much as a photobook. It is a feeling of floating and drifting; of liberation and abandon with a touch of trepidation. The fifty-nine photographs that feature in this book were all taken while Narahashi was partly submerged in seas around Japan. As the water dominates the extreme foreground, Narahashi creates the impression of being suspended between freedom and fear – on the verge of rising above the water or disappearing below its surface. Pointing her camera back towards the land, Narahashi likens the perspective to the viewpoint of a sea otter or seal. She seems comfortable in her watery world, uninterested in communicating with the people that can be glimpsed on the shore or swimming nearby.


Narahashi is careful not to dive too quickly into rough seas in the layout of this book. The first photograph gently eases readers into calm waters under a blue sky, while a red torii gate seen on the horizon locates the photograph immediately in Japan. As in most of the photographs in the book, the sea seems to absorb the coastline, leaving only a hint of a bridge and the torii visible over the blurry waterline. The seas soon turn in the book, undulating and becoming dark and choppy only to periodically calm again. Some waters are crystalline, sparkling and bubbling, while others darken and take on a mass and density almost like glossy granite. The impression of moving through ever-changing bodies of water is heightened by the very substance of this book. The large thick pages have body, lapping like waves as they are slowly turned over and over again.


Distant cities, mountains, forests, jagged rocks, blossoming trees and beaches appear to emerge straight from the seas – as though they are landscapes half-seen and half-imagined. Oblique camera angles make high-rise buildings lean as though they are about to tip into the water. Planes occasionally fly overhead and fish jump out of the sea. Always remote, psychologically if not spatially, human figures appear oblivious to the camera, relaxing on the coast, floating on lilos, or enjoying a pleasure cruise or jaunt in swan-shaped paddle boats. Although it was first published four years before the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Narahashi’s presentation of volatile seas seemingly swallowing all that should be solid and fixed has taken on new intensity in the disaster’s wake. However, ultimately the book asserts the endurance of Japan, its land, industry and people. Taken in the tranquil, clear waters of Cape Tappi – the northern most point of the Tsugaru peninsula – the final photograph looks back to an idyllic coastal landscape, lush green hills and a cloudless sky, suggesting peace and renewal.

Melissa Miles is Professor of Art History at MADA, Monash University. With Robin Gerster, she is author of Pacific Exposures: Photography and the Australia Japan Relationship (forthcoming in late 2018).


Related Posts: