Photobook Review: MAP - Masafumi Sanai

Sanai MAP_1.JPG

Photobook Review: MAP - Masafumi Sanai

Review by Paul Batt


Masafumi Sanai has been a huge influence on Häggblom's thinking for this project. He is the first to admit that when he discovered Sanai's enigmatic imagery he was confused. Here Häggblom puts his friend to task with first impressions of a recent photobook purchase from Jimbocho. We hope to feature some of Sanai's more challenging work for this project.

Masafumi Sanai's MAP makes no sense...

The book is a mishmash of seemingly random shots bashed and melded together, in an ad-hoc way. It appears thrown together in a manner that an apparently desperate artist, with a emotional reluctance for a heavy edit, would do in-order to hopefully ‘pull off’ a photobook of some sort.

There’s so much wrong with MAP, the colour of the book and the feel of the dust jacket (Smurf blue squishy material cover?! Umm... ok!) as well as the clumsy attempts at sequencing inconsequential images of a modern urban Japan. Many of those images add seemingly little to the book and in all honesty, feel as though they act against the books overall flow and Masafumi's attempts at some kind of narrative.

Or at least that’s what I first thought...


My first contact with MAP was over a beer at a mates place. A self-confessed Japan-o-phile his recommendations usually carry a particular weight and authority but on this occasion, his enthusiasm lead me to think he’d “gone quite native!”  

Later whilst walking home in the cool night air and in the warm embrace of a few to many wines, the book slowly began to reveal itself. MAP is an artist's subjective abstraction and Masafumi's vision weirdly grows and flows over you in a way that it is totally disproportionate, to the sum total of its parts. In some ways it's like Robert Frank's iconic The Americans, its a study of place and a book that quietly sneaks its meaning upon you. The place in Masafumi's pictures is smaller, more introverted and in that sense doesn't share the same scope or grandiosity of Frank's vision. It's a guide to place as much as its predecessor is, but it’s a geographically smaller one and no less personal, even if it appears more fractured. 

The pictures link and flow in accumulative effect, with individual images surrendering to the need of a sequence, in order to create a kind of filmic whole. To say the book makes no real sense is possibly true but like a great Kurt Schwitter’s collage, it lingers and with each additional browse it reveals a poetic truth far greater than the sum of its parts.

Paul Batt is an Australian artist and academic. Batt has lectured in photography at PSC, RMIT and Monash Universities and as well as written for magazines such as Photofile. As an artist Batt has exhibited expensively around Australia and overseas, and his work is held in significant public collections such as the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA). 


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