Tono Monogatari

Tales of TonoThe Tales of Tono, a book originally made by Daido Moriyama in 1976 and consisting of many photographs and an essay on the notion of place and the role of photography – and translated and published in English for the first time in 2012 (Tate Publishing, Simon Baker), is one of those gems one occasionally finds while travelling – those little findings that seem to have been waiting for you, hidden in the middle of stacks of books at the Tate, since the beginning of time.

Based loosely on Tōno Monogatari (遠野物語), a collection of folk tales located in the Tono Valley during the Meiji era, the set of photographs by Moriyama really seems to be a quest of home town (home place) when the concept of home town has been shattered by the speed of cities, by the dis-location we all willingly submit to in our lives these days. Looking (via the camara’s eye) for a home place is one of the many beginnings of this book.

For people like me, who don’t have a “home town” to return to, who run after their dream of a “home town”, behaving like a spoiled child in spite of being old enough to know better, the idea of a “home town” is a swollen utopia of countless childhood memory fragments. It’s something like the “original landscape”. I have to say that I was helplessly obsessed with Tono being the embodiment of my “home town” dream – a place that existed only in my imagination.

Thus, Moriyama, describing that beginning.

For me, the beginning is necessarily somewhere else. The little volume (only a few centimeters large, hemmed among large and glossy and heavy photography volumes at the Tate Bookstore) immediately appealed to me – because of the overexposed/underexposed nature of many of the photographs, because of the black and white, because of the narrative – intriguing, open-ended, mental, physical – of the book. It was instant love.


Later that day, or the day after going through East Anglia to visit Mirna, I kept thinking of the book and I remembered a possible why for the attraction: the book bears some resemblance with John Berger’s Another Way of Seeing. In the middle of the book, Berger and Jean Mohr include a little photo-narrative made in the French (or Swiss?) Alps – another book that intrigued me some twenty years ago. It consisted of black and white photographs of many things – some of them obviously in the Alps, some of them just objects or “nowhere places” just interspersed in the middle of an odd narrative.

In many ways, this is similar, but perhaps more intense – Moriyama is one of those photographers who seem to live and see the world through their camera, constantly photographing absolutely anything, without stopping to check the light and perhaps without making a fuss over expensive lenses nor the like: he seems to just be the photographer, walking through life a little like Dylan with his harmonica, making poetry by looking at things. The intensity is like a blazing hot rod, melting iron, shattering glass.



It is pages and pages of these kind of photographs, perhaps not too appealing to many on their own, and oddly fascinating to me in book form. Immersing oneself in a mythical landscape of a valley that was described more than a hundred years ago in Japanese folk tales, looking for it on a train in 1976, finding for sure odd things, and then just seeing the book at the Tate…

Furthermore, when having to reflect on locality and globality (for mathematical, or not, reasons), encountering this instance of strong synchronicity in my own life and my own dis-locations adds yet one more dimension to the Tales of Tono.

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