How do we interpret a family album that has been taken into a new context as a photobook? That is a concern of Takashi Yatoo’s debut monograph Palam which juxtaposes photographs taken over a period of 25 years, combining both newly created imagery with photographs found in his family album. Through the archive, Yatoo addresses the discriminatory reality of the artist’s father who was a second-generation Korean living in Japan. With his photographs Yatoo, however, mingles his own feelings and experiences that he documented after his father passed away.
Palam is a Korean word for wind, turning his book into a visual echo mirroring the author’s ways of reconciling his troubled relationship with his father in addition to being a deeply vulnerable account of his family and its origins. The title was edited in collaboration with fellow artist Momo Okabe who is known for her emotionally piercing photographs, hence, elevating Palam into a highly intimate and moving visual amalgamation.
The photographs featured in the book are all black and white, signified with heavy blacks and grain. They immediately evoke a sense of melancholia, especially when images of Yatoo’s sick father are presented. However, not only sadness and grief are part of the book; there are also glimpses of optimism and humour. In a way, the edit presents a cycle of life, death, and desire. Photographs of animals and landscapes are combined with portraits of children, adults, and Yatoo’s now-deceased father. Time is not shown as a linear constant but rather in fragments that constitute the author’s identity and understanding of his past which is personally real, yet slightly detached from reality. Consequently, the large variety of images does not create the feeling of disconnection, on the contrary, they coexist in unity together.
When flipping the pages, two concepts, in particular, come to mind – memento mori and punctum. In her popular book On Photography, Susan Sontag states: “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Similarly, Palam can be understood as a memento mori because through its edit, it reminds us of our mortality that is inevitable. At the same time, it also triggers the thought that this process is also unavoidable when it comes to our loved ones, which becomes a piercing realization.
The literary scholar Roland Barthes defines punctum as an “accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)”. In short, it is an intensely subjective effect of a photograph on the viewer that can never be intentionally inserted. It is solely individual which photograph wounds us but certainly many of Yatoo’s images have this quality and their instinctive combination strengthens the viewer’s affective reading even further.
Palam brings together a series of chance encounters and juxtapositions that emanate a myriad of secrets, problems, stories, joys, and emotions. We do not get to know exactly what they are because we instead project those of our own. What we understand is that we are witnessing a record of a collective narrative, that of a specific family group, which additionally functions as a structuring of the author’s past. The life of the family album has been re-contextualized and given a new life that now corresponds with Yatoo’s perspective. We don’t get to know the truth, it’s immensely personal and we are too wounded to even search for it.
is a Japanese photographer based in Tokyo. Palam, his first monograph, can be considered as his debut into the photography world.
Curator of Discarded Magazine & XXX
She is a photographer and writer dealing with the topics of trauma, gender and sexuality.