Yoshi Yubai – Asakusa

I recently came across Yoshi Yubai’s work. I was fortunate enough to nab a copy of his last book, Radiation Inspiration (2023), published by La Generale Minerale (screenprinted by Ben Sanair), which I purchased through Le Plac’Art Photo in Paris. The screen printing by Sanair in that book is phenomenal. The book has an introduction from Re/Search publishing impresario V. Vale, someone whose work I grew up on. Radiation Inspiration is an incredibly energetic, highly saturated color book of silkscreen photographs that assaults (in the best way possible) my senses. There is something unnatural and enticing about the color that feels anarchic, possessed, and right up my street. Couple this with the text by V. Vale, and it was a pretty easy sale. The artist had this to say about that book…


“These photos were taken in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Chiran & other Japanese locations between 2018 and 2021. Some of the images were taken in Kabukicho where we hung out in Tokyo. Kabukicho is a night spot in Shinjuku where there are so many neon signs it looks exactly like Blade Runner. My compact digital camera has vivid mode. So Kabukicho & vivid mode gave me inspiration to do this project. “I was trying to make images like Cyberpunk Psychedelic Photography. I wanted to create “Incredibly Strange Photography.” As I told you in my “The Secrets of Street Photography” zine, I wanted to become a painter. I have never been satisfied with taking B&W pictures. “always asked myself, ‘How can I be a painter with a camera?”


Where that book felt like a slide into the madness of Tokyo’s neon streets with an overhanging feeling of being caught in a Gaspar Noé film, his new book, Asakusa feels colder, less in debt to the use of color than to the focus on content, which reads in places like a type of maligned street photography, but also shares elements of the same anarchic punk rock vituperation, which is a compliment to be clear. It is gritty and chaotic and the sequence itself crescendoes upward toward the end of the book becoming more and more sinister as we near the end. I am reminded of a few artists that will be obvious, and though I mention these artists, I want to be clear that I do not see them as an influence or in the direct circle of Yubai, whose own aesthetic is clear and singular. I only offer these names in context for people who might be familiar with some artists working in the vein.



My first read of the work brought me back to the original Japan, A Photo Theatre Japan / Nippon Gekijo Shashincho by Moriyama from 1968, mostly from the theatrical images that are int he book. It is only a glance, but some of the work and the nature of the way it is screen printed gives me the same sense of claustrophobia similar to Moriyama’s first book. That is about where that association ends. I also think of the street photography in Japan by Maki, a France-based artist, whose way of composing reminds me of Yubai. Keizo Kitajima’s work in the late 70s and early 80s is also brought to mind, particularly the portraiture found in the 1979 Photo Express Tokyo work with its extreme contrasty graphic state. But overall, the artist that I am reminded of subject-wise is Masatoshi Naito, particularly his exceptional book Tokyo: A Vision of its Other Side from 1985, a book that looks at the layout of the city and its people and is unafraid to show the haves and have-nots together in polar opposite configuration without passing judgment on either. The same subject matter can be found in Yubai’s work and I come away from almost an indexical understanding of a time, a place, and its people, without being led into a documentary discussion. This is where Naito and Yubai’s work succeeds in earnest. There is no story, only images, and a flow of images, with a particular propensity to underscore city living, its frenetic pace and challenges. 


Asakusa is a great book. I am incredibly fortunate to have built a small rapport with the artist, whose background, and punk rock choices of text gel well with my understanding of where the work comes from and how to approach it. These signifying inclusions tell me quite a bit about the aims of Yubai, which clarifies, for me at least, how he handles the subject matter in the book. In terms of the screen printing, I think there is an urgency to return to more photomechanical processes that give the impression of how gravure were made previously, but with the added addition of the screen present which elevates the book object into something limited, but also thoughtful. Whereas offset printing is great, the economics of printing large orders of books in 2024 is becoming economically challenging. With Yubai, there is a concentration, like Moriyama with his Silk book, or more recently Yoshi Kametani’s I’ll Be Late to think more about the printing process and to pull the audience back toward an emphasis on production. It is entirely successful and highly recommended in the case of both artists. Give Yubai some attention, the work is really incredible.


Yoshi Yubai


Club del Prado

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