Shimokitazawa Generations, the independent Taipei bookstore keen on design and photography, is permanently closed. They had moved once; I’ve been to both the old and the new spaces. The old space was located in a regular apartment, the kind you’d walk straight past if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I remember climbing the stairs, feeling as though I was visiting one of those upstairs treasure troves in Hong Kong. I couldn’t believe these hideaways existed in Taipei.
Shimokitazawa Generations was the purpose of my trip then. It was a quiet afternoon. The only visitor, I flipped through almost every single book available. One of them nestled in a glass cabinet – a very thin book with a minimalist cover that read: OUR MOUNTAIN. I asked the storekeeper if I could have a look at it.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. Opening the book, I was greeted by a hazy, black and white photo of a mountain. The pages that followed were practically the same. I couldn’t tell if they were the same photograph, or at least I didn’t think so – the monochrome increased in intensity with each photograph. First, the mountain rose through the voile of morning haze, reaching for the afternoon sky. Meanwhile, the photographs themselves darkened. Came nightfall, earth slumbered in its dominion. I took a deep breath. An undercurrent of unrest, hitherto unknown, swirled in my chest.
Like the light at the end of the tunnel, the photobook ended with a snow-capped mountain in colour.
Using letterpress printing, Takashi Homma created fourteen copies of the same photograph in nuanced colour and shade. He finally superimposed three black images, to visualise the abyss. As the oldest of the traditional printing techniques, letterpress has a haptic, almost ad hoc quality to it, breathing life into each simulacrum. At the same time, the simulacra must be viewed as a whole for it to create meaning.
Between these sixteen pages, therein lies a perfect harmony of elements of photography: light and darkness, monochrome and colour, stillness and movement, surface and essence. Straddling the actual and the virtual, to embrace Takashi Homma’s fades and texture is like holding onto a dream, half-remembered.
Since making it my life’s work to collate my photographs into books, occasionally, I still feel lost. I’d think of “OUR MOUNTAIN”: it begins with a notion and ends with a notion. That’s the way books should be – not confined by paper, length and design, nor seduced by mass production and business models. Books, in essence, are works of dream.
If you believe in the value of books, look up and you’ll see a snow-capped mountain range standing tall and defiant – like faith.