Ryuichi Ishikawa is an Okinawan's Okinawan- Much like his home islands, his work has a wild streak that seems out of synch with the rest of mainland Japan. This is in fact a very good thing- for his ongoing documentation of his homeland could not be done as vividly, surely, or with as much raw love, had the project been taken on by an outsider from Tokyo.
This follow-up to his Kimura Ihee award-winning book Okinawan Portraits 2010-2012 picks up directly where the last one left off. This new entry features some 268 images which lead viewers on a winding journey through a world unique to these islands. It's inhabitants shine in Ishikawa's photographs- his steady gaze is as much about celebration as it is truth. Okinawa, and by extension Okinawans, aren't sentimentalized within these pages- nor are they sanitized. No matter what struggles these people have faced- whether self-inflicted or from birthright, their dignity is kept intact. The people and places shown in Ishikawa's pictures are the product of an environment and society that's inherited a historical legacy. The effects of seventy-plus years of Americanization can be seen everywhere- from designs painted on sunbaked walls to glowing fast food franchise signage, to the fashions and even faces of the citizens themselves. These pictures deftly portray a society that, despite having been stretched and battered by the East and West, continues to glower with a fiercely independent spirit.
Certainly Okinawan Portraits reflects photographic methods which are deeply woven into the tapestry that makes up the craft's history- within the pages of this book one can find visual threads that reach back to photography's past age (Think August Sander to Alec Soth) to new chapters that reach forward into the contemporary world of online street-fashion blogs and the infinite visual sea that is Instagram. Ishikawa's portraits however aren't mere decoration or a collection of "characters" to feed an online viewership- the people within these pages are alive and it's because of their flaws and beauty for which the photographer resolutely devotes himself to them. They are his, and he is theirs. The camera seals this fact with a snap of the shutter.
MOMA curator, critic, and photographer John Szarkowski once remarked that importance in a photographic work is only measured by what subsequent artists make of it- the reverberations of Ishikawa's Okinawan masterpiece will no doubt continue to have lasting effects in the ongoing visual dialogue of documentary portraiture.