Score: 82/100 (8.2 out of 10)
“Using Japanese Paper for Digital Printing of Photographs” is a photography book compiled by the brilliant Carl-Evert Jonsson of Sweden, holding both a Ph.D. and an MD from the University of Uppsala. He specializes in reconstructive surgery, and his research is cited in multiple medical and scientific journals. Jonsson has practiced the art of photography with Japanese washi paper for years and is excited to share some of his work through this book.
We wish we could say more about this book, but there isn't much to work with. If you've read our other reviews, we can go on for pages and pages, hours and hours, breaking down every nitty gritty detail. The thing about this work is that it really isn't that substantive or instructive at all. Don't mix our words, we didn't say that the book isn't substantial (important), but that it isn't substantive (containing enough insightful or enlightening content to stand on its own). There are really only three and a half pages of text in this entire book, and it fails to answer the one key question that all of us are begging to be answered: HOW does a novice photographer or artist get into this practice?
Why would someone publish a book that implies it's going to show you how to do something, then doesn't show you how to do it? This book is the equivalent of your eccentric uncle showing you his vintage G.I. Joe action-figure collection, but saying you can't touch or play with any of them, and he's not going to explain how he got them or where to buy them because it's an ancient Chinese secret. You need to climb a mountain and fight Pei Mei to earn the right to know that privileged information. Quote us on that, it'll probably get you engagement and sales.
The author does briefly go over the methods in the broadest way possible, but he fails to supply a step-by-step breakdown of how it's done so that it can be replicated. That seems kinda important to us. Don't you agree? That's essential to the scientific method: every experiment needs to be reproducible. It is the author's job to make sure that his methods are reproducible by supplying adequate details. How much water should you spray on the photos? How much actual egg-oil do you use? What the heck is “10per cent?” Did you mean “ten percent?” Did you mean a mixture of 10% oil and 90% water? Wait a second, there's an Appendix 1? What the hey is dammar gum and where do we get it? What the blue heck is balsam turpentine and where do we get it? What's a “dash” of balsam turpentine? What if your “dash” is bigger than our “dash?” How vague and imprecise. How is that quantifiable? How is that scientific? How is that reproducible? Why would we go through all this trouble, follow all of these vague and imprecise instructions, just to make egg oil when we can probably order it for like $8 on Amazon? It's like the guy who grinds his own coffee beans.
How long do the photos need to be left out to dry? Do we need to dry them? We assume so. How many times do they need to be rewetted? Why? What exactly do you do with the soft brush? We assume you brush with it, but the author doesn't tell us that directly or explicitly. They use the vague language of “apply” the egg oil. Well, how much oil do we “apply?” How long should we keep brushing? Is it like making a cake and you're supposed to keep mixing for like 2 minutes? WHERE do we apply the egg oil? Do we apply it to the front AND the back? Do we only apply it to the top of the photo? The bottom of the photo? Do we have to apply pressure so that the egg oil can better be absorbed or are we supposed to be gentle so we don't damage the paper?
Why is it that the author uses passive language to describe what to do with the soft brush? Why is it that the author keeps using passive language to describe the method in general? Why is the author describing what other practitioners do but not what he does? Or are we to assume he does it the exact same way that they do?
What the heck is a Sennelier pigment? Where can we get it? Is it available on Amazon? Ebay? At Office Max or Walmart? Does it come in small, medium, and large? Does it come in some liquid vial with a dropper? Is it dry? Does it come in something resembling a salt shaker? Does the transparent paper have to be A4 sized too or does it have to be a little bigger to account for variation? What the heck is aquarelle paper? Is it available on Amazon? Ebay? At Office Max or Walmart?
Is Adobe Lightroom the only editing software we can use to crop the photos or change them to black & white? Can't we just use the free Photos app on a Windows OS? Or Canva? Or Photoshop? Why not? What is it about Adobe Lightroom that makes it the go-to software for washi-paper people? Could the author maybe enlighten us and tell us how to use the software in a clear, coherent, and substantive way?
Even assuming that we—the readers—are artists and photographers, these methods and techniques may be new to us. The software may be new to us. The author shouldn't assume that we can just pick it up and run with his vague and oddly passive instructions. Going back to an earlier example for our review of Dale L. Roberts's book, you can't just give a cyclist a motorcycle and say, “Hey, you can ride a bike, right? I'm sure you can ride this.” They wouldn't know where the ignition was or how to control the headlights. Why? Because bicycles don't have ignitions or headlights. Motorcycles and bicycles are similar but two very different things with two very different propulsion methods. Likewise, you don't just toss some photography hobbyist some egg oil, a spray bottle, washi paper, Sennelier pigment, transparent paper, aquarelle paper, dammar gum, balsum terpentine, and a Adobe Lightroom software and say, “Hey, take all of this. You're a photographer, right? I'm sure you can figure out what to do.” No!
It is so frustrating because the instructions aren't very instructive or helpful at all. What if we actually care about replicating the process? What if we actually care about doing this right? The author's not giving us the adequate tools and information with which to do it. We're better off just googling “washi paper photography” and learning for free.
So what is this book actually really good for? It's pretty, and it shows off the author's work, and for that it's commendable. Credit where credit is due: the photographs themselves are artistic. You wouldn't believe they were originally taken on a camera like a normal photo, you'd think that someone went through a painstaking process to draw and paint these because all of these look like paintings that could be in an art museum somewhere. There's a very National-Geographic-esque vibe to all of these like they come straight from some sort of vintage historical text. And that probably encapsulates this art-form as a whole: it's very vintage. Maybe that's not your jam, maybe it is. We can buy into classical, antique, vintage things. We collect old obscure art and even have swords and stuff. We're those kinda people.
And are these photos well-organized? Yes. They are divided into four sections, and you can see which techniques were used with which photos.
All in all, this book by an absolutely brilliant person can be fun to look at, but it just doesn't seem to supply the information and helpful instructions/guidance that we really wanted from a book of this nature.
You can check it out on Amazon