Helmut Völter

The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe

Spector Books

In the fall 2016 issue of Aperture’s The PhotoBook Review, editor Denise Wolff considers what she calls accidental photobooks, ‘other types of books that use photography, but are not considered photobooks qua photobooks.’ Although their impact relies heavily on photography, Wolff argues, they are free from an artist’s agenda and the conventional earmarks of an artist book.

Ever since Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan published their Evidence in 1977, it has become a familiar trope amongst artists to work with found or archive material, to re-contextualise the images and to create a new narrative with them. This practice makes for photobooks that are photobooks by intent; the artist’s agenda usually is unmistakably present.

With this in mind The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji – Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe by Helmut Völter is a peculiar book. It tells the fascinating story of the Japanese physicist Masanao Abe, who from 1926 until 1941 photographed, filmed and studied the clouds and their activity around Mount Fuji. If the book is peculiar, it is because it has the feel of such an unintended photobook.

‘… one must revisit the question about how to strike a balance between different interests – the historical, the scientific, the aesthetic, the poetic’, Völter writes near the end of the book. Responsible for concept, text and graphic design, Völter manages to rotate as smoothly around the centre of these interests as the cloud around the axis of a stationary vortex of air in Abe’s very first photograph in 1926. All book elements echo the elegant straightforwardness of old scientific publications; the hand of the artist never predominates. Völter generously gives the floor to Abe.

The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji is a comprehensive and tender homage to a gentleman scientist who also happened to be a great photographer. A book that is both multilayered and multifaceted; somewhat like the air currents and the clouds in the sky. It is, in a most intriguing way, an accidental photobook by Masanao Abe, brought to you by Helmut Völter with sincere and respectful artistic intentions. Also, the cloud images are breathtakingly beautiful.

Stefan Vanthuyne

All images courtesy of Spector Books. © Masanao Abe/Helmut Völter