Moe Suzuki’s father suffers from glaucoma – a disease of the eye which slowly robs the individual of their sight. The condition is usually associated with a loss of peripheral vision, but it brings other symptoms too – glare, halos around objects, voids or absences in the visual field. Glaucoma sufferers often describe the world as an image viewed through clouds or dirty glass. For patients such as Suzuki’s father – an editor by trade – whose sight provides not just their livelihood, but their primary creative outlet, the progressive darkening of the world represents both a loss of capability and a loss of self.
Sokohi is a moving narrative of loss – for her father, the loss of his vision, and for Suzuki herself, the anguish of witnessing a parent’s decline.
Suzuki’s Sokohi tells the story of her father’s sixteen-year struggle with the disease. Along with Suzuki’s own photographs, it includes pictures from the family album and images of her father as a younger man. The first half of the book follows a loose trajectory of his earlier years, reproduced in the desaturated tones of old snapshots. One of the first images in the book is a shot of him as a teenager peering intently into a camera. Later, we see him as a young man, and then as a father, accompanied by a child who we assume is the artist herself. Halfway through the book, the palette shifts abruptly to more somber tones; the laughter and family holidays give way to near-abstractions, blurred and heavy with shadow or seared by lens flare. In the final pages, Suzuki’s father appears as a grey-haired older man, eyes bandaged, feeling his way carefully with a cane. Sokohi is a moving narrative of loss – for her father, the loss of his vision, and for Suzuki herself, the anguish of witnessing a parent’s decline.
This journey from light to darkness is navigated in a series of images that represent the symptoms of glaucoma. An earlier artist’s edition of the book, however, included physical design elements that mimic these effects in a different way. The first few pages in the artist’s edition are pure black, punctured with clusters of irregular holes – a feature that’s repeated several times throughout the book. Mixed in amongst the photographs are pages from Suzuki’s father’s notebooks – untidy rows of kanji alongside sketches and doodles, the sense-making marks of a visual thinker. Towards the end of the artist’s edition, nearly all of the pages are riddled with holes, the images obscured, the paper as fragile as lace. It’s not just the eyes that are engaged here, but the fingertips too, in a compelling evocation of the gradual transfer of experience from one kind of sensory portal to another. For Suzuki’s father, it is touch, rather than sight, that now provides his primary experience of the world.
In doing away with some of these features – the sequences of pure black and the punctured pages are gone, as are the notebook excerpts – the trade edition offers a very different experience of Suzuki’s project. It feels, literally, like a different body of work – visually striking, but far less touching. For an imprint behind some spectacularly good design – Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick’s 2016 Astres Noirs, and Cécile Poimbœuf-Koizumi and Stephen Ellcock’s Jeux de Mains (2021) – this is a curious decision. While it’s important to acknowledge the limitations that publishers face in reproducing physically complex works on a large scale, it’s also worth pointing out the consequences of such compromise. To my mind, Sokohi has suffered in the transition. Rather than an invitation to identify with the confusion and fear that goes along with sight loss, the trade edition is, ultimately, more about the photographer than her subject. It’s an elegant and beautifully presented story of a life limited by a cruel disease, but one that is told from the outside looking in.