The title page of Marseilles-born, London-based photographer Lucie Rox’s new book, SIGNS, is bare except for a quote from literary theorist Roland Barthes’ 1970 meditation on Japan, Empire of Signs. Appropriate, given that Rox’s publication – a book collating around 30 photographs taken over the course of two weeks spent in Japan in late 2017 – draws in part on the ideas Barthes lays out in it.
‘The author has never, in any sense, photographed Japan,’ writes Barthes in the short text cited. ‘Rather, he has done the opposite. Japan has starred him with any number of “flashes”; or, better still, Japan has afforded him a situation of writing.’ This idea was poignant for Rox, who revisited Empire of Signs shortly before her own trip.
‘I really liked the position that [Barthes] takes in the book, which is that he’s very conscious of being an occidental person in Japan,’ she explains. ‘Travelling there, you're never going to be able to grasp the meaning of everything around you, You can't attempt to “tell the story of Japan” – instead, his position is to analyse what he sees, and what that means for him.’
Rox’s own approach was, in some ways, similar. Though she hadn’t intended to create a body of work from her travels – from Tokyo to Kyoto and their environs, with some unexpected suburban gems in between – when she returned with a wealth of pictures, she felt inclined to recontextualise them within a physical object that might last a little longer than her fleeting memories. Grouped together in the book – which has been thoughtfully designed by art director Callum Walker, and published in a hand-numbered edition of 150 – it feels not like a reflection of the places visited, but rather of the photographer herself.
Unexpected quiet corners, gently flickering leafy shadows and slick and scruffy city streets complete with their pensive passers-by all feature. They, too, are ‘flashes’, captured with the same sensitivity and nuance that underpin Rox’s work for editorial and commercial clients. Her practice treads the fine line between soft, romantic imagery and its more sinister underbelly, but these photographs are imbued with a soothing sense of calm – perhaps it’s the warm hazy light that settles over everything?
There are questions within the series, too. ‘I love travelling, but I’m thinking about how we travel as westerners, and how we consume other cultures,’ Rox continues. ‘It’s a privileged position, to be able to travel to all these places so easily, and I think you have to be careful about what you take from them.’ In that respect, SIGNS is modest – being simply a reflection of a fortnight spent exploring a vast country that is opaque in its history, culture and ideas. And what’s more, both the book and its creator are happy in their attempts at understanding, and misunderstanding, what all those untold meanings might be.
Receive our daily digest of inspiration, escapism and design stories from around the world direct to your inbox
This season’s menswear collections capture a brighter mood
The shape of things to come with the best of the S/S 2024 menswear collections, an enlivening amalgam of colour and play
By Jack Moss Published
New York artist Christopher Astley showcases an alternative natural world
At Martos Gallery in New York, Christopher Astley’s paintings evoke an alternative natural world and the chaos of warfare (until 16 March 2024)
By Tianna Williams Published
This handmade Lamborghini Countach LP400 is designed to slot on a shelf
Just 199 examples of this Lamborghini Countach LP400 will be built by Amalgam Collection, recreating every aspect of the iconic 1970s supercar, at a 1:8 scale
By Jonathan Bell Published
‘Art Exposed’: Julian Spalding on everything that’s wrong with the art world
In ‘Art Exposed’, Julian Spalding draws on his 40 years in the art world – as a museum director, curator, and critic – for his series of essays
By Alfred Tong Published
Marisol Mendez's ‘Madre’ unpicks the woven threads of Bolivian womanhood
From ancestry to protest, how Marisol Mendez’s 'Madre' is rewriting the narrative of Bolivian womanhood
By Sofia de la Cruz Published
Olafur Eliasson inaugurates Azabudai Hills Gallery in Tokyo
Olafur Eliasson marks launch of Azabudai Hills Gallery, in Tokyo’s major new district, with a show of elemental strength
By Danielle Demetriou Published
Photographer David Abrahams captures quiet moments in Japan for his new London show
‘Kyushu’ is a new show from photographer David Abrahams that documents his trip to a town on the Japanese island
By Mary Cleary Published
Photo book explores the messy, magical mundanity of new motherhood
‘Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back’ by photographer Andi Galdi Vinko explores new motherhood in all its messy, beautiful reality
By Hannah Silver Published
Best contemporary art books: a guide for 2023
From maverick memoirs to topical tomes, turn over a new leaf with the Wallpaper* arts desk’s pick of new releases and all-time favourite art books
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith Published
The best photography books for your coffee table
Flick through, mull over and deep-dive into the best photography books on the market, from our shelves to you
By Sophie Gladstone Published
Hiroshi Sugimoto: ‘The deeper I explore Shinto and Buddhist art, the more it reveals the shallowness of contemporary art’
‘Hiroshi Sugimoto – The Descent of the Kasuga Spirit’, at the Kasuga-Taisha shrine in Nara, Japan, sees the acclaimed photographer draw on Japan’s spiritual past and present
By Minako Norimatsu Published