Moe Suzuki visualises her father’s experience of losing his sight

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Suzuki’s latest book is titled Sokohi: a Japanese word used to describe visual impairment that translates as ‘shadow at the bottom’ 

Some 16 years ago, Moe Suzuki’s father was diagnosed with glaucoma. He had worked as an editor for over 30 years, and kept journals for most of his life. Over time, the disease caused his eyesight to slowly deteriorate; the condition was erasing a life that was once surrounded and nourished by books.

When he was first diagnosed, “I rarely noticed how poorly he could see, as he was quite active,” says Suzuki. In 2018, the Tokyo-based photographer decided to move in with her father. She began to notice his struggle with daily tasks, such as reading, discerning sugar from salt, and shaving his beard. But it was one particular morning that struck a chord. “[My father] asked me to pass his tea cup, and I held it towards him. Instead of grabbing the cup, he just grasped the air,” Suzuki remembers. “I was quite shocked.” 

Recognising the extent of her father’s illness, Suzuki felt the need to understand and visualise his experience. She began to compile a dummy book, rooting through her father’s old images and handwritten notes to trace his gradual loss of sight. Titled Sokohi – a Japanese word used to describe visual impairment that translates as ‘shadow at the bottom’ – the book was produced as a limited run of 76 handmade artist editions in 2020. Last year, it won the seventh edition of the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Now, a new version of the book, published by Chose Commune, is launching at the 2022 edition of the festival. This trade version retains stylistic elements of the dummy – its size and wire-o binding, for example – but its layout and sequence are adapted. “The artist edition has more focus on visualising how [my father] sees less and less, but the Chose Commune edition focuses more on the inner journey of my father, and how he copes with narrowing sight, struggle, fear, accepting and letting go,” says Suzuki.

In creating this book, Suzuki came to the realisation that she was unable to accept her father’s new reality, despite him slowly coming to terms with it. – “While my father steadily learns how to read audio-books, and write on the computer using audio guides… I still imagine him without the disease and long for the time he could see,” she reflects. “After all, those who can see, including myself, probably have a very narrow understanding of what ‘seeing’ means.” 

In the new edition of the book, Suzuki hopes to translate her own experience, as well as her father’s, combining both of their photographs taken as the disease progressed. “Although he appears to accept his fate calmly as his blindness progresses, there are moments when he clings on desperately, as if fighting to stop his wavering sight from disappearing completely,” Suzuki writes in a text that accompanies the book. “His journey towards blindness goes back and forth between light and shadow, like waves pushing and pulling to and from the seashore.”

Sokohi by Moe Suzuki is published by Chose Commune. 

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.