Giancarlo Shibayama was born in Peru, he obtained a degree in cinema studies from Universidad de Lima. He has contributed for different local and international media channels. The Sibayamas was selected for the book dummy award at La Fabrica (Spain); Shortlisted for the Anamorphosis Prize (USA) and is the recipient of the FOLA Award (Argentina).

The Shibayamas is a series comprised of three self-publications into one box. The work is connected to the artist’s Japanese roots and identity. Giancarlo’s ancestor migrated to Peru at the beginning of the 20th Century, as a result, their Asian culture began to blend with Peruvian traditions. In order to represent the fusion and contrast of these two cultures, Giancarlo Shibayama began to collect – specifically peeled off old family album photos – that his family had preciously archived. In this personal family research, the photographer encountered at the back of one of the photographs a map of an archipelago, from such encounter the artistic journey set off, which eventually led the artist to Japan in order to accomplish his book vision; The Shibayamas.

(V.S.B.)Can you tell us more about your publication; The Shibayamas? Could you talk about what can we find on the box?

(G.S.) The box is a kind of container in which I tell the story of Japanese migration to Peru from my family’s perspective. I focus on issues regarding identity and migration as a bridge to social construction. For instance, I work with photographic files because they allow me to build links between the present and the past, also with photos produced by me. I come from a Peruvian family that originated from immigration and mixed ethnicities. I am interested in the clash of cultures and how new identities are constructed and generate learning patterns. I am aware of the fragile nature of memory and of how it is always in transformation, this is why I am keen on materializing this process in visual projects. Also, fiction is a topic that allows me to fill in certain gaps in my memory, and so, I use photography to visualize these events that have faded away in time. In such way, I am beginning to tell my personal history in the light of my family´s history.

The box The Shibayamas contains 3 publications:

  • He never talked

This photobook is about my grandfather's personal diary. I mixed the historical files of the Japanese migration to Peru with the photos of my family album. In here, I show the relationship of my grandfather - Sakae Shibayama - and my grandmother - Hatsume Nagaki - next to the historical facts that marked the Japanese migration to Peru. Again, fiction allowed me to fill-in certain gaps in my memory, and I use photography to visualize these events that have faded over time. 

  • I travelled on an island

The transfer of a part of my family from Japan to Peru (1918) involved a process of transculturation and a reorganization of their identity parameters. The day my paternal grandfather died in 1997, I saw some members of my family tear off their photo albums, these were images in which they appeared. The partially empty albums induced me to question about my origins even more so. This photobook is a travel book, I scan the backs of the photos of my family album with the idea of ​​building my own mental or emotional map. These referring to islands or archipelagos. The move is an important moment in the life of Sakae Shibayama and his family because he is going to a place he does not know.

  • The Shibayamas

When the first migrants arrived in Peru, many of the first names of the first Japanese were poorly written by the corresponding authorities, so over time it became a problem for legal matters to trace family history. This book compiles a group of official documents – from Peru - in which my last name appears with spelling errors, some were corrected, others were not.

(V.S.B.)Was the project always intended to be a book publication? 

(G.S.) I have always been interested in photobooks or publications in general. My first approach to photography was through the books I saw as a child, many relatives came from Japan to Peru with books or magazines, I didn´t understand the language, but I could understand by simply going through the sequences of images, or perhaps I imagined my own narrative…I realized that a book it would be the ideal format because it would last longer, that was an important motivation to me, since I wanted to preserve in the memory of others this history of migration, which is little known in Peru and Japan as well. 

My family album helped me to define the format I needed to make. Therefore, the project started with a family album design or approach. This is how I continued with this format. In addition, the object seemed important to me as a container of stories, which in a first reading can be very intimate, but at the same time is also telling us a concrete fact that is the migration from Japan to Peru, which is the most important thing, the story of a family that decides to look for a better future in another place. In this case, my grandfather Sakae Shibayama is the one who tells the story. 

The photobook as an object (this is the name of the workshop with Yumi Goto and Jan Rossell) seemed to me the perfect format for what I needed to tell, the fact of making a book object, as a tribute to my grandfather who could never return to Japan, but who is able to return, yet as a photobook format, was the motivation that always accompanied this project, that was the sense of doing it in Japan as well.

I came to Japan with a simple idea of ​​what I wanted to do, more focused on the form, and in Japan I understood the background of my whole project, the concept of the photobook itself, everything began to work very intuitively. The second book, the fiction diary was not in the initial plan, but I was lucky  to meet a migration’s teacher who helped me get graphic materials to continue telling the story of the migration, then I returned to Peru to continue looking for more visual material, for example, I went to photograph the place where my grandfather was born in Japan too, and that is how the idea of ​​"He never talked" began to materialize in my head.

(V.S.B.) How is the book comprised? is it all an archival collection or can we also find your photographs in it?

(G.S.) The Shibayamas has 3 bodies of work. First one you may find the photos of my family album. I was fortunate to have a lot of photographic material, because my family is fond of photography, then there are the photos that I have taken in the houses of my family and the archive photos that helped me tell the facts of the great Japanese migration to Peru.

I combined these three sources of images so that the story is as powerful as possible. Yet, the most important part is the story itself, as opposed to the photos. There were times when I tried ‘to become’ my grandfather in order to make certain decisions like; use of materials, use of colours, etc. Also, I decided to differentiate the books with different bindings because that shows the culture clash too - east with west - The diary book for example has a Japanese binding and it reads from right to left, the other has a western binding and it reads from left to right, one is with a thin paper and the other with a thicker paper to accentuate the texture.The books have different sizes and weights. Other details include for instance; the book that tells the historical fact is bigger, while the travel book is smaller and lighter, because when you travel you cannot be carrying a big or heavy book, it is small and more intimate because you have to bring it closer to you to see it.

(V.S.B.) Could you share some insights on the design decision please?

(G.S.) Doing the dummy is a fundamental part of this whole book-making process, it is the moment in which one can try everything you can imagine, it is the most intense and productive creative process that a photobook has. For instance, to witness how it is materializing, many ideas they fall on the road, only those that make sense and help tell the story are those that remain and that has to do with the honesty with which one sees this project, the author has to be 120% satisfied with the dummy, because when the book is already printed there is no going back, do not stay with the question of "how would it have been if ...?"

Many times a sequence works on the screen but it does not always work on the printed paper, all the pages I had to print to see if it went smoothly, whenever I see a thick book I'm scared, I think it's badly edited or I'm going to get bored , that was a great challenge because the idea was to make a thick book as it is a historical fact that dates almost 120 years old (Japanese migration to Peru), the design has a structure, a start that has to catch you, the characters are introduced to the reader, their personal conflicts and external conflicts, outcomes and an end. It is a little more complex than that, but more or less so that I can understand it I explain it in this way.

After assembling the whole structure and then the sequences, it was time to look for the exact materials that contribute to tell the story, because the materials are also important to be able to transmit the ideas, paper tests, textures, sizes, the fragility was an important issue because it brings us closer to the idea of ​​the migrant when it comes to a place the person doesn´t know and is unprotected, for that reason we don´t use hard covers in any of the books, the colours of the papers, the size of the books, the weight of the books, the colour of the threads, the type of stews in each book, etc. In a photobook as an object the interaction is important, for example; the design of the box it was an important challenge, because one of the books is hidden, we had to create a box that somehow has a double bottom – you could almost call it a surprise - we wanted the viewer to have the experience of when my family took photos of the family album, for this, we did many tests.

Another issue was the inclusion of some texts, I didn´t want to include texts in the photobook because I had the idea that everything has to be explained with images - I don´t like the idea of ​​guiding the reader too much - it seems important to leave a space for the spectator, so that the viewer discovers and uses its imagination to imagine the meaning of the sequences, materials, etc. We use some texts that are somehow hidden, basically they are translations of some publications and then making some consultations with other colleagues we decided to include a small text explaining the project in general. We decided to make an edition of 99 books, this edition number has a special anecdote, first we decided to make 81 photobooks because that was the age my grandfather lived, in the middle of the production my father received a letter from the Japanese embassy in Peru, which congratulated my grandfather for reaching 99 years of age. On the other hand, Yumi San makes me notice the confusion of my grandfather's age, and what had happened was that my father never notified the death of my grandfather in the embassy for that reason the embassy believed that my grandfather was still alive, as a result, we raised the edition to 99 editions. This small discovery was another sample about the clash of cultures.

(V.S.B.) You accomplished the book under Yumi Goto and Jan Rossee workshop at Reminders Photography Stronghold in Tokyo. How was this experience and how relevant it was to accomplish the book while in Japan?

(G.S.) "Nothing in the photobook is easy" that was my biggest learning experience. I was always aware that in the workshop I was not going to finish the project, but if it was a beginning to trace a path where I was going to continue. 

Jan Rosseel is a visual artist with a lot of energy and a lot of generosity, its playful nature to make the process very dynamic. On the other hand, Yumi Goto impressed me with her empathy, it's amazing how she looks at things with an almost spiritual clarity, to understand the projects of all the participants, that is admirable, she suggested that I stay a little longer to develop the project in her space, and so, I accepted. Later, we decided to publish the photobook, with the philosophy of her space, that is all handmade by the author. I printed everything in the gallery, folded all the sheets, one by one and executed each individual binding, etc.

It was important to reconnect with my past, to produce my project in Japan was motivating in every way, to work with other authors of photobooks, chat with Yumi San, etc. The respect to the materials, the respect to all the elements of the photobook was fundamental as well. I like that rigor very much, I was totally focused on the photobook, also all the comments I received from the people who passed by the gallery was enriching, I felt like home!