Story published in Japan times one year anniversary edition on March 11, 2012.
Story published in Japan times one year anniversary edition on March 11, 2012.
Above slideshow shows some of the survivors of the quake and tsunamis in the Tohoku region of Japan. The Guardian’s Justin McCurry put together a collection of short stories of some of these survivors which was used by the paper as a two-page spread in the G2 section.
“My day off? My life is just one long day off”
I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing one of my all-time favorite photographers and artists, Hiroshi Sugimoto. Thought I would share it with you.
Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of the world’s most revered photographers. The Tokyo-born, New York-based artist is renowned for his technical proficiency and the thought-provoking conceptual and philosophical messages behind his images. He has produced bodies of work spanning over four decades. Most notable among them is a series showing the interiors of movie theaters, where each photo is exposed for the entire duration of the film being shown. In another, titled Seascapes, the exposure times are even longer, defying the common perception that the only way to capture the world on film is via time-frozen snap-shots. He has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2001. He is also a respected architect and producer of traditional Japanese theater, and in 2011 will appear in a film directed by Anne Fontaine.
What kind of upbringing did you have?
I’m originally from downtown Tokyo. My father ran the family pharmaceuticals business and I was the eldest son so naturally I was expected to take it over. But my university years spanned 1966 to 1970, which was right at the height of Japan’s student movement. Naturally I got involved.
I went to what was basically a Christian university, but it was like a center for Marxist learning. My university economics department was one of the few places that accepted allegedly Communist university professors who lost their jobs during the late 1940s and early ’50s during the so-called “red purge.”
I was just 18 and to study those basic Western philosophies, Marx, Bauer and Feuerbarch and so on, you can’t help but be influenced somewhat. I wasn’t ultra Leftist or anything, but I went to demonstrations and considered myself to have been a kind of activist. But my father thought I was too wayward to take over the business and decided my younger brother would be a more appropriate option.
Which was fine by me. It left me free to do whatever I wanted. At that time I was curious about the hippy movement. So I left Japan to tour the world.
Just noticed another report about journalists in Britain who were stopped and searched by police.
When conducting a vox pops in a town center in England’s northeast, a photographer and a reporter from the Evening Gazette were asked by police to explain themselves and cited the Terrorism Act as the reason for the stop and search before demanding to see their IDs.
Interesting response by the The British Journal of Photography, which is running a ‘Not A Crime’ campaign in reaction to a number of similar stories about both amateur and press photographers being questioned by police under the new Counter Terrorism Act. Over the next year the campaign aims to get together thousands of self-portraits of photographers from around the world holding up a white card with ‘Not a crime’ or ‘I am not a terrorist’ written on them. Click here if you wish to take part.
Fingers crossed that the Japanese government, or for that matter governments from other countries that have yet to introduce such arcane laws, will not follow suit.
Just in case we didn’t know … Full story here
Extracts from a q&a session given by award-winning photojournalist Tony Suau during a presentation in Tokyo.
First on his World Press Photo 09 award-winning image, which is shown in the poster behind him in the photo above.
“The (pictured) sheriff’s name was Robert Kole and I travelled with him in his car for two days to homes that were being foreclosed in order to make sure evictions were finalized. When we arrived at homes we encountered a wide range of emotions, from people crying on his shoulder to others who came at him with weapons. So when we drove up to any home we had to be prepared for anything. We visited 12-15 homes and when nobody was home the law was that they could break open the doors and he had to go from room to room with weapon drawn to make sure the place was clear of guns and safe for movers to come in and remove the goods. There are a lot of guns in the U.S., and there are some pretty crazy people around so you have to be very careful when walking into that kind of situation, it’s very highly emotionally charged. You don’t know what you will find around any corner. So the sherrif was very professional in making sure the house was secured. The (winning) photo was taken in the very last home we visited. The house had been badly vandalized — you can see the debris in the picture. And I saw the light falling on that room and the silhouettes on the wall and so I just positioned myself thinking that if he goes in that direction he will be silhouetted against that wall and you will be able to see him clearly. It was difficult because it all happened so quickly, but for one brief instant he was silhouetted and I think this photo illustrated what I wanted to say more succinctly than any of the other images… What Sgt. Robert Kole was doing at that home was directly related to what was going on in Wall St. Those mortgages were sold on Wall St. and it basically collapsed, which then hit the economy.”
On his photo essay about the economic tailspin in the U.S.
“When I visited Detroit in 2008, what I saw was shocking. It was like a ghost town, and I remember thinking that it was worse than what I had seen in eastern Europe in the early 1990s. There were apartment blocks that were 30 percent empty. And I don’t mean 30 percent of the apartments were unoccupied, they were empty. They didn’t even have window frames. Obama could lead the U.S. in a very interesting direction, but the country really is falling apart, in many many respects – economically, and socially it’s in a very critical state state and I don’t think even Barrack Obama himself will be able to pull it out of the tailspin that it is in…”
“I am continuing to work in the U.S. particularly on the economic situation there… At the moment I am working on a project with 10 other photographers, including David Burnett and Stanley Green. We want to form a kind of recreation of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) that was formed in the 1930s to document the economic crisis in the U.S. for the government. We are trying to recreate that for the Obama government. I think that’s a very important project, both historically and in terms of eeking out some of the stories in the U.S. that are difficult to get to in order to enlighten the public as to what is going on.”
On his “Fear This” book about the Iraq War with a different angle
“Before I set out on the Fear This project, about a week before the war in Iraq started, I was in a bar and people there were talking about how the U.S. needs to go to war. It was very right wing stuff, and I made a comment that I thought it was really bad. They wanted to take me outside and beat me up. I realized that this was in many ways an important experience. I realized that to do the Fear This project I needed to be careful: I didn’t bundle up my feelings, exactly, but rather just kept my mouth shut. And although I really disagreed with what many of the people I photographed were saying, I kept telling myself that I would have the chance to speak once the book was published. When I didn’t have my cameras with me I just let it all out when I saw these people in shopping centers and so on because I realized I didn’t have to bottle it up. But there was a great sense of satisfaction when the book came out and I was able to make my personal statement of how I felt about the subject. … I thought this was a very relevant and interesting way to look at war, and a different way to look at it and how it was created within society and how (people in the U.S.) got swept up in this fervor to to go to war.”
On war and the state of the (photo)journalism industry:
“My feeling is that war is inevitable because it is part of human nature at the moment, unfortunately. In my experience I do not see that photography is doing anything to alter that. It’s just an unfortunate fact that humanity has an affinity to war still, and this is true in many cultures. I don’t that is going to change any time soon and I don’t think photography is going to do anything to help it change.”
“For me it is really important to photograph things that you are passionate about, things that matter to you personally, for you to get involved in it and make photos that are going to speak to somebody else. Unless you feel it yourself, I don’t think you will be able to relay it to the outside world. … I am trying to focus on more anthropological documents. When I take a picture I think the most important thing is well, it may have some immediate use, but will it survive 50 or 100 years from now?”