20 February 2009

February ’09: Takashi Arai

Posted by mirumania under: Interviews .

Project Basho has invited Takashi Arai, an emerging Japanese photographer, to lead a series of events related to the daguerreotype process including portrait sessions, lectures, and public demonstrations. We are working closely with several institutions to share this rare opportunity with the public. His work can be seen on his website.

Interview and translation by Mika Kobayashi

When did you start your career in photography and when did you begin creating daguerreotypes?

Before I enrolled in Tokyo College of Photography (TCP), I was a University student studying Biology. My interest in photography began in 2001, when I joined a workshop led by photographer, Rinsaku Suzuki. Before then, I had been interested in writing poetry, but I knew it would be difficult to make a living doing this. Instead I thought I would be able to make a career somehow out of combining writing and photography. I bought my first camera, an Aria by Contax, and enrolled in TCP in 2002. Soon after, I began to research daguerreotypes.

Ishigaki1What photographers first attracted your attention?

Great American masters of photography such as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz — their works were quite different from what I was familiar with at that time. I learned that photography could be an artistic medium and take advantage of its pictorial expressions. I began to explore the techniques of pictorialism such as gum bichromate process and learned to practice intricate techniques of black and white photography. After entering TCP, I learned about the works of Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand and my interest shifted more toward street photography.

When did you first see a daguerreotype?

Before entering TCP, I had a chance to see a daguerreotype while I was traveling in the UK. I was stunned by it. The daguerreotype was quite different from other photographic processes. It appeared like a hologram to me.

What kind of work did you make while attending TCP?

I was strongly influenced by the works of Garry Winogrand and Shigeo Gocho. Both of them captured images that reveal where they were and what they saw in a spontaneous way. I did some B&W street photography to train myself. From 2002 to 2003, I made “ARIA”, a film composed of a series of my photographs. Initially, I was not able to make good images, but in the end, it all came together. I believe that street photography is the foundation of photography just as sketching is the basis of all visual expressions.

matsushma01_rsWere you working with daguerreotypes while making “ARIA”?

Yes, but I did not know much about daguerreotypes at all. Technically, I thought daguerreotypes would be simple compared to other historical processes. All you need is a camera, a box and iodine. I asked a small factory in my neighborhood to plate sheets of copper with silver and tested with them. I took my first daguerreotype at the pond and  it worked quite well. Looking back, it was sheer luck because I did not have all the details down for the process. When I first began, my interest had more do with technical curiosity. At that time, I was not thinking about showing my work or using this as a medium for my art.

How did the daguerreotype process then become the focus of your work?

I was exhibiting some daguerreotypes when a person from Yokohama Museum of Art came to see the show. Later, I was invited from the (Yokohama) Museum to participate in their artist residence program. It was in this program that I really started to concentrate on making daguerreotypes.

During my residence, I made portraits of about fifty people using daguerreotypes. When I exhibited these works at their gallery, I received a lot of feedback partly because the daguerreotype is an unusual and rare photographic medium. I had not imagined that these daguerreotypes would make such a strong impression. At that time, I was not yet satisfied with the overall quality of my work, but that feedback motivated me to improve my technique.


How did going through the residence program effect your work?

For me, the residence program at the museum was more about the process than about making work. I believe this applies to any kind of art making, the act of looking at oneself is a theme and the work is a kind of by-product that comes from this.

Rai Fuiji and Hideaki Kawashima, two painters who also joined the residency, had a strong influence on me. Though their medium is not photography, they each combine elements of contemporary and traditional in their work. Others artists also encouraged me as I was developing my process and artistic expression.

In 2008, I exhibited daguerreotypes in a solo show held at Hayama, Kanagawa (‘Toward Lakes’). I exhibited daguerreotypes of landscapes — waterfall, forest, and sea.

When I see your color photographs, I notice that you are attracted to the surfaces of things and reflections. Do you think there is any relationship between your interest in daguerreotypes and your other photographs?

At the time I was shooting color photographs, I was more interested in photographs that are spontaneous in nature rather than pre-visualized or pre-conceived images. Taking photographs of reflective surfaces intrigued me because there was always a gap between what you saw in the finder and the actual photograph. In a way, there are dual images: the image in the mirror and the image of the mirror. What’s interesting about this is that you can only focus on one image at a time. And I think this gap is the rediscovery of reality which is unique to photography. The mirror-like quality of the daguerreotype accentuates this.


What have you been doing recently?

In 2008, I worked at Koganecho Bazzar, a local community art event, where I set up a portrait studio. I also have plans to visit the United States soon to lead daguerreotype sessions. I visited once before and met several people who I want to take pictures of. I also have a feeling that the quality of light in the US will be completely different and I am curious about how this will effect my photographs.

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