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Yojiro Imasaka

ATLAS

December 20 2019– February 2, 2020

Photography is a time-related medium, and I’m interested in creating images that reflect not only the past or the present, but also the future. This idea of addressing the future in my work originated with one image that I photographed deep in the woods in the northern part of Japan. This area is known as an old-growth forest. It’s designated by the Japanese government as a world heritage site. In 2006, I found a tiny man-made waterfall there and I photographed it from across a bridge. The contrast between the overwhelming presence of nature and a tiny human presence somehow put me in mind of the impending future of human existence. Looking back now, I believe this vision is deeply connected to my childhood. I was born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan. Ever since I was young, I lived close to a reminder of one of the most historical symbols of human folly: the Atomic Bomb Dome. After World War Two, the Japanese people decided to preserve the building as a symbol of peace. However, it does not feel like a monument to peace for me at all. Instead, it’s a catalyst for visions of a kind of post-human landscape that might one day come. It makes me afraid of death, and the only way that I can live with this fear is to visualize and understand what the future might look like by taking photographs. I believe that within our everyday lives there are scenes that hint at the future that’s coming—and that photography can capture these moments. Human beings are very unique creatures. We are so very creative and destructive at the same time. We’ve evolved to such an advanced point in some ways, yet war has never disappeared. But our squabbles are nothing compared with the immensity of nature, in the face of which we are insignificant. For this solo exhibition titled Atlas, I’m presenting twenty-one photographs including old and new works. I hope these landscapes of Japan and the United States, all photographed with a large format film camera, remind people of where we live, and what the future might look like.

Trade Winds #12  2019

Toned gelatin silver print
17 x 44 in (43.2 x 111.8 cm)

Trade Winds #5  2018 

Toned gelatin silver print, 17 x 22 inches (43.2 x 55.9 cm)

Trade Winds #22  2018 

Toned gelatin silver print, 17 x 22 inches (43.2 x 55.9 cm)

Blue Bayou Color #3  2016 

Type C-print
48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm)

Blue Bayou #39  2016

Toned gelatin silver print
30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)

Page 14–15: Waterfall  2007

Gelatin silver print
50 x 60 inches (127 x 152.4 cm)

Blue Bayou #18  2016 

Toned gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)

Blue Bayou #38  2016 

Toned gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)

Trade Winds #36  2018 

Type C-print
60 x 96 inches (152.4 x 243.8 cm)

Trade Winds  #19  2018 

Toned gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)

Illuminating Earth  #27  2019

Type C-print, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)

INTERVIEW

Visions of the future—An interview with Yojiro Imasaka

What draws you to a specific landscape as a subject? For example, how did you end up photographing the Louisiana Bayou?

I usually work on several projects at the same time, and often one project leads me to the next. Right after I had finished a two-month road trip shooting photos in the U.S., I met a guy who has a house deep in the Bayou. He saw and loved my photographs from the trip I’d just made, and he asked me to come down to photograph his area. 

There really is nowhere on Earth like the Bayou. So did you go down there right away to start taking photos?

At first I said no, because I don't like people telling me what to do. But it got me started wondering about the Bayou. I’d driven all over America for two months, but I hadn’t even heard about that area yet. When I got back to my studio in Brooklyn, I researched it and got totally interested in its distinctive natural environment. Soon after that I drove there with my gear. When I came across a spot with quiet, breathtaking scenery reflected in an extremely slow-moving stream, and I observed how it deadened the sense of time, I decided to stay there and start taking photographs.

Your photos sometimes come in rich, saturated color and other times in stark black-and-white. How do you determine which treatment will best represent a particular landscape that’s caught your eye?

I just spend a lot of time looking at it, and sometimes the color will disappear and it turns into black-and-white. Other times, only the very strong colors remain in my eyes. That’s why most of my works are either black-and-white or very enhanced colors, such as monotone. 

You’ve said that you aim to “expand the meaning of jewelry design in the social sphere.” Can you tell us more about what that means?

I don’t like jewelry that’s simply worn on as a sculptural object on the neck, ear, wrist, or finger. No matter how beautiful the artist’s concept is, I still believe that the work should be connected to society in a larger sense—not just placed in a show cabinet. I believe the term “jewelry” itself is very ambiguous and neutral and that’s why it’s a challenging genre.

Which sort of camera do you use?

A large format 8x10. It requires a lot of time to set-up, and because I don't manipulate the image after shooting, I need to wait for the perfect lighting and wind. This process slows me down and makes me focus on what I really want to see.

That makes a lot of sense since time is such a dominant theme in your work. I was also wondering if there are any cinematic inspirations at play in your photos?

Yes, but there are too many...

Okay, then what about painterly inspirations?

I'm always interested in paintings because I already know what photography can and can't do. I think the Hudson River School artists have influenced me most. 

Ah, people like Thomas Cole and his peers, who made those stunning landscapes in the Hudson River Valley of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.

Yes. But painting in general is always a big inspiration. I'm really moved by brushstrokes in paintings, and that’s part of the reason why I photograph with the large-format film camera—it’s able to capture more details. And of course the composition of each photo is very important to me, and I've learned a lot from paintings in that regard too.

Where has been the most difficult location to get your camera and gear to? 

When I was shooting from a bridge looking down. I wanted the perfect composition so I had to lean off the bridge. Half of my body was in the air and my assistant was holding me and the tripod.

That sounds terrifying!

I won't do it again. 

Where is a place you want to photograph but haven’t yet?

I'm planning on photographing so called old-growth forests all over the world. They are also known as "primary forests," and we’re losing more of them every second.

A sense of ecological consciousness seems to be an inherent part of your work. How do you envision the post-human future of Earth? Will the planet survive us?

I don't know. I only know that photographing what I'm afraid of—my visions of the future—is the only way I can remove my fear.

About

Yojiro Imasaka
https://yojiroimasaka.com

Yojiro Imasaka
Born 1983 Hiroshima, Japan
Lives and Works in New York City

Yojiro Imasaka received a BFA in Photography from Nihon University College of Art, Photography Department, Tokyo, Japan and an MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. His work has been exhibited globally both in solo and group shows ranging from the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to the Art Project International in New York. His photos are in numerous collections including the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Art, and he has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the China Post, Whitewall magazine, Vogue online, and more. Imasaka uses medium and large format film cameras—tools that require technical expertise and much patience. He generally works in the landscape genre, making photos extensively in his hometown, the site of the first atomic bomb used during wartime. He has also traveled the globe to make his art: the continental United States, Hawai’i, the German countryside—Imasaka finds living manifestations of his vision seemingly anywhere he goes. Across his body of work, Imasaka addresses themes of time, mortality, and nature. His primary thematic focus is on a future that does not include humanity—a world in which the wild returns amidst the ruins of our time.