Artist Inspirations, The Art of Philosophy

Honest Photography: how to photograph with a free mind

Part 1. Kosuke Okahara on photographing with a free mind

“If there’s a pure form of documentary photography, the picture should not be influenced by any preexisting visions.”

Having been working on a story about the impact of drugs on local community in various parts of Columbia for 13 years, Kosuke Okahara became able to predict the kind of scenes that he would see even though he was in different towns, and in the way he would frame the images.

“It’s like I was trying to see what I’ve seen already… it’s almost like I’m copying myself…”

“I asked myself – am I documenting or am I just taking pictures of the situation that I kind of wanted to see… ” he quoted. 

A former aspiring Olympic skier whom became a W. Eugene Smith Fellowship recipient, Japanese photographer Kosuke Okahara shared his struggle with the philosophical dilemma he had with documentary photography, and his journey to finding his ways through making the work The Blue Affair

© Kosuke Okahara, from the photobook ‘The Blue Affair’; Source @ Kosuke Okahara Website

The Blue Affair is a a work with photographs taken in Koza, the heart of Okinawa, which gave Okahara the refreshing sense of being a photographer with a beginner’s mind again. The repeated visits without a specific purpose in producing a story somehow led to the people, the conversations, the happenings he encountered from this place infiltrating his dreams — as if these were symbolic gestures in nudging him to return, and at the same time, to relight his inner flame and re-experience again the joy of just pure photography.   

“… being more conscious takes one away from the purpose while getting ride of the purpose is the only way to get closer to the intent. In that sense, documentary is like a tragedy of fate. Achieving by losing – like a Shakepearean play.” —extract from the afterword written by Tatsuya Ishikawa, of the photo book The Blue Affair by Kosuke Okahara. 

Are we really creating images from a fresh eye every time we shoot, or are we already building on from pre-existing images of what to be seen? How can we be more aware when the way we photograph becomes purposeful rather than being open and honest with what is there to be seen? And how can we remove ourselves from the position of already knowing and begin again with a beginner’s mind? These are the questions to ponder, and with the blue affair, Okahara has shown us that it is possible.

Going through The Blue Affair book gave me chills. It’s the kind of book that gives you a visual journey in a way that you are drawn in as if you were present with the photographer, experiencing what he was experiencing at the same time. That’s the kind of work I aspire to work towards, because the work that one would remember the most, are the ones that are felt.

His recommended Photobook:  Rasen Kaigan by Leiko Shiga

Please check out his work:

Website: https://www.kosukeokahara.com / IG: @kosukeokahara

To be continued… Part 2. Teju Cole on embracing chance in a confined time

Standard
Artist Inspirations

In conversation with Mien Thuy

How do we define ourselves? And what makes us who we are as individuals and as a collective? Thuy is a Vietnamese self-taught photographer who is interested in using photography as a tool to navigate and explore her identity and her Vietnamese roots.

The image of her hands, using both her middle fingers and the ring fingers, stretching her eyes into 2 thin lines making a strange face in front of a mirror captivated me. I even tried it myself — the muscles around the eyes were stretched outside of their comfortable placements, feeling strange and unpleasant yet present. What intrigued me the most was her self-portrait in front of a mirror ironically puts her in a place of wanting this strangeness to be seen yet one cannot even see herself.

As a new member joining badeyesphotos, Thuy is joining me in a long deep conversation about how photography came into her life, her works and the process behind them and life in general. Hello Thuy! Thanks for joining me and discussing with you about your photography journey.

© Mien Thuy, from the series ‘Sisyphus’s sleepwalking’; Source @ Mien Thuy Website

When I was studying Thuy’s work for the interview, I could easily resonate with her emotional rides as a female photographer myself working in Asia as well. Our identity is constantly changing and shaping from our own changing body, our family influences and to the nation’s political and cultural impacts. Here Thuy is not afraid to speak and stand up for what she believes in, despite the world trying to categorise herself into labels of this or that, she used photography to express her struggle yet at the same time stood a unique point of view of expressing who she is as a photographer.

Her recommended Photobook: Jesús Monterde — Nemini Parco

Please check out her work:

Website: https://mienthuytran.com / IG: @may.ushuaia

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Inspirations from Tom Sachs

When you are looking for what you want to do for your career, the key success is to do what you love to do. The most important things in life are free. You know you are on the right track when you feel it. it’s important to do what’s really fun for you. Just get so good at it that people pay you for it.

The other thing is really important, whatever you do, even if something that doesn’t seem like a life passion, is to do it 100%.

 

How to define your own internal standards:

  1. authenticity – that is by building an extreme degree of detail and depth, the experience becomes real. This also demands endurance – 2 years is only an interest, 5 years is a hobby, and 20 years you start to begin a sense of mastery.
  2. intuition – the secret is to understand and accept yourself so you can have the courage to make just the right / wrong decision. Don’t take no for an answer, say yes and show them how. Art is a discipline for showing restraints and dedication to the work. Do the work in front of you then improvise. Creativity is not a leading strategy.
  3. transparency – be honest and transparent with your methods and intentions. Understand and exploit your own superpowers.

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Song Dong

In some way, he’s the Chinese version of Joseph Cornell. Using found objects as inspirations and materials for his art, he says that life is his main job, art is just a hobby. The philosophy behind his arts stamps from his upbringing, the way his mother has taught him about not wasting anything. Every object has its own value and life. Can we nurture their lives as beautiful as they can be?

His work really touches me, because I can feel so much love in there. It’s his way of responding to what’s happening in his life with virtues, culture and philosophy of the Chinese.

References:

http://www.artzip.org/song-dong-waste-not

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-borderless-wall/

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-a-world-in-a-well/

https://www.artnetnews.cn/art-world/songdongchichengshiyongyuwangcuihuita-75869

http://review.artintern.net/html.php?id=76542

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Joseph Cornell

Heard from another artist about Joseph Cornell, and his famous work of shadow boxes somehow resonate with me. Maybe it’s the idea and theme of voyage and wanderlust. And the idea of collecting and using found objects to make art.

“He was a kind of magician, turning everyday objects into mysterious treasures. By collecting and carefully juxtaposing found objects in small, glass-front boxes, Cornell created visual poems in which surface, form, texture, and light play together. Using things we can see, Cornell made boxes about things we cannot see: ideas, memories, fantasies, and dreams.”

Throughout Cornell’s life, he has never left America but his wanderings around streets of Americas brought him objects and ephemera that allows him to travel within his own imaginations, through the centuries of history, the continents of the globe and even the celestial realm. His work is filled with a yearning for distant places and times.

Source @ Royal Academy of Arts

Podcast about Cornell and Surrealism: https://audioboom.com/posts/3550962-joseph-cornell-surrealism-and-time

References: https://www.josephcornellbox.com/

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Edward Weston

An inspiring photographer from the 20th centuries. He has been called “one of the most innovative and influential American photographers” (reference from Wikipedia).

A film about him and his philosophy of photography which I feel so inspired from.

“This attention to detail, this care and accuracy, this technique, is what produces art in any medium, but only if it serves the feelings and the knowledge of the artist. That is the hardest apprenticeship to art. To open the gates around our hearts, so that we can feel freely, to clean up the clutter of our mind, so that we can think clearly. No teacher, no master can tell us what to look for in the world around us, nor how to evaluate what we find. They can encourage our patience, our inquisitiveness, our right to have our own feelings and our own ideas, but we must do our own work.”

We must do what it takes to do our own work and walk our own path. Live the life you love and that’s all there is.

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Bill Viola (II)

Passion, is a kind of surging wave that comes up through people and comes out into the world that you have no control over. How do you represent extreme emotional states, which by their definition involve loosing control, loosing sense of self?

Bill Viola’s work uses water as the medium to talk about birth, death, and life in general. The universal themes that we all get to experience in our lives. And the language he chose to speak through is via video and moving images.

Another piece of work that was displayed in a church is called “Ocean without a shore”.

The piece is intriguingly beautiful in that, at the beginning, the person was visually presented black and white representing death. And through a thin sheet of water wall, this person walks through it and became “colourful” and alive, metaphoring the resurrection of christ. These pieces of art were displayed on the altars, where in Christianity they are places of the dead that makes connection with the living. I don’t think I described it as well as Viola in the video. This piece stunned me in that the idea, the execution of the moving images, and where the plasma screens were placed were all thoroughly thought out and in complete harmony with each other. The work feels very united and whole. It makes sense in every single level. This is the kind of work which is what I called “bringing what’s universal with a cutting edge method“. And I know deep down, I want my work to be towards this direction. I just know. It’s passion.

His other pieces “The Passing” and “Nantes Triptych” are both about birth and death, but more personal bringing videos of his mother as well. He mentioned that,

If you are going to make true art, it’s gotta be one thing. It can’t be like Mr. famous artist here and then something else over there. You can’t keep those things apart. If you want to live your life to the fullest.

 

Standard
Artist Inspirations

Bill Viola (I)

 

Bill Viola, a renowned video artist which I’ve known for a while, but never really get to study a bit more about his pieces and how he comes to connect with these pieces. And then, his name popped up again by someone I knew and she highly recommended me to study his work, and draws inspiration from his work. So I did.

I couldn’t really find work of his on the internet, only glimpses of his work, but I’ve been watching a lot of his videos and how he talks about his different pieces of work. And then I realised that, the reason why his work are always about water came from the accident he had when he was 6 years old.

“The Dreamers” is a set of video installation work combining photography and videos together. From the youtube interview I got a chance to look at the work through that. They are images of people eye closed, seems like lying down somewhere at the bottom of the stream and breathing, indicated by the occasional bubbles popping up from their nostrils or mouth. Viola said,

“In ancient time, when people go drink water in the stream, that’s their first time to see reflections of themselves, and for the first time they acquire a sense of self for the very first time.”

So the medium of water comes to build our self-knowledge even before mirrors, which Jacques Lacan refers to as the “mirror stage”. And that water is a crucial element for humanity, not only are we 70% made up of water but also because of this reflection stage which leads us to discover ourselves for the very first time.

The work itself I have so many questions with. First of course is, how the heck did he make those moving images? I am super intrigued by the technical side of it as surely he didn’t ask participants to really lie down on the bottom of a shallow stream and video it. Then the more I look at each installed image, the more I feel meditative and calm, like the rhythm of their breathing was in sync with mine, and as Viola said, it does mimic as though we were dreaming.

Some of the words he says I agree with totally with my heart,

“Human beings need to touch the ground. There’s a reason why this is called Mother Earth. And the grounding is absolutely crucial for making connections.”

And then there was his work “Martyrs” which I like very much also. It is capturing (using moving images) to portray the 4 basic elements: earth, water, wind and fire. And this work was showcased at St Paul’s Cathedral. Again, so many questions arise from how he make those moving images, to how he comes up with ideas to represent the 4 elements and then how it can be transformed and displayed in a Cathedral which brings another level of impact with the work (because of the history and the element of religion). This work will totally be read different if it was displayed in a gallery.

 

To be continued… (since too much of his work needs to be discussed and written down)

Standard