Untitled Scapes of America
by Yojiro Imasaka
Q: The natural world—unrestrained greenery, sky, water, sunlight—looms large against the human element in this series, as if reclaiming or dominating it, even if patiently. What motivates you toward such representation?
IMASAKA: Even though there are no human subjects in my work, I’m always trying to create an image that implies human existence. Remnants are just visible or invisible from time to time.
Ever since I started taking photographs, I’ve always been interested in creating an image in which some tiny human existence is included within the huge presence of nature. Somehow, it reminds me of our past, present, and makes us think about the future. I like to create images that make people think about historical time.
I was born and grew up in Hiroshima where the atomic bomb was dropped, and since I was little, we learned about war through “Peace Study.” In the class, I saw many pictures that describe what happened after the bomb exploded. Everything was gone and only tiny remnants of human existence and objects were left. It was kind of traumatic and the idea never left my mind that human beings will go extinct and our civilization will end in the near future, just like what happened in Hiroshima. So, my photographs not only refer about present, but also past and future.
Q: Each city/space represented in “U.S.A. ‘Untitled Scapes of America’” possesses a distinct personality. What would you say to fans that referred to these landscapes as portraits?
IMASAKA: I spent almost two-months on the road and visited more than thirty states for this project. Each city/space has unique features in many ways. However, the locations where I photographed are not so significant. I titled each image with a city name simply because I wanted titles for the images.
The important thing is that you could find those landscapes anywhere if you tilt your perspective a little. I’m just seeing this world in a way that I want to by using my camera.
Q: You said in a Whitewall interview that you’re not a documentary photographer. Indeed, each image seems imbued with an exciting element of fantasy. On what major variables do you rely upon at the time of the shoot or in production to render your unique vision?
IMASAKA: I still use film cameras, such as 35mm and 8×10 large format. Unlike digital photography, I’m not able to see what I’ve just photographed. So, during the production process, I always try to remember and recreate the light, color, sounds, atmosphere, and what I was really looking at.
But, memory is so fragile and wobbly that the image can become an amalgamation of my fantasy and what my camera documented. Photography (mostly color and contrast) is a tool that allows me to visualize how I want to see the world.
Q: What was your most challenging or entertaining adventure in capturing this series during your two-month road trip across America?
IMASAKA: Meeting new people was quite entertaining while on the road-trip. Even though I experienced very scary situations a few times—such as a crazy guy pointing a shotgun at me—most of the time people were really kind and hospitable.
Also, by seeing and meeting some of these people who live in rural or totally isolated areas, they just reminded me of where we are originally from and also, somehow, how civilization might be in the future.
Q: To create this series, you’ve used 35mm film snapshots and a classic Deardorff large format camera to satisfy your love for texture. How would you describe your relationship to digital photography?
IMASAKA: Digital photography has had a huge impact on our lives, just like the iPhone has. But, when I have something that I really want to tell I still write a letter rather than just send a text message on my iPhone.
I believe in and appreciate something that’s visible (something I can see, touch, and smell). With the classic method of photography, I can see what I photographed with film. However, digital photography is about a digital file, which somehow it makes me feel it’s not real. This is why I appreciate handwriting a letter rather than text message—because I can see and feel you from the letters.
Q: What’s your most recent epiphany in terms of art or craft?
IMASAKA: I met a fortune-teller and she told me that in my previous life I was a German architect who designed and built bridges in the countryside. She also added that some of those bridges still exist and I’m going to see them in person in the near future. So, I will be going to Germany this September and will do a road-trip again. I can’t wait to see what I’m going to photograph on my new journey.
Yojiro Imasaka was born in Hiroshima, Japan. His photographs have opened in galleries across the world. He currently lives and works in New York City.