Megumi Shauna Arai
Movement is ephemeral—a series of consecutive moments experienced over an extended period of time. Even in still photography, where there may be a sense of movement, the image ultimately documents one instant and therefore remains motionless. Megumi Arai uses isolated moments to allow us to experience the solitude of a singular moment and the joy of nature in motion.
Megumi’s depiction of movement in her photography may be directly fed by her intense passion for film and her reverie for nature, which is perpetually moving. The earthy elements of her work grounds the bright and daring tone of her photographs of landscape and people, and each of her photographs leave a fresh and direct connection to the world around us and its interaction with the human body and landscape.
In our interview, Megumi discusses her love of film, her childhood introduction to photography, her love for Seattle, and her ideas on nature and a holistic experience.
COURTNEY SIMCHAK: How did you get introduced to photography?
MEGUMI ARAI: I grew up with a very artistic father. He was a civil engineer and economist by day, but always inclined towards the arts. He painted, he drew, played flamenco guitar, and built things. I was very fortunate to have parents who fostered creativity in me. I enrolled in my first photography course when I was 13. It was through an organization that took kids to professional art facilities, and this was how I was introduced to the Photographic Center Northwest. As a kid it was so cool to be in a real gallery space and watch all of the artists work. I was a fish in water when I picked up my first 35mm. I was like “this is it!”
SIMCHAK: Many of your photographs, both commercial and personal, carry a sense of solitude and contentment in nature. Is there something specific you want to convey through your photographic work?
ARAI: I think I find solace in the vastness of nature. I carry the sense of beauty and spirituality it provides me and this is a constant throughout my work.
SIMCHAK: How has Seattle and the Photographic Center Northwest, as a place, influenced you and your art? And how has your early exposure to such a rich and vibrant art community influenced your art practice?
ARAI: As a kid access to a creative institution and community kept me out of a lot of trouble. The Photo Center gave me a reason to wake up in the morning and it helped me graduate high school. Making art gave me a type of confidence and sense of ownership I didn’t have anywhere else. Both my time in Seattle and NYC as a kid in art programs blew my world open in ways that still echo in my life today.
As an adult, Seattle has been an incredibly supportive city to begin a creative career. It’s small enough that people know each other and professional relationships are treated with great care. It’s also big enough to have exciting creative opportunities and a vibrant scene of people adding to the creative narrative.
Ultimately I wish to capture confidence and vulnerability. This duality is what makes people beautiful.
SIMCHAK: Your photographs have a very active sense of movement in them—an organic kinesthetic. It feels like sketches made from a choreographed dance. How do you think about movement when composing your photographs?
ARAI: I love dancing! This definitely effects the way I work photographically. I also grew up obsessed with film. I spent an embarrassing amount of time alone watching movies. We lived near a video store with an extensive selection of art-house and foreign cinema. My parents went there to rent Kurosawa, Ozu, Miyazaki, Itami Juzo, Sci-Fi, Classic American Cinema, Israeli films…. My mom wrote about film a lot when I was a kid. I remember doing homework at the kitchen table while she would watch and re-watch scenes as she took notes. Going to this place was like a trip to the candy store for me. I’d walk through the aisles organized by director, country, and genre for hours. The limit for rentals was 10 movies a week. Every week I’d walk out with my stack. This and rehab was my college education. Needless to say, it most definitely has had a stamp on my creative process.
SIMCHAK: In addition to movement, there is a sense of strength and will in your figures and a willing acknowledgment of being documented. What is your relationship to this act of performance that prevails in your personal and commercial work?
ARAI: Whether I am creating a self-portrait or working with a subject, there typically is a long conversation and planning period before the actual photographing occurs. I swim between calculation and spontaneity. Ultimately I wish to capture confidence and vulnerability. This duality is what makes people beautiful.
Most of the self-portraiture you see in my artistic practice is a culmination of a durational performance. Though I frame myself as primarily a photographer, I work in a multidisciplinary fashion. Artists who are not held to a single discipline are the most inspiring to me. True genius is when someone’s artistic language is strong enough to translate through any medium.
SIMCHAK: The interaction of figures with nature is prevalent in both types of work. Figures are draped in earthly colors, submerged in water, and embraced in sand. There is a bold gesture of sameness between the human body and these natural elements. Can you talk more about how you think about the relationship between these things and how it inspires your compositions?
Making art gave me a type of confidence and sense of ownership I didn’t have anywhere else. Both my time in Seattle and NYC as a kid in art programs blew my world open in ways that still echo in my life today.
ARAI: I think we come from nature and we go back to it … and that we really aren’t separate from it no matter how many barriers and modern conveniences we put in between.
SIMCHAK: Do you find you treat the image plane differently when you’re shooting personal projects versus commercial assignments?
ARAI: I try not to. Of course when you are shooting for a client their needs are number one with your vision and distinct aesthetic being a close second. I try to focus on jobs where I am hired specifically for my strengths and artistic sensibility. Ideally every time I work whether commercially or artistically it comes from the same intuitive creative stream.
SIMCHAK: What is something that inspires you, outside of art and nature. Do you have an author or a hobby that you feel speaks to your art practice?
ARAI: Not really, but I am very inspired by the work of other artists. Right now I am fascinated by the work of Lee Ufan, Anselm Keifer, Viviane Sassen, Cy Twombly, and Rebecca Solnit to name a few. : )
Megumi Shauna Arai is a biracial artist and freelance commercial photographer. She has shown in Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis, NYC, and has an upcoming show in LA in 2017. This year she was an artist in residence at the Photographic Center Northwest, attended a residency in Shikoku, Japan, in 2015, and has been featured on VSCO, Feature Shoot, and Humble Arts Foundation.