WORDS FILIPE PHITZGERARD - PHOTOGRAPHY TETSUO KASHIWADA
Tetsuo Kashiwada is the Osaka-born, Tokyo-based photographer whose work has caught our attention and devotion at first glance. Inspired by nature and the raw elements in his surroundings, Kashiwada discovered his love for photography out of angst as a teenager which led him to leave Japan for a season and discover some of the vast beauty in the world. As a child, Tetsuo spent a lot of time playing outside and getting muddy, and like any other child with a good imagination, he believed he had the superpower of feeling and understanding the natural elements; and perhaps, he did.
That childlike imagination fed into his desire to perceive and capture things that many would miss out. He developed a way to communicate with colour, light, and all the other elements surrounding him to then capture it through his lens. Tetsuo's documentary work is truly impressive and is bounded by a code of honesty and no prejudice. He travelled from Japan to India, Sydney and the United States where he photographed life as it is happening.
We have had the pleasure of speaking to Tetsuo to find out more about his upbringing, where his passion for photography was stirred, photographing Midwest America and much more.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Where are you based at the moment? Tetsuo Kashiwada: I am based in Tokyo now but I can go anywhere at any time.
F.P: Did you grow up in Tokyo? What sort of things inspired you? T.K: I grew up in Osaka from elementary school to junior high school.
F.P: How was it growing up there? T.K: I think I was a pretty normal boy who was not too good at studying and who liked sports and exercise. I used to play a lot outside and I was often covered in mud. Because of that, since I was little, I was very sensitive to the smell of the earth, the smell of the wind, the smell of the plants, the change of seasonal light etc. I always found myself immersed in myself as I spent a lot of time alone as a child.
F.P: Do you think that fed into your passion for photography and then your aesthetic? T.K: I think so. For me, emotions are always very at a skin level. I was always very sensitive to these elements and that transferred into my work. Growing up I thought I had the power to feel the nature. I went to a rural school in Miyazaki, a region of Kyushu, Japan; it was a place with the ocean, mountains and just nature all around. So most of my child and teen years I spent surrounded by nature; even in high school.
F.P: When did you realise that photography was something you wanted to pursue? T.K: It was when I was 18 years old. I think everyone is, but when I was 18, I was very unstable. I didn’t know what I wanted to be in the future or what to do. And I hated everything and wanted to go to a completely different world, so I went on a trip to India. At the time I could only think about leaving Japan and I wanted to take photographs when I went on a trip. I had my first contact with an actual camera when I was there. When I took photographs while travelling, I felt like I was in my own world. I only had a desire to photograph and this trip I was doing. In fact, I had only a trip that I wanted to photograph.
F.P: We know you spent some time in Sydney studying photography and then went on to travel; how was your experience in Sidney and then travelling? T.K: I think going to Sydney to study photography was the right thing for me. I grew up near the natural environment from a young age, and, although Sydney is a city, it is a city where nature is very close. It was the perfect fit for me. As you said, after studying photography in Sydney, I travelled to different countries to take more pictures and to work photographying. At first, I was a Japanese who couldn’t speak English; even now English isn't very good. However, I studied languages while also studying photography in Sydney. Communication is indispensable when you are taking portraits because you need to be able to communicate with the people you want to photograph. The same is true when it comes to travelling. You need to be able to communicate anyway. Life in Sydney allows you to build more relationships on subsequent trips that come from those relationships.
F.P: Which place has been your favourite to be at and to photograph? Australia and the United States. T.K: Both countries are very large, so there are different and interesting views and culture depending on the location so it is very attractive. I still want to visit more places like them and want to travel a lot more.
F.P: Do you have a photographer (photographers) who inspire you? T.K: Yes. I really like the works of William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, and Joel Sternfeld.
F.P: Your travel photography is stunning. We love the element of visual diary; is there anything in particular that catches your attention when photographing a new place? T.K: Thank you very much. The important thing is to have no prejudice. It is also important to get excited in the first place and then to watch carefully your surroundings and the people in it. For me, you need to understand the environment you are in and the people there so you can approach them. Paying attention and watching the way people walk and speak is very important so you don’t’ miss the timing.
F.P: Any advice you can give young photographers who have just started photographing? T.K: If I could give any advice it would be very simple; take lots of photos. Read a lot of photo books. Show your photos to as many people as you can. And think about your photos and work, I mean, put some real thought into what you want to create.
F.P: Do you have any specific things you do to stay creative? T.K: I don’t think there is anything special. I think it’s about understanding what you want to capture and what you want to do with it. And it is important that whatever that may be, it can still be shaped. You can develop and grow it.
F.P: How do you approach the day to day photography? T.K: There are two ways; I think about the concept of my work first. Then I look for a pattern that provides the necessary materials and shoots. That means I watch my surroundings as I am going about my day and when I found a place or scene that has the components I usually look for, then that is a good place to photograph. I then have a second pattern which is for taking things that are bothersome and uncomfortable and photographing them without much thinking. These are more organic shots.
F.P: Are you constantly looking for something to photograph or do you just go with the flow of your day? T.K: When creating whatever work, the thing I want to shoot is somehow already floating in my head, so I’m probably looking for it subconsciously. I think there is always a "flow" to how we photograph but that isn't necessarily something we control. It can be pretty much subconsciously or instinctively.
F.P: I completely get that. I find the same thing happening to me when I am photographing; I might not have a "plan" to what I am doing and yet I find myself gravitating towards specific things. What would you say is the most fascinating thing to photograph in your city? T.K: Exactly. Japan has four seasons and a lot of culture and history. There are a lot of attractive things to photograph so I think it’s important to choose a theme from them.
F.P: We know you have been to the U.S.A and took some incredible photos; what has been the best place to photograph in the United States? T.K: For two months, I travelled around the United States by car. Everywhere I went I felt attracted to. When we speak of the United States usually we have this instant image of urban areas or the beach in places like LA and NY on the West and East coasts, but I personally like the middle of the country. I think there is this unknown United States that is just as real as the West and East coast which often is not seen by the world.
F.P: That is very true. The South and Midwest are rich in so many aspects. Do you have a favourite place there? T.K: The quiet countryside and the lovely people in Wyoming and Arkansas. I love these places and their people.
F.P: Your project STRANGER is absolutely beautiful. How would you describe it in your own words? T.K: STRANGER is the work I created while spending those two months in America. It summarizes the journey at that time. Most of them are composed of photographs of the central part and several parts of the United States. The last few years I've been visiting the United States have felt that these coastal metropolitan cities alone couldn't talk about the United States and couldn't understand it. I suppose there is an unknown world in the inland of the United States that is invisible to the coastal metropolis. Guided by the interest and inquisitiveness of wanting to know the United
States, I embarked on an East-West cross-country journey for two months.
F.P: Wow. That must have been incredible. T.K: Yes. It was cinematic. I from the car window I could see the people who live in different places, different towns and States, and the different cultures which would change instantly from one city to another. The law is completely different from one State to another and I find that intriguing. Certain things are invisible or incomprehensible to unrelated people, or people who don't live there. I used my camera to find out what was different, but the moment I looked into the camera, I realized that the different thing was not the subject, but was definitely myself. Looking back at the photo, it appeared more clearly to me that I was the one looking and starring from their outside.
F.P: I love that. What an incredibly romantic and real way to describe documentary photography. Are you more attracted to people or locations when it comes to photography? T.K: People, definitely. People have a lot to offer and so many layers of history. I think locations set the mood to a subject but ultimately, the subject takes centre stage.
F.P: In your opinion; what makes a documentary photography a good image? T.K: Something that is not manipulated. Don’t leave it alone or leave it untouched. I am part of that. I think we shouldn't miss the moment but if we do, don't try to fake it once it is gone. It has to be honest.
F.P: Is there anything you are instantly drawn into when you see it; for example; a colour, a shape, a composition of elements…? T.K: Everything. Everything is attractive. It could be light. It could be a color. It could be a person or a facial expression.
F.P: Considering the current climate in the world (with the COVID-19 issue) what would you advise creatives to do while in isolation? T.K: The world is in a really difficult situation right now. At the moment, people can't get out of their houses so they spend a lot of time inside. I think this is a time when we can think outside the box and do new creative things within the space we are in. The world is still spinning so should we - continue to move. I do hope that life goes back to its normal again or maybe not, maybe this will create a whole new lifestyle and perspective in life. But I do hope all ends well.
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