Close Up, Osamu James Nakagawa
How did you find the public Grand Prize selection meeting?
I was very pleased that my pick for an Excellence Award, Kim Sajik, ultimately won the Grand Prize. The core of her work is informed by her circumstances as a Korean living in Japan, and her issue-awareness in this regard was recognized with this award.
What did you notice about the entries in general?
The submitted works came in all shapes, sizes, and formats, but in many I felt a divide between the photographs and the creative intention. In some cases, the ideas on photography themselves were shallow and poorly conceived. In others, I got an impression the photographs did not follow or pursue the intentions as stated. What artists should do is consider how to narrow the gap between their photographs and their creative intention and then actually express this. Many of the submissions from Japan, in particular, gave only vague creative intentions, and many contestants avoided talking about what their photographs captured. What’s needed in a creative statement is not airy metaphorical expressions but substantive discussions about the actual contents of the photographs. What’s essential is not explanations of technique but demystifications of what the work attempts to convey. Certainly, the personal is important, but the best works are those that link the personal to some broader point of contention happening in Japan or the world. Works gain poignancy and pose challenges through such connections. That’s what makes a work interesting...
Kai: Following the Cycle of Life
by Coralie Kraft
When he snapped the image that later made it into The New York Times and caught the eye of Anne Tucker, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Osamu James Nakagawa had no idea that he was beginning a series that he would continue to add to for decades. Primarily known as a digital photographer at the time, Nakagawa was used to thinking of “straight photography” as material for his larger digital compositions, not individual works in their own right. Stuck in the swirling eddies of a personal tragedy—one of those disconcerting periods of life in which your world is collapsing in around you while everyone else keeps moving forward—he picked up his film camera as a channel for relief.
The resulting series, titled Kai, encapsulates a dialogue that Nakagawa has had with himself (and his students) since he first started taking photographs: the relationship between the work and medium. Why should one project be shot on film and another digitally? The heart of this debate first came to the attention of Nakagawa organically, almost two decades ago. Confronted with both burgeoning new life and the blunt finality of death, Nakagawa made photographs as a way to cope with the swift changes around him. Only afterwards did he recognize that the series could only have been shot on film; that the medium is as integral to the project as the subjects themselves...
Profiles: Audio Interview
by Yael Ksander
The nature of photography is recording reality . . . but I’m interested in things you cannot see. — Osamu James Nakagawa
Osamu James Nakagawa’s photographs are exhibited internationally. He’s best known for his Okinawa trilogy, which includes Gama, Banta, and Remains.
His other bodies of work include Mado, his window series, Drive in Theater, and May 15s. In 2009, he won a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, and in 2014 he was named the Sagamihara Photographer of the Year in Japan.
Since 1999, he has been teaching workshops at the International Center for Photography in New York.
International Center of Photography
by Nandita Raman
Nandita Raman speaks to Osamu James Nakagawa, an artist in "I need my memories. They are my documents.", a group exhibition she curated on view at sepiaEYE gallery through October 31, 2015.
Despite the slipperiness of memory, Louise Bourgeois insists that they are her documents and adds, "You have to differentiate between memories. Are you going to them or are they coming to you? If you are going to them, you are wasting time. Nostalgia is not productive." Documentation is often done to create an archive, a remembrance, but Bourgeois reverses this process choosing to rely on the mutable and the uncertain. The paradoxical place between memory and document is the location of the works in this exhibition.
The group exhibition, "I need my memories. They are my documents." at SepiaEYE gallery features photographs and videos by five artists who work with a repository of existing visual materials. Osamu James Nakagawa brings together the contrary moments of the past and the present into his triptychs and collages. In Ma: Between the Past, Nakagawa juxtaposes his images of Japan and the United States with his father's and grandfather's photographs and film strips that were handed down in a suitcase by his father. The repetition of some of the motifs, like the mountain in his work that is multiplied by its reflection in water and lingers on the neighboring image’s wallpaper, brings attention to movement and displacement. Nakagawa says, "I began to question my own past, not only my memory, but also the unfamiliar past that I had inherited. This series searches for a link to my past and its future passage to my daughter..."
Nandita Raman: You seem to have two distinct strains in your practice—political and personal. Do they feed into each other? How?
Osamu James Nakagawa: Yes, I have two modes of working. One is personal and introspective; the other is to visualize the political, social, cultural, and historical events through my cross-cultural experiences. When I was younger I separated the two, but as I've gotten older I have merged the two different modes of working to connect the viewer with both a visual and sensory experience.
When I exhibited the Banta Cliff work, many people mentioned that they felt a sense of vertigo when viewing the work and sometimes they see faces in the texture of the cliff's surface. They have been internalized as ghostly or spiritual photographs. With the Gama Cave work, I wanted to create work that can give the audience a visceral experience.
Osamu James Nakagawa, Banta Cliffs + Gama Caves
by Natalie Zelt
Poissant Gallery during FotoFest 2012
I was first introduced to the cliffs and caves of Okinawa on the floor. In 2010 Osamu James Nakagawa brought prints ofBanta Cliffs and Gama Caves to the MFAH. As he unrolled what appeared to me to be massive textured abstractions he started to tell the story of the cliffs, his experiences photographing and the palpable weight the Island’s history. It was jarring to look down on these prints, knowing that among other things, this was the site where a large number of Okinawans committed suicide amidst the Battle of Okinawa in WWII. Nakagawa’s images deliberately tilt his viewer’s perspective, instilling each image a radical composition combined with a lush detail that cause the viewer to second guess their position in relation to the rock. In one image the viewer is gazing down a precipice, a slice of roaring sea just visible. Another pulls the viewer face to face with the sharp crags and pocks of the rock, as if standing above the ocean floor. In his newer series Gama Caves, Nakagawa draws his viewers into the earth, illuminating dark caverns that are both sacred sites for the island’s shamans and sites of violence and death during the World War II.
Visitors to Poissant Gallery during Fotofest 2012 had the opportunity to encounter Nakagawa’s photographic renderings of both Banta Cliffs and Gama Caves along with a video installation. Through this exhibition, Nakagawa delivered an experiential excavation of the Okinawa and its history. This interview addresses the work made in the caves... Read full PDF
by Aki KUSUMOTO
ームス 中川展 BANTA：沁みついた記憶」である。
た中川氏は、生後7 ヵ月で両親とともに帰国、15 歳まで
大学を卒業してからは86 ～ 88 年まで東京に戻り、伯
Read full PDF
by Osamu James Nakagawa, Mariko Takeuchi, Yoshi Higa