The Japanese photographer capturing the colourful street scene as a means for therapy, existentialism and honesty
There's something about street-photography that gives both the photographer and the viewer a delicious sense of voyeurism. Who are they? What's their story? For award-winning Japanese street photographer Ryuichi Ishikawa, it's about the sparkle of evanescence.“All I can do is click the shutter as I tremble,” he reveals. The Okinawa native has compiled a tantalising collective of impromptu street-snaps into a new book Okinawan Portraits 2010-2012. Never without his hefty 20kg equipment and camera, the photographer captures a plethora of identities on the streets of Japan, explaining: “There are people who are enjoying something with friends, helping with the housework, going to cram for school or some other kind of class, out on a date with their lover, working, shopping on the way home from dinner, suffering from an injury or accident, drunk, going wild, worrying, rejoicing, and distraught with loneliness.” Letting fate and subconscious guide his work, Ishikawa has developed an almost therapeutic photographic style that captures a delightful melting pot of personalities and characters. “I ask the subject to be as relaxed as they can. Fear affects expression and smiling could conceal the person. Relaxed expressions and positions show the daily life of that person; wrinkles, muscle condition. To borrow my respected teacher’s words, ‘A photograph is not a document but a monument.” Below, we chat to the street peeper about his latest book and using photography as a theraputic medium.
What is it about street photography that makes you want to work in it?
Ryuichi Ishikawa: Photography allows me to be honest. I only shoot what I want to shoot, and it shows me many things. It gives me a motive to consider and remember. I just press the button, and a lot of things are already reflected, like something about myself, the subject, the age and the land.
How do you decide who and where to photograph?
Ryuichi Ishikawa: I rarely go out for the purpose of shooting. I take photos wherever I am: on an interval during my job, the places I visit on business, or when I hang around with my friends – this way of shooting takes me to a place over my consciousness. When I find someone who interests me and I want to talk, I just speak to them without thinking. If I had eaten stir-fried rice wrapped in an omelette in the morning and I find someone walking down the street with his T-shirt stained with ketchup, I might speak to them but if I had eaten a hamburger instead of rice wrapped in an omelette? I think I would speak to another person. If the same ten people walked through two different places, whoever I feel drawn to shoot differs from one place to the other. This way, I just speak with whomever I’m interested in and then some of them allow me to shoot. Only when I gather up the photos, do I consider what I was seeing.
You’ve previously stated in relation to your book: ‘We become after images that are constantly passing each other somewhere’, how do your photographs immortalise an individual's personality and story?
Ryuichi Ishikawa: Personality or story cannot be fixed. People, objects and everything are flowing and unstable. Photography does not mean to fix everything. This is of course something that cannot be reflected in photos and since photography is a way of expression, some part of that is entrusted to the involvement of people or time. I don’t know how best to explain, but I consider that each photograph exists as a piece to think over and imagine the subjects.
Do you think there is a therapeutic aspect to your photography?
Ryuichi Ishikawa: It is important to confirm one’s existence, that one person is concerned with another person – not only in my photographs. At the same time, the confirmation of existence could be stressful too. For some people being in a photo may be restoration of peace of mind, and for others merely being taken in a photo, is perhaps just a trouble. That is why I think it is important to think of the person in front of my camera as much as I can. It is my belief that there are various kinds of people and ways of living and I would be happy if someone felt my photography was therapeutic.
Ryuichi Ishikawa's new exhibition at The Third Gallery Aya in Osaka finishes on the 21 February. Okinawan Portraits is out now