A pink hat bobs in the dust. The infectious laughter of a little boy is joined by another’s delicious giggle. Bright pink and red pants dance upon the brown dirt road. A young man approaches them. They stop their banter—their moment interrupted. The interrupter holds the bright pink beanie of one and the shoulder of the other. They look up in a momentary embrace, the safety of a brother perhaps—someone they admire or at least know not to ruffle. However, they quickly return to insatiable laughter as the young man continues down the path. Not wanting to interrupt their joy, I quietly approach. They’ve seen me, but it seems to only spur-on their giddy play. Holding hands they move up onto the grass. That pink hat is now at home amongst the pastel blues and greens of the late afternoon. I crouch down on the grass, wanting to enter their world for the moment. I take the boy’s hand. I smile wide. Who could imagine a more wonderful explosion of fun? Do I dare break the moment, raise the camera? I dare, slowly. The two boys nod in agreement—this will only add to their fun, they seem to say. Looking through the looking glass, the frame now exaggerates the colours, of this naturally soft-boxed village.
Breathe. Focus. Smile. Click. Quietly watch, quietly wait, the world will unfold, the moment will come, the light with shift, and something intimate will happen. I will be listening. I will learn something.
I am a meliorist, a humanist, a photographer—and white. Apparently the combination is controversial. The notion that the world can be made better through human effort, to be concerned in human welfare, and to engage with the plethora of issues that face individuals by getting to know them intimately through a lens is to (in no particular order) “intrude”, “exploit”, “distort”, “trespass” and “pathetic, helpless, dispirited victimhood.” (Thank you Sontag and Rosler). Yet, I do not feel demanding, trespassing, or otherwise ‘evil’.
I feel grounded, connected, and engaged. I feel human.
While framing the portrait of Artur Radvanský, a survivor of six concentration camps, it took every fiber in my being not to leap across the table and hug him—every facial muscle strained to hold back the tears. As I was packing up, he chuckled that I remind him of his granddaughter who was studying abroad in Italy. I ached, twinges of pain for he reminded me of my great grandfather. I succumbed, leaning over to embrace him. I was careful to contain myself enough to not knock the poor man off his feet. I held him for a moment before placing a kiss on each cheek, as I would have my great grand-father. Later, outside the door the tears exploded. With red and puffy eyes, the translator said she did not know how I could stand to do these interviews and take these portraits. Too emotional, I simply thought, “who am I not to?” Someone needs to listen. Someone needs to remember. Someone needs to feel. Maybe if we did, less young men would watch their fathers starve to death while other men ate to their fill in halls nearby.
I believe in the power of a still image to capture a moment. A moment that grasps at what it means to be human, what it means to have family, what it means to love, what it means to struggle, and what it means to be kind. As a photographer, I aspire to connect individuals through the art of visual story telling—to show the similarities in the human condition, as well as, the challenges, issues and struggles we all face.
Ansel Adams said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” I approach each subject this way. If I cannot convey the emotion of being there with just photographs, then I will record sounds. If the sounds do not give enough details, then I will write. I will combine the multiple expressive forms, while trying to remain honest to that subject and moment in time. But if I cannot, if I fail, I will be content to sit, to sip tea, to learn from their experiences.
Perhaps my beliefs come from the fact that in my family each child was born in different country. If my father were honest, he would consider his address as ‘seat 2A’. My earliest childhood memory is gliding on a bike amongst the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, in a park nearby the preschool where I was one of very few blue-eyed students. At Christmas time sitting around the mahjong table in speedy, heated rounds is as natural as turkey in my world. Time zones are simply inconveniences—not separation. Or maybe my values are deeply set propaganda from English teachers who preached our generation’s disillusion, and to wake up and get informed—learn something, anything. Or simply inherited, my grandfather placed a camera in my hands around the age of eight. I kept clicking, sending snapshots of a life far away in hopes of communicating with an old man, I barely knew but loved deeply.
In any case, I am grateful. The desire to see, to learn, to share through the peering eye of my lens has sent me on adventures with families of all types. It has allowed me to share moments of communication—from banality, joy, and pain. I am always thankful, to those who would share a fragment of their lives, with me.