Looking at Namiko Kitaura’s photographs, you are immediately captivated by a strange sensation of awkward familiarity: regardless of her subject matter, every image is treated by the artist as a landscape, so it usually takes some time before you realise what you are actually looking at. What at first resembles a map is actually nothing more than a very close look at an image of pale, silvery skin with rivers of veins evolving into dark streams. In another image, a tense neckline could easily be mistaken for an orchid’s stem; a face, though her lens, can look like a mountain, whereas a mountain peak is depicted like a mother’s full breast, ready to be offered to the sky, just as it would be offered to an eager newborn.
Namiko is a master manipulator who excels at exploiting her viewer’s eyesight. She loves this game of make-believe, as she knows that when you look daringly close, you tend to lose all focus — to the point when an alternate, distorted state becomes an accepted reality. This way, her images make us drop all preconceptions, offering the opportunity to explore beauty within transience, ambiguity and a gentle melancholy that emerges through her strange shapes and forms.
Talking to her, we find out that she hails from a talented family: her grandfather, Fumio Hayasaka, was a world-renowned music composer who worked with Akira Kurosawa for ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘Rashomon', and Kenji Mizoguchi for ‘Ugetsu’. Her mother was a well-known singer in the seventies, and her brother is one of the most well known up-and-coming music producers in Japan. Although her first love was oil painting, she decided to become a photographer right after her first experience in a darkroom; although her love for landscapes and her painterly approach belie her first love. A pure minimalist at heart, Namiko finds inspiration and beauty in simple things and the most unexpected places, particularly in her powerful and ever-evolving bond with her son.
Your images are full of beauty but are often produced with very unorthodox methods. For example, why do you stitch or fry flowers before photographing them?
I was very political and had many critical opinions back when I did this. I was trying to visualize the way women are treated in some societies. I shot those flowers in a very symbolic way. I was very much into expressing the dark side of life then. I don’t think in that way anymore!
What is the hardest part of your work?
Producing imagery is just like archery. You really need to focus. Being a single parent dominates everything I do throughout the day and night, so I find it very hard to focus. I use yoga and meditation to come back to my centre.
You often work with film for your shootings. What qualities do you find in film that can’t be found in digital?
I think there is some kind of tense energy when you shoot with film…and that feeling appears in the results. Also, imperfection of focus, colours, accidental results… well, there is eternal beauty in there for sure.
Is there an event in your life that has changed you in a very defining way?
After giving birth, I really see the world in a totally different way. Of course it has been hard to experience childbirth and a divorce at the same time, living in Far East Asia. But my son really gives me the opportunity to see the world in a very beautiful way, full of positivity and homeostasis.
Is intimacy important in your work?
Yes, most of the time, when I shoot still life macro images, I work at home. When I find the subjects, I don’t shoot them immediately, but keep them in my room for a while and face them. Then, suddenly, I feel that I am ready to photograph them. I know that the right time has come.
Does your outlook change when you are commissioned for commercial work?
I listen to my clients and discuss with them as much as possible, in order to get the best results. In any case, I always try my best to sustain my personal sense of aesthetics. Also, I feel that it is very important to be intuitive and spontaneous on set.
What is your latest project with the designer Patrick Stephan about?
The story is about Patrick’s archival collection. I have known him for almost 10 years, and we admire each other’s artistic universe very much. We believe that we share and acknowledge the same sort of aesthetic. I understand his passion and dream. At the same time, Patrick appreciates my way of seeing reality. We are currently in the middle of pre-production for our next collaboration, that will happen in France this summer.
What else are you up to?
I am trying to prepare a book about the travelling I have done with my son ever since he was born. We just got back from our adventure in Lapland, and we already have many more destinations on our list. I want to get some sponsors, so that Yuri and I can continue travelling around the world. Also, I would like to show more of my personal life as a single mother in Japan: The way we live everyday life, what we eat, what we see, beautiful moments that you tend to miss… Finally, I am looking for new collaborations with dancers, poets and food designers. I would like to explore more of lifestyle stories and travel photography as well as art photography. I am always open to new projects and on the lookout for a gallery that could represent me.