‘The Persimmon’s Fruit’ is a photographic travelogue about Japan, there’re also some words included in the book. My intention was to tell a visual, somewhat poetic, story about traveling to Japan without showing any recognizable tourist hot spots, exposing clichés, making the statements or objectifying anything.
From the very beginning, I wanted the images to communicate the opposite of the sensual overload which is present in Japan, especially in the metropolitan areas, – something quieter, perhaps, more introspective, yet nevertheless diverse and engaging.
My enduring fascination with Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary, prompted me to choose the topic. Since, as a child, I came across the pictures of Geishas and Samurai, shrines and dragons in the illustrated history books, my interest in the country swelled. Later, I started rigorously exploring the works by Nagisa Oshima, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Shūji Terayama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Yohji Yamamoto, Tadao Ando, Kazuo Ohno, Yukio Mishima, Daido Moriyama, Hiroshi Teshigahara, to name a few, and many other Japanese artists, who are still an enormous inspiration for me. And after I moved to London in 2006 to study photography at London College of Communication, I developed friendships with Japanese college mates. Communication with them was extremely rewarding and enchanting, and it made me even more captivated by the country’s culture.
The story originates from my experience of traveling in Japan for the first time and being deeply impressed by the country’s otherness and uniqueness. It is there I regained my diminishing interest in still image and reconnected with the practice of documentary photography. Besides, I wanted to reflect on the concepts of ‘traces’ (omokage) and ‘changeability’ (utsuroi) found in the works by Seigow Matsuoka.
‘The traces quiver, their shapes altered by the circumstances under which they are resurrected. That is the nature of traces of Japan. They are not static… The images that strike us as somehow ‘Japanese’ reveal that quality only in fleeting traces’.
– Seigow Matsuoka “The Legend of Traces” in Yohji Yamamoto’s & Ai Mitsuda’s My Dear Bomb
The most surreal memory I had on a trip to Japan is about navigating the narrow side-streets of the Shinjuku area in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve. It felt like being in the midst of a spontaneously evolving movie – an intangible, phantasmagorical, but very affecting ambiance all around, somewhat reminiscent of Gaspar Noé’s film ‘Enter the Void’. Steaming bars and tiny restaurants packed with the locals, the intensifying sounds of the celebratory drums echoing from the shrine punctuated by karaoke singing and the sound of the trains passing by, the billboard’s neon lights gleaming nonstop, reflected in the deep blue winter sky, freakishly dressed youth gangs, Shinto monks, and occasional disoriented westerners…
Another haunting episode happened during my visit to Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto. Long after the sunset, in pitch-black darkness I followed the labyrinth, stone-paved slippery trail up to the top of the mountain and back down catching the alert gazes of the stone foxes and the faint candlelights, hearing the dogs barking, but not actually knowing where the chosen path will take me. That was a very outlandish experience – spooky, cinematic, bone-chilling, and because of that even more memorable.
I also recall a trip to Kamakura during my second visit to Japan one boiling hot day in September 2014. Conquering a good handful of hills and visiting many shrines and temples to collect stamps in my Goshuinchou (‘The honorable red stamp notebook’), a conversation with a very old monk who was perfectly fluent in English and told me the history of the city. I was truly mesmerised to observe archers practicing at Engaku-Ji Zen Temple, where the director Yasujirō Ozu is buried, – in such a peaceful, almost transcendental silence, only fractured by the high-pitched sound of flying arrows and birds singing. Reviving those occasions in my memory, it was always about the subtle atmosphere beyond the grasp of words: when the distinct proportion of humidity, the light scintillating and shadows crawling lazily, the noises and scents matter and contribute to the whole.
The actual process of taking the photographs was rather spontaneous and instinctive, with openness, curiosity and incessant, acute observation being a decisive part of it. I tried to avoid over-thinking, or over-staging the photographs, prioritising the spontaneous, visceral response. Working outside the firm constraints and following the impulse instead of religiously chasing one theme or taking the beaten aesthetic path – those are the prevalent motifs in my work ethics. The phase of selecting and editing the imagery, as well as making the design-related decisions was far more structured, though even then, I was guided by the gut feeling and the emotional taking over the rational.
The process made me more regardful and critical of how I relate to the images, and basically to any other work I produce. It certainly deepened my apprehension of the way photographs may or may not work together, and compelled me to seek the unexpected connections. Getting the disparate fragments chained in equilibrium when the multiplicity of combinations is possible is an utterly absorbing process that can be tough at times. It also taught me how to make compromises without betraying the genuine intention. Since ‘be prepared for the worst’ and ‘have no expectations’ are my core principles, I can’t evaluate whether anything was easier. I guess if you put a substantial amount of effort in to the work, everything is equally important, and there are hardly any easy routes in or out left, because it is about your personal responsibility and how you, as the artist, care about the final result. Perhaps, it has to do with my artistic attitude in general: if anything is becoming easy, I feel that I’m not dedicating myself fully. Obstacles and challenges are as needed as oxygen. There were some ‘unpoetic’ production delays, which forced us to postpone the book launch twice. I was very concerned with achieving the desirable colour reproduction on paper, and this resulted in more time being spent on getting the test-run prints ready. But luckily nothing too terrible, like the whole stock being flawed, happened.
I’m unable to detach myself from my work, it’s both the constituent component of my personality and the itch that relentlessly keeps me motivated and engaged in what I’m doing. My work is solidly integrated into and soaks up all other spheres of my life, sunrise till dusk and even further – into the realm of dreams. The trajectory to the visual arts was meandering – via a university degree in international law and the practical experience of journalism and in event coordination. It’s the story of a nomad marked by growing up in the USSR and post-communist Russia who is galvanized by the sensation of not-enough-ness.
I have some very tender memories of the city Ufa in the Ural Mountains where I was born. Riding bicycles, skiing in the minus 20C°, climbing up the trees to get apples and prunes, and doing crazy acrobatic tricks hopping over the garage roofs. My first flight experience sitting on the knees of the pilot who was explaining to the six-year-old me how airplane engines operate. This how my first holiday on the Black Sea in Abkhazia started. I was absolutely mind-blown to be away from the familiar setting and to encounter the different culture. Hearing the organ sound in the Pitsunda Cathedral casted an enigmatic spell on me, and before that were the soundtracks to Soviet movies and some foreign (and censored by the government) music played for me on my dad’s Walkman. My ongoing passion for music traced back to those childhood experiences is a catalyst to what I’m doing visually now and I’m fortunate to be able to collaborate with musicians and sound designers closely. In the same manner books and films about space exploration and alien matters captivated me and I’d dare to say, contributed a lot to who I am now and how I see the world around me. Of course, there were not-so-affirmative and more traumatizing bumps, sadly having to do with racism and intolerance, though I wouldn’t moan about them – they took place, strengthened myself and educated me early enough about the importance of accepting, supporting and encouraging difference.
My ongoing passion for music traced back to those childhood experiences is a catalyst to what I’m doing visually now. I believe it has to do with synaesthetic associations and music/sound being stimulating, dynamic, complex neurobiological tools. I’m not equipped with a specific vocabulary to describe the chemical reactions happening on a psychosomatic level, which are triggered by a certain combination of sounds, but their affect on perception, cognition, memory and (sub)conscious are undeniable. Whatever I do visually, how I operate the camera, construct the ideas for the projects, and, in general, sense everything, it is my inexplicit aesthetic response to or interpretation of the aural. Listening makes me imagine things. There is a very insightful quote by the late composer Pauline Oliveros: “Listening is selecting and interpreting and acting and making decisions”. I’m fortunate to be able to collaborate with musicians and sound designers closely.
In the same manner books and films about space exploration and alien matters captivated me and I’d dare to say, contributed a lot to who I am now and how I see the world around me. Of course, there were not-so-affirmative and more traumatizing bumps, sadly having to do with racism and intolerance, though I wouldn’t moan about them – they took place, strengthened myself and educated me early enough about the importance of accepting, supporting and encouraging difference.
As a child, I was keen on looking at the old pictures from our family archives, browsing over and over through them, deciphering the details, filmstrips and projected image captivated me a lot, too. Since I got my first oddly-shaped plastic Polaroid camera, the idea of seizing the moment and extracting it from the flow of time, albeit unconsciously that time, I presume, hypnotized me. Not less intriguing were the technical aspects of photography, or any lens-based medium, the apparatuses extending, transforming, or reframing vision, and a certain trace of enigma present in the machine. In the secondary school, I enjoyed humanities more than anything else, particularly literature and the history of visual cultures. ‘The Visual Culture Reader’ and ‘An Introduction to Visual Culture’, both edited by Nicholas Mirzoeff are, perhaps, the most comprehensive books in terms of not only the spectrum of the discussed topics, but also in critical approach. In general, I find non-linear self-initiated research and digging into the topic that is of my interest are much more stimulating and often leading into the uncharted territory of sensational discoveries. Perhaps, it is worth mentioning a few books and theorists which influenced me the most in this context: ‘Illuminations’ and ‘Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media’ by Walter Benjamin; ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ by Jean Baudrillard; ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’ by Paul Virilio, and Gilles Deleuze’s concepts.
Embarking on a path in the arts occurred after I became disillusioned in the possibility of pursuing law career in Russia. Despite being heavily into writing by then, I sought to experiment with the visual medium(s) for expressing my ideas and concerns. I reckon comparing photography and writing isn’t particularly fruitful, the one is never stronger than another, as they are essentially different mediums. It isn’t so much about ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’, but more about choosing a more suitable form to transmit the specific message. And the criteria of ‘suitability’ are as much personal, as they are informed by the variety of contexts – social, political, etc. It is interesting to explore what kind of synthesis photography and writing can create together. Plus, considering the visual-dominated state of our society and culture today, it is almost impossible to ‘disengage’ from anything ‘ocular’.
I like to start my days early whenever possible, about 6.30am, with running or other physical activities, like yoga, meditation is a long-standing habit of mine. My daily work routine has little to do with sitting in the ordinary ‘business hours’, it’s more about self-discipline, efficiency and sustaining the vigor. Once I initiated the project, I tend to obsessively concentrate on making progress with it. Yet I have to admit, I hardly ever work on one project at a time. It’s always about oscillating between research, gathering inspiration, making the work, deliberating what’s next, externalizing the thoughts on paper, re-assessing the past projects, tranquillising the ambitions. Background music and listening to critical theory/science/media studies podcasts are indispensable. Again, there isn’t a single library I’m following devotionally as I tend to be more keen on monitoring specific thinkers, artists, theories and subjects. Currently it is anything evolving around the idea of post-anthropocene and art-works being living systems. There’s a lot of interesting material in Transmediale’s archive, The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities has a brilliant selection and BBC Radio 3 ‘Free Thinking’ programme might also be worth checking out, as well as Serpentine Gallery or Magasin III audio materials and conversation pieces. Unless there are pressing deadlines, or a turbulent urge to keep on working, the evenings are for meeting friends and attending events, always in connection to my all-consuming interest in art and culture in general.
What I look for in works of other artists is otherness, intricacy, depth, unconventionality, différance. The compelling, inventive clash of the playful and the serious. The artist’s ability (and responsibility) to render the personal resonating on a larger scale and to honestly tell the story that has a broader impact. The equilibrium between the conceptual, emotional and aesthetic dimensions of the work. The works which have a phenomenological, critical, or medium-challenging aspects in them, fascinate me the most.
David Campany’s ‘A Handful of Dust’ – not exactly a photobook per se, but a very insightful image-based research offering an unorthodox approach to the history of the photographic medium by establishing the new connections. I would say this is a must-read by anyone who is intrigued by the idea of ambiguity in photographic images, of images operating in different contexts. ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’, Trevor Paglen’s ‘Invisible’, ‘Astres Noirs’ by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick, Geert Goiris’s ‘Prophet’, ‘ZZYZX’ by Gregory Halpern, ‘Noir’ by Martine Stig, JH Engstrom ‘Revoir’. Wolfgang Tillmans’ books are consistently stunning, especially the theme-specific artist publications like ‘Concorde’ and ‘Conor Donlon’. Also almost any title by Jacob Aue Sobol and Daisuke Yokota.