A selection of photos by U.S. based Japanese photographer Kenro Izu are on view in an exhibition at Tehran’s Nabshi Center until 1 November. The collection includes photos from his series Sacred Places, Still Life and Blue.
Izu was born in Osaka, Japan. He moved to New York in 1970 to study photography, and subsequently decided to stay and work there.
In 1979, Izu made his first trip to Egypt, which inspired him to begin his series Sacred Places, an exploration that is still in progress. As he continued his series, Izu traveled to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, England, Scotland, Mexico, France and Easter Island (Chile) to capture the sacred ancient stone monuments in their natural settings.
Izu has been the recipient of the New York Foundation for Arts grant in 1985, the Catskill Center for Photography Fellowship in 1992, the Lou Stouman Award in 1999, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, the Vision Award from the Center for Photography at Woodstock in 2005 and a Lucie Award in 2007.
Here is Honaronline’s exclusive interview with the veteran artist and photographer.
On early days and debut work:
I began taking photographs in Japan. I was a high school student. I did a research on microphotography. Then I decided to go to an art college to continue my higher education. I first began taking photographs from the natural wonders of Japan, including mountains, rivers and so on. But then I changed my direction and began taking artistic photographs. For that I went to an art college in Tokyo.
Forty years ago I went to Egypt. What I was after was to study ancient civilizations in the Middle East through the lens, including the desert and all those ancient monuments, like the pyramids. My trip lasted three weeks during which I took many photographs. This was my debut work outside Japan at the time. I used a large camera for the purpose. What I was after was to capture the spiritual mood of those magnificent monuments and religious sites.
On platinum print:
I became interested in platinum print. Platinum prints are photographic prints made by a monochrome printing process involving platinum. The platinum tones range from warm black, to reddish brown, to expanded mid-tone grays that are unobtainable in silver prints. Platinum prints are the most durable of all photographic processes. I even asked a company in Chicago to produce a personal camera for me for the purpose. I never stopped using platinum prints.
First travel to Egypt:
When I got my personal camera, I went back to Egypt in 1984 again. The pictures I took from the pyramids right before the sunrise were state-of-the-art photography. This was what I was looking for at the time. Since then, I have been travelling to different parts of the world with my unique camera. I was inspired by Picasso. And I use a lot of shadow and light in my works. It’s all about the mystery in the shadows and the beauty in the shadows. I spent 20 years in Japan and I read many Japanese books. It was all about looking for my roots and identity, where the beauty is.
On digital photography:
I see the merits of digital photography and technique. It is fast and more convenient and economical. It is also environmentally friendly. This has changed the attitude of photographers too. Until the advent of such technology, photographs were made by exposing light sensitive photographic film and paper, which was processed in liquid chemical solutions to develop and stabilize the image. Digital photographs are typically created solely by computer-based photoelectric and mechanical techniques, without wet bath chemical processing.
I used to spend hours to communicate with my subjects before taking a picture. Nowadays, these things take just seconds. The results may be the same but people have stopped listening and seeing their subjects in real terms. They don’t think about their subjects anymore. It used to take me two months to print and see my pictures. Now it’s in the blink of an eye. I also use digital camera when I see it appropriate for a particular project.
When I take pictures form monuments and holy sites, I can also see people behind those magnificent structures. More than 2,000 years ago there were no widespread religions in the world. People used to worship many things. People tend to hang on something when they reach the end of their life. When a disaster strikes, people start saying prayers and this is when religion makes sense to us. Religions and holy sites give peace to people. Sacred places are related to those prayers and those feelings, especially thousands of years ago. Sacred places are very impressive and I like to take their pictures. People nowadays are taking advantage of religion for greed and power. Wars are fought for religion and in the name of religion. This is sad when you see people kill each other.
I’m seventy years old and I would like to take photographs from monuments and religious sites in Iran. I like to photograph those places as soon as possible. For that I need permission from authorities and in cooperation with the Japanese embassy in Tehran. I also organized an exhibition in Tehran. Because of sanctions and restrictions it was difficult for me to arrange a trip to Iran, let alone hold an exhibition. I travelled to Kashan and saw many classic places and monuments. I was surprised to see that so many historical houses were renovated with a small budget. I like to visit sacred places and old mosques, especially those before the Islamic era. This is my real passion.
On charity works:
I went to Cambodia to photograph its famous monuments. I had an interest in medicine as well. So I went to a local hospital. Cambodia is a poor country. I saw a girl die there from a preventable disease. I got very angry to hear that she had no money for operation. So I decided to build a hospital there. I raised the money to build it. It’s been up and running for the past 25 years and I’m happy for that. We need to raise more than 2.5 million US dollars every year to keep the hospital open. Some 50,000 people work there. This is a huge charity work and as long as I’m alive, it will go on.
On photography exhibitions and books:
New York, Paris and London are the big markets for art photography and exhibition. This includes Berlin and Tokyo. Camera manufacturers usually have the final say in the type of photographs you can exhibit. They only sponsor those that use their cameras and brands. This is the case in Japan. Exhibitions cost money and you always need to have a sponsor. I have published 15 books and three more are coming this year. I hold workshops in New York. I also have a workshop in Italy this year. I will teach a three-day course at a museum there.
By Dorsa Bakhshandegi