Meet Kiyoka Ikemura, 22, a student photographer on exchange here at Guilford from Japan. When I met with her 2 weeks ago, she had blue hair but this time it was burgundy. Her camera was laying next to her within a moments reach. This is some immediate, visual information that I gathered about her at dinner the other night, without needing any verbal communication.
During out conversation there were times where times where she would ask if I understood what she was trying to say to me. As a french student, I can understand the struggle of attempting to fully express myself in another language. The full meaning of what you are trying to say gets lost in translation. When you are not speaking your maternal language, there is this constant effort to not only express but understand another culture in a way other than just using words.
Kiyoka explained to me that photography is essentially information within a frame: “It provides context and makes me aware of what is happening.” So as an exchange student, this idea of photography providing information and context is particularly interesting because it is a way to connect and understand an unfamiliar world. She keeps her camera on her at all times, and when I say at all times I really mean at all times; it’s like her third eye. She says she constantly thinks to herself “I need that moment” and then takes it in an instant.
So my next question is, what does she do with the information that is given in the image? Kiyoka’s next step is to edit the image, making it more about her internalized experience in that moment, or rather making the image into more of an expression. She explains that she is always thinking about color when she takes a photo, which she edits and enhances using Photoshop. It is in this process that the photograph comes to life and where the balance between realism and expressionism take place.
Kiyoka feels most comfortable when she’s making photos. After all, she’s been a photographer since she was about 8 or 9. Her father is a photographer and so when she was young he always made her take photos with him. Before taking Maia Dery’s Photo II/III class, she already knew how to develop film and make paper prints on her own, but what she has learned during her stay here is how to love and feel connected to the what she’s taking photos of.
At this point I’m thinking about this dynamic between information and expression and how they are possibly the 2 most important functions in photography. In Kiyoka’s case, photography has been a way to not only understand American culture, but experience it too. It is truly both documentation of her time here, but an exploration of her self. Furthermore, in Kiyoka’s case, it is a way to fill in that gap where words are just not enough; they don’t explain the experience as well as the image.
“I’m taking pictures of what I want here. Everything is so different and I have to take a picture of it. At home I don’t care so much because it is too familiar.” Looking at that photos that she has taken in Japan compared to those in the United States I can see exactly what she is talking about. Her photos from home seem to be of things that are more ordinary, like kids going to school, friends, familiar spaces. In contrast though, the photos taken in the United States are more exploratory and have a more unfamiliar feel. They go beyond documenting daily life; they look closer to explore the unfamiliar.
We all explore the world differently, but art, more specifically photography, is certainly a great way to do it. Our medium, whatever it may be, is how we can learn where we are, be aware of our surroundings and gain presence where ever we may find ourselves. Kiyoka’s entire body of work is an example of this kind of exploration, and a cross cultural one at that.
Check out more of Kiyoka’s photography at Chameleonic World Fun.