By Manijeh Rezapoor

Photographer Kenro Izu shares personal experiences of “pilgrimage by camera”

October 12, 2019 - 18:19

TEHRAN – Kenro Izu, a world-renowned U.S.-based Japanese photographer who calls his style of photography a “pilgrimage by camera,” puts forth his personal experiences of life in his black and white photo series.

“Taking pictures is just a personal experience. To me, it is an experience as a human being, and that is why I call it a pilgrimage with my camera,” Izu told the Tehran Times in an interview last week in Tehran.

The U.S.-based Japanese photographer is displaying photos from his series “Sacred Places”, “Still Life” and “Blue” in an exhibition at Tehran’s Nabshi Center.

Born in 1949 in Osaka, Japan, Izu uses his custom-built, large-format, three-hundred-pound Deardorff camera to produce his timeless photos. 

“As a human being, everybody has a journey through the passage of life, and I personally try to seek why I am here and what is my mission and what is the passage in front of me. However, I must say I still don’t know,” Izu asserted.

“But in order to observe myself as to where I am, the camera has really been helpful. It forced me to concentrate, and after that I started to keep it in my mind. It provided a real opportunity like a good mirror reflecting myself,” he said.

In 1970, Izu visited New York to learn photography as he was studying art at Nippon University in Tokyo. He subsequently decided to stay and work. In 1975, after working as an assistant to other photographers, Izu established Kenro Izu Studio in New York City, to specialize in still life photography, both commercial and fine art.

All photos in Izu’s series are black and white. He found the black and white photos to be more beautiful.

“Black and white images give a person more peace than color photos. I actually invite viewers to peace and calmness with my black and white photos,” he said.

“When you take a color photo in the desert in the evening, it is red with the blue sky. But when I take it in black and white it is all different shades of grey, and I think it is very beautiful because grey has an infinite way of expressing the feeling of nature,” he explained.

“When visitors see these photos they start to be quiet without exception. They begin to calm down. I myself am the same, especially in sacred places which are very holy places, and people usually go there to think and pray,” he said.

Izu said that he even immediately changes the photos he takes with his small camera into black and white photos.

Art aficionados visit an exhibition of photos by Japanese photographer Kenro Izu at Tehran Nabshi Center on September 27, 2019. (Honaronline/Mehdi Azadbakht)

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.

He traveled the world to capture the sacred ancient stone monuments in their natural settings and considers the act of picture making a type of spiritual practice, capturing essence and light.

“Concerning sacred places, those places in various locations that have survived for a thousand years attract me the most. They give such a feeling of peacefulness, and I try to reflect the peacefulness to the visitors through my photos,” he said.

He said that his photography is not about capturing a moment, and that he often spends one or two days doing some kind of meditation just to take a single picture.

“I begin to concentrate and become very empty inside, and then I can start to feel the wind blowing or changing direction. I can feel natural and supernatural things. When I am looking around, it is an ordinary moment, but when I stop talking and concentrate on watching, I find many things. 

“I keep watching, then the concentration takes me away from everything—my child, my wife, dinner, business, everything. I get a piece of relief, then I start to hear things like the slightest wind, the lowest sound. I use my every sense and then smell. Those are the things that start altogether. Those are the things that come together. Of course, light is important too. Sound, wind, shade together they all are important. Then I start to begin and take my photo,” Izu explained.

Despite an abundance of holy sites in his homeland of Japan, Izu has no photos of these sites in his series, “Sacred Places”.

“I tried several times in the past. I had a few, but the sacred places in my country have become commercialized, the fences, kiosks, cameras and many tourists are here and there.”

“In contrast, what I am looking for is a historical site which remains in a natural state, without any concrete or chains around it,” he noted.

“I believe Stonehenge in England has the wisest way of preservation. They have dragged and pulled the metal poles and ropes so people can walk around on the natural grass field. And when I got permission for photography, they pulled the sticks and ropes aside and took them down. The site looked quite natural, like it did 3000 years ago,” he mentioned.

“Even the parking lots are invisible being located in underground levels, and when I took photos from any direction, there were no cars, no kiosks. I hope the Japanese do the same. It is the wisest way to preserve,” he added.

He said that when he is taking photographs, he finds himself constantly challenged by a voice urging him to take a “nice picture.” Despite his mastery of technique, this is not what he is after. Instead, he aims at capturing something of the spirit or the inner life of his chosen subject matter.

“That is why I don’t want to take more than one or two photos in a day,” he said.

Izu next added that he has to hire some assistants for help because his equipment is so bulky, but he always asks them to go away and keep distant until he calls them back.

“Once I took an assistant to Egypt who could speak Arabic. After sitting beside the camera for an hour, he started to talk and asked, ‘What are you doing’!?”

“Nobody understands what I am waiting for. I am only waiting for the right moment that I can sense,” he said.

Izu’s photos on view at the Tehran gallery bear no caption.

“I don’t like to ascribe too much detail and I try to leave it to the audience. I’m not concerned that the photo is of a pyramid in Egypt or Stonehenge in England. Here I just leave it to the visitors to decipher,” he noted.

Considering the country of Iran with so many sacred places, Izu said that he has problems with carrying his bulky equipment, especially when he intends to enter a country, which is dealing with conflicts.

“I am frequently stopped at borders. It is very difficult to convince them that this is a still camera and not a movie camera, and even during peace time I still have lots of problems. The problem gets worse in the Middle East,” he concluded.

Izu has published 14 books and his work has been featured in dozens of solo exhibitions around the world. He has received numerous awards and fellowships throughout his prolific career. 

His Tehran exhibit will continue until November 1 at the gallery located at 51 Khosro Alley, Ostad Nejatollahi St.

Photo: Japanese photographer Kenro Izu attends the opening ceremony of his exhibition at Tehran Nabshi Center on September 27, 2019. (Honaronline/Mehdi Azadbakht)


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