November 2011 (3)

"Irving Penn and Me" vol. 6 Kazumi Kurigami

In celebrating the "Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue" exhibition starting September 16, leading creators from all walks of art speak to us of their fascination with Irving Penn photos.

Photographs that Capture the "Living" Moment

──What are your thoughts on Irving Penn photos?

Kazumi Kurigami (from hereon Kurigami):
Penn's photos communicate "human existence." His photos capture life, the moment, our existence in that place and time, and the fundamental elements of what it means to be alive, which together provide impact to the onlooker. The genre is irrelevant. In the exhibition, there are pictures of fashion, portraits, and decomposing objects but there is a common underlying passion in every one of them. A common vision...the vision of Irving Penn. This is not possible for anybody; it's not something you can just copy.

When pursuing your artistic interests, no matter if it's something strewn on the side of the street, we respond to our physicality, or shall I say our preferences and feel and use these machines called cameras to grasp that sensation through our instincts. This endless cycle defines the life of a photographer. A man's intrigue lies in the time that he lived. The more vigorous the life, the more folds in his story.

──Penn is a great photographer but the photos introduced in this exhibition would not have been born had it not been for Issey Miyake's clothing. Please tell us your thoughts on Miyake.

Kurigami: I first met Issey-san when he was creating clothes in Paris, contemplating how to use a piece of cloth with strict focus on materials. Issey-san's clothing is an embodiment of his spirit and philosophy for form. His ever changing forms speak of his romanticism for creation.

──We've heard that Penn is one of your influences but who are some others? Also, please name photographers that you would recommend to students of photography.

Kurigami: I love Penn's photos because you can look at it every day without ever getting tired and these are the kinds of photos I aspire to take myself. An artist whose works and life I also admire is Robert Frank. Students of photography should expose themselves to as many photographers' works as possible and take as many pictures themselves as well. Lartigue's photos reveal a "way of life" that you would never encounter had you lived an ordinary life.

Human being is a constantly changing creature who is constantly exposed to information. They are influenced by others and I am constantly thrown off too (laugh.) But the key is to trust your eyes, your fingers, and your gut and go with what you think is "good." That is what it means to believe in yourself and unless you have that, you can't create. I am certain that Penn had this unwavering belief himself and I too try to maintain my physical and spiritual well-being. Because I am intent on pressing my shutter button till the day I die (laugh.)

──Please tell us about your future schedule.

My solo exhibition started from October 29th at the Taka Ishii Gallery. The exhibition titled, "Hi to Hone II" is an exhibition of works between 1972 and 2011, taken with the Polaroid SX-70. At the exhibition, 8 Polaroid works from the book are enlarged and printed to 180 x 180cm.

(interviewer: Keiko Kamijo)

Kazumi Kurigami

Kazumi Kurigami

Born 1936 in Furano, Hokkaido
Main photo collections include, "ALTERNATES", "Oyogu Hito", "Hi to Hone", "Kazumi Kurigami Photographs-Crush", "Possession Yasuyuki Shuto", "NORTHERN", and "Diary 1970-2005."
2008, directed the film, "Gelatin Silver LOVE"
Publishes photo magazine, "CAMEL", scheduled for release almost every season.

"Hi to Hone" 1989/2011

List view of "Irving Penn and Me"

"Irving Penn and Me" vol. 5 Keiichiro Hirano

In celebrating the "Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue" exhibition starting September 16, leading creators from all walks of art speak to us of their fascination with Irving Penn photos.

Photos of a collector that captures the typical essence of people and craftsmen

──I've read somewhere before that you prefer Avedon over Penn.

Keiichiro Hirano (from hereon, Hirano):
Really? Did I really say that (laugh)? It's said that Avedon never acknowledged Penn's talent but I think their talents were those of a completely different realm.
The world of Penn's photos is like that of a collection in terms of "gathering things." My belief is that all photographers are more or less collectors. They accumulate their stock of sceneries and portraits. But, Penn had a particularly strong streak of the collector. The Penn's photos I looked at most were the "Small Trades" series. In this series, he took portraits of the many ordinary craftsmen working inside town. Looking at these portraits made me think of insect specimens, or the firefighters, bakers, and butchers that you find in toy kits. I felt as though the photographer's pleasure was revealed through these photos taken with the same background in the exactly same format but with contents that were all a bit different from the other.

The point that highlights the typical essence of the trade is in the "pose." Penn had his models hold the tools of their trades. Like newspapers, buckets, and milk bottles... It may be difficult to act out the typical essence of a certain trade in front of a camera but with tools in hands, the craftsmen were able to act as they always did. Meanwhile, when looking at portraits of famous figures, you do not see the occupation of the baker, but instead, the personal quality of that individual. Whether it be Cocteau, Miles, or Picasso, you can see the person's soul speaking out from within these photos taken in the same format. They are artists so they can act out their characters...which I think is amazing. Penn's photos convey this brilliantly.

──The same applies in his collaboration with Issey Miyake. He took many photos of clothing against the same white background.

Hirano: That's right. I think that his instinct as a "collector" was also present when taking Issey-san's works. When shooting people working in the city, Penn created a collection of photos that captured the typical image of well-known professions and when shooting artists, he captured their typical expressions. In that sense, when shooting Issey-san's clothes, I imagine it was a completely new experience. I also think it was a very interesting experience for him to take these clothes, one picture at a time, against the same white background. Why? Because these clothes, if they were butterflies for example, they were of a "new species." I think he took this collection with a sense of wonderment.

──Please tell us about your recent work.

Hirano: I began a new novel series on Kodansha's "Morning" magazine. The title is "Kuhaku wo Mitashinasai (Fill in the Blank.)" These words, "fill in the blank" are often seen on surveys and tests. The story unravels with these words as the key. The earthquake disaster has left many people with their loved ones lost or with a large blank space suddenly in their lives. I think that there is this pressure among such people to fill in this blank so that they can get on with their lives. I hope this novel will help us think again about this phrase, "Fill in the blank" including a question as to whether filling in the blank is really the right thing to do or not. I hope you will read it.

(interviewer: Keiko Kamijo)

Keiichiro Hirano
Photo: Toshiko Kojima

Keiichiro Hirano

Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1975. Graduate of the Law Department of Kyoto University. 1999, his work, "Nisshoku (Eclipse of the Sun)" which appeared on literary magazine, "Shincho" won the 120th Akutagawa Prize. He continued to announce the major novel "Soso (The Funeral)" in 2002 followed by a stream of other works which have been translated in countries worldwide. Other works include "Shitatari ochiru tokei-tachi no Hamon (The Ripple of Dripping Clocks)", "Kekkai (Dam Break)", "Do-n", "Katachi dake no A (Love just with a Form)", and "Monologue (essay collection)", and "Dialogue (collection of interviews.)" Started novel series "Kuuhaku wo Mitashinasai (Fill in the Blank)" on "Morning" as of September 1, 2011.

"Kuuhaku wo Mitashinasai (Fill in the Blank)"

List view of "Irving Penn and Me"

"Irving Penn and Me" vol. 4 Vincent W.L. Huang

In celebrating the "Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue" exhibition starting September 16, leading creators from all walks of art speak to us of their fascination with Irving Penn photos.

Learning from Penn's "still" way of living

──Please tell us about the episode of your visit to Penn's studio.

Vincent W.L. Huang (from hereon "Huang"):
I visited New York in 1995. Assistant to George Holz at the time, I visited Penn's studio out of pure desire to meet this man I admired so much. What surprised me most during our conversation was when he asked, "What can you do for me?" Normally, it's the other way around and you don't demand such things from an assistant. But he may have been seeking in his assistant powers that he did not own himself. At the time, there were six assistants in his studio and a mile long waiting list behind them so I was not able to join, but nonetheless, it was a truly valuable experience.

──You became an assistant to Helmut Newton after this. This must have been completely different from Penn's studio. They must have been very different in character too.

Huang: I did not actually see photo sessions in Penn's studio but Penn, originally a designer, built his composition very carefully and went onto the session only after finalizing a sketch. He also led a very orderly life, waking up at 5 every morning and starting the day with a walk and ending all photo sessions by noon. He did not allow any music in his studio either. Meanwhile, Newton was the exact opposite. When shooting, everything was impromptu and decided on the spot without so much as a sketch. When taking portraits, whereas Penn was a very stoic character who treated his models like objects, Newton, as you know absolutely loved women (laugh). They were very different in these ways as well.

──What did you learn from Penn's photographs?

Huang: I would say the power to observe. I think he had a very Eastern nature about him. He captured poses that were soft and yet, focused with tension running down to the fingertips as if in classical Japanese dance. Penn's photos are mysterious in that they are "still" but forever captivating. I think this is a reflection of his lifestyle and his way of life in general, in how much he maintained his serenity. There is another episode I remember. During a photo sdession of Miles Davis directed by art director, Eiko Ishioka, Miles asked to have his music played while photographing. Penn adamantly refused this request and the air froze. Of course, Ishioka acted as mediator and the photo session continued but this incident got Miles on his bad side and thus, the many different expressions. Penn did not miss this. That's why those photos turned out the way they did and I am amazed by Penn's unyielding stance. I still have a lot of catching up to do but my goal is to get as close to Penn's photographs as possible. That's why I am making effort to lead an orderly life for starters (laugh).

──Please tell us about your recent work.

Huang: My photo collection of the Miss International Beauty Pageant held from October to November last year in China's Sichuan Province. This is a large 350 page collection of the beauty pageant as well as various volunteer activities. An electronic version is also scheduled for release.

(interviewer: Keiko Kamijo)


Vincent W.L. Huang

Born 1958 in Kobe, Japan. Member of Japan Professional Photographers Society Being active in fashion, advertisements, films and image pictures fields as a freelance photographer in Tokyo, New York, Beijing and Shanghai. His fashion photos, portraits of celebrities and flower series works are very admirable. 
After Hanshin Earthquake he moved his work place from NewYork to Japan.

From the Miss International Beauty Pageant

List view of "Irving Penn and Me"

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