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.
The most important trait to man is his outstanding "power of observation"
──When did you first encounter Penn's photos?
Katsumi Asaba (from hereon, Asaba):
I think it was around my senior year of high school. There is an American Culture Center in Yokohama and in that library were many magazines like VOGUE, Harper's Bazaar, and Esquire. I used to go there to look at the photos by Avedon and Penn. I can't think of any other photographer that sketches so well. I only know of two. Irving Penn and Taiji Arita. Arita was a photographer turned painter in later years. I think Penn did everything himself from art direction to shooting.
──Is there anything you learned from Penn's photos?
Asaba: His contact with different cultures. He traveled the world on his own feet; he saw what was essential, and caught on photo the wisdom and splendors that each ethnic group had created throughout their history. He captured the humanity burrowed deep inside people. It's amazing. The power of observation is man's most important trait and he was an outstanding one at that.
Lately, I often say that the 4 most important things for a person of expression are to "look with purpose", "think with purpose", "breathe with purpose", and to "work with purpose" and I think Penn did all of these. I can imagine Penn looking with purpose at Issey-san's clothes upon their arrival, thinking with purpose on what kind of photo he will take, breathing with purpose at times as he drew out his ideas on sketch, and working with ever such purpose on the photo sessions.
With sketches, ideas start pouring out naturally as you draw. For me too, when I wake up in the morning, I sit at my calligraphy table, brush in hand, and draw spirals spinning to the right and left. I believe daily trainings like this will show someday in my art. I think Penn also trained well; like a monk in training.
──I imagine you're always busy but please tell us about your recent work.
Asaba: Lately, I've been working on the "NEW Tsunami Ishi (Tsunami Rock.)" The first Tunami Ishi was erected on Nehama Beach of Kamaishi, Iwate in memory of all those who lost their lives and also as a monument that will continue reminding to future generations, the terror of the Great East Japan Earthquake tsunami. The letters, "3.11, 2011" were turned into design and engraved on the rock. This project has called out to other designers and the goal is to erect 500 stone monuments across 500km of the coastline along Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures which was struck by the tsunami.
(interviewer: Keiko Kamijo)
Born in 1940 in the Kanagawa Prefecture. Founded the Katsumi Asaba Design Studio in 1975, after studying at the KUWASAWA DESIGN SCHOOL and working at Light Publicity Co., Ltd. He has designed advertisements for Suntory, The Seibu Department Stores Ltd., Misawa Homes Co., Ltd., and many others. He is the chairman of the TOKYO TYPE DIRECTORS CLUB, when he is not busy exploring the relationships between written and visual expression; and has a particular interest in the rich cultural heritage of writing in Asia. He has been awarded the Tokyo Art Directors Club Grand Prix, the Shiju Award, among others. In addition to chairing TDC, he is a member of the board of JAGDA (Japan Graphic Designers Association Inc.), chairman of the Design Association, organizer for Enjin01 Cultural Strategy Council; a committee member of the ADC (Tokyo Art Directors Club) , and a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale. Asaba is also a Visiting Professor at the Tokyo Zokei University and at the Kyoto Seika University, The president of KANAZAWA DESIGN SCHOOL. His principal area of expertise lies in the pictographic Dongba script used in rituals by the Naxi tribe in China. He also holds the title of sixth degree master in table tennis (Japan Table Tennis Association).
NEW Tsunami Ishi (Tsunami Rock)
List view of "Irving Penn and Me"