Not Niigata

A commission by the European Eyes on Japan festival


When traveling in a foreign place, I tend to be fascinated with both the exotic and the mundane. The two are often one and the same, especially in a place where the gap between old and new is astronomical. In most modern societies, tradition, history, and religion have etched a deep set of rituals and codes which are being tested and expanded as cultural homogenization begins to question set systems and ideologies. My interests in Niigata, and Japan in general, lie within documenting this gap.

But what does it mean to photograph with the pretense of documentation? I find it is easy to get caught up in chasing an illusion of what I think a place should look like; preconceptions are powerful and the quest to understand a place often leads to a greater misunderstanding. The best I can do is tell the story of my 3 weeks of traveling and responding visually to a place I don’t necessarily understand. It is the story of not understanding Niigata.

My way of working is a bit like making a poodle or a swan out of a shrub. Small bits of the mess are snipped away until some sort of form starts to take shape. The fine-tuning is thus the most difficult, and great plans often fall away to luck and circumstance. A bit of vision is required, but paying attention as I move along is infinitely more important. I stumble with a map, make a wrong turn and bump into someone who gives me a half hour of their time or points me in a new direction. In the end, if all goes well, I end up with something that may slightly resemble a poodle or a swan. But it’s definitely neither a poodle nor a swan, and it is certainly not Niigata.