University: Edinburgh College of Art
Genre: Fine Art
Artist Statement: Tokashiki is an everyday look into paradise. Tokashiki is a beautiful sunny secluded island off the coast of Okinawa, Japan with a population of around 700.
My practice focuses on the highlighting of day to day activities or scenes within fantastic spaces. I like to beautify the awkward and point out the obvious we overlook. I love going to exciting, fun, bright paradises and creating quiet, considered moments.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I studied Photography BA (Hons) at Edinburgh College of Art and graduated in 2013. The first year was a ‘first year studies programme’ wherein we tried a number of different disciplines. Then for the next 3 years we focused on our chosen course.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Possibly the most standout and important moment for me was during the last semester of my first year while choosing my discipline. From when I was 15 I was very focused on becoming a fashion/costume designer. Mainly because I loved how many techniques were involved, photography being one of them. I really enjoyed being able to go from sketching to print making, from sewing to photographing. But when I did finally start the costume course I knew I had made a mistake. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I remember looking up buttons for a specific coat I was designing and really not caring about it, while also dreading all the sewing I was going to have to do. I quickly realised that a costume designer probably shouldn’t feel that way. So I ran to my first year studies tutors in a panic telling them I had to change. When they asked what to, I said, “Photography please. Please let me do photography I’m begging you.”
Photography, at the time, was only a hobby. I loved it and it relaxed me but I never considered it for a career. However, my subconscious did and before I knew it I was holding a 35mm camera with black and white film and access to a maze of dark rooms. It’s one of the best, and quickest, decisions I have ever made.
Another turning point in university was when I went to the Netherlands on an ERASMUS exchange for 5 months. During that time I did a course called Photobook in which we had to produce work for, design and self publish using a POD website. It was demanding and stressful but it was incredible. As soon as it was over I knew I had to do it again. So for part of my final degree show I made a book entitled, Amusement. It was very well received and was even selected to be part of the RSA New Contemporaries exhibition along with some of my images. From that point on I have been working towards pursuing a career in publishing and hope to one day have my own magazine/publishing company.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I feel like I fall into the ‘Fine Art’ genre while also occasionally dipping into ‘Documentary’.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? For me, most of my work deals with exploring space, specifically fantastic spaces, and the day to day or quiet moments within them. By fantastic spaces I mean spaces which are used to relax, have fun, let go, experience something new and forget about the real world. So there is usually a strong sense of juxtaposition in my images, which I love.
What made you describe the island of Tokashiki as strange? What did you find so different about it? Tokashiki is beautiful, a true paradise. It is a very secluded place with not many people living there full time, and most people only coming to visit for the day. What was strange was how different the island felt before and after 3pm. Before 3pm there were a fair amount of people on the beach; snorkeling, sea kayaking, scuba diving, boat rides, sunbathing.. you name it. But after 3pm no one was there and everything was closed. It was strange because you could feel the presence of people but you really had to look to find them. I saw a little boy playing cards on the pavement and an old lady cutting grass, but that was it for the rest of the afternoon. The island went from a classic beach paradise scene to a small slow island. It honestly felt like someone just switched off the ‘holiday mode’ button at 3pm everyday.
What initially encouraged you to visit this island and make work there? Going to Tokashiki was actually part of a bigger trip to Okinawa with a couple of friends. First we went to Naha city and Chatan on the main island. The whole trip was crazy. On our first day we found miniature pineapples and snakes in sake bottles. On our second day my friend and I came across a tattoo shop and within 10 minutes I was getting my first tattoo. A couple of days later my friend got a tattoo and I photographed the whole process. Including the tattoo shop and tattoo artists. This project is also on my website entitled Okinawa Tattoo. We ate amazing food and drank tequila every day. Towards the end of our trip we headed out to Tokashiki.
Tokashiki is an island off the coast of Okinawa which is very well known for its beautiful beaches. I make my best work in sunny, bright fantastic paradises so I knew there would be something there for me to photograph. I took around 15 rolls of film thinking that would be more than enough. But I still wish I had brought more. There was so much to photograph and I am still editing work from it today.
Your images are void of people but your description talks about existence on the island; what are your images showing your viewer? Yes there aren’t any people but I feel there is still a presence of people. Whether it’s the boats out at sea, the futon hanging over the rail or the washing hanging outside. I wanted to show the viewer the quieter moments in an otherwise ‘classic’ paradise view. Which was very easy after 3pm when everyone was gone and everything closed. I like how the lack of people in an image makes you look at a space more, question what it’s used for, what kind of people might live there etc. I think my images are showing the viewer another side to paradise. The slow day to day life after everyone has gone home and you’ve got the entire place to yourself. A rare chance to see the quiet of excitement.
What do you think making this work has taught you? Tokashiki was shot using positive 120 film, which is beautiful but expensive and hard to work with. If you are not careful you can end up with an awful grainy magenta hue that is almost impossible to get rid of. I hadn’t used positive film in a long time so this project really helped me refine and review those techniques. The project also reconfirmed the way I like to work the best. I like working slow, with film, in beautiful places and new surroundings. I think it’s really important, for any artist, to know how they like to work. It seems like something every artist should just know, but for most people it takes a while to figure out. It definitely did for me. But now that I’ve found it, as soon as I start shooting it’s truly like being in my own world. My subject is in focus but everything else is a blur, and when someone or something interrupts it, it’s like waking up from a dream.
You’re very much inspired by your surroundings; what theoretical or visual influences did you have when making this work?William Eggleston, Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore and Rinko Kawauchi are my main artistic influences. I’m very interested in the theory of fantastic or hyper-realised spaces, sometimes referred to as heterotopias. At the same time I am interested in quiet day to day moments and the juxtaposition or highlighting of them within fantastic spaces.
What are some of the typical signs of human presence that you look for in a location? It’s always the smallest, seemingly mundane things that are the biggest signs. For example, shoes left messily outside the door, a plate of unfinished food, washing hanging outside, a footprint, smoke coming from a chimney, a radio left on outside, a cigarette still alight etc. There are too many things to list and they are always very specific to the place and time. I try to put myself in the shoes of someone living or working in those fantastic spaces or paradises, and think what normal day to day life must be like, the quiet moments.
You’ve found your niche and you know how you like to make work; do you think you would ever experiment by making work in a busy place, full of people? As time has gone on I have found myself photographing people more and more. You can see that in the Okinawa Tattoo project that I mentioned earlier. But I would like to push myself out of my comfort zone more and see what happens. As good as it is to know how you like to work, it is also important to change things up and try different techniques and shoot somewhere you would never think to shoot. I can imagine myself being at a busy theme park taking picture of people's socks and shoes, watches, toilets, plug sockets, wires and staff offices.
As you’re still editing your images from this trip, would you say it’s not yet complete? For me this project is finished. The other images from the island have a different feel and approach to the other ones. I took a couple of portraits and some more abstract things. I think it is better if they are part of another project altogether. Perhaps I will have 3 or 4 projects under the general heading of Okinawa.
What creative plans do you have for the future? For the past 3 years I have been living and working in Japan. In that time I have taken a lot of pictures. So my next task is to continue to catalog and collate all of the images and see what projects come out of them. I usually have a few months where all I do is shoot. Then I’ll wait a month or two and look at the images, so I have fresh eyes and can more easily decide what are good images without feeling too attached to them. I’m really excited to do this back in Scotland as I think it will be a really interesting perspective for me. While also being a very nostalgic look back on my time in Japan. After that I am hoping to produce another book or zine and have an exhibition.