Interview: Atsuhi Okabe | amana art photo | Explore and Collect Japanese Photography

Interview: Atsuhi Okabe

Transforming the everyday into new images

Sep 23, 2016
Interviewed by Naoko Higashi
Photography: Sakiko Nomura
Translation: Yuka Katagiri

Toothpaste, comic books, and Rubik’s cubes… Photographer, Atsushi Okabe creates stunning images that no one has ever seen from everyday object by blending a keen sense of humor and a unique perspective. In this interview, we asked him a series of questions to learn about how he has become a photographer, the method he developed, and how he chooses his subjects to give an insight into how his creative mind works.

“My strongest desire is to create images that surprise me.”

You majored in printing at Kyoto Saga University of Arts where Shunsuke Kano, whom we introduced on our website, also studied. Why did you choose photography as your preferred method of expression?
I was like the best at drawing in my junior high school, but when I went to an art high school where all the talented kids came from all over Osaka, I dropped out of the highly technical competition, such as sketching and started working on prints. Then I went on to study printing at the art university, only to find out that the focus was on technical development. At critiques, I was often told off that my cutting technique was not good enough, or my images were out of alignment, while the contents of artworks were never discussed. That was not something I expected. However, Shunsuke Kano was a graduate of the same course, and photographer, Naruki Oshima was teaching at the photography course, so I was familiar with photography and that has led me to start doing it myself. I had lots of ideas but no knowledge or technique, still I was confident that I could make my ideas work. 

Artificial view_cube_green © Atsushi Okabe, courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery

Did you make Artificial View for the degree show?
Yes. I realized that I tend to go for something different and unique, and never seriously thought about beauty and aesthetics. It was my attempt to do just that. I tried to make photographs that looked like minimalistic paintings, by placing one hundred Rubik’s cubes to form a grid. I didn’t have any knowledge on lighting at that time. I was shooting under fluorescent lights and setting the shutter speed at three seconds while manipulating the depth of filed. It was then that I turned the zoom lens on a whim. I got goosebumps seeing the result. It was extraordinary and beyond my imagination. Since then, I have been taking photographs to experience that intense feeling of satisfaction. 
I started leaning about cameras and found out the conditions that created the effect. For example, it has to be dark and the subject must be still to take a long exposure. I went on a lookout for things that fitted the conditions and would make beautiful images. I photographed green leaves in a glasshouse for Artificial View. The enclosed environment of the glasshouse met the conditions well. The plants were still because there was no wind, and the lighting was just right as it was indoor. The highly controlled conditions of a glasshouse are artificial. The title comes from the fact that in my photographs, the man-made nature is overwrapped with the images I crated. 

Artificial view_botanical_7 © Atsushi Okabe, courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery

I see that the pattern of distortion of your images is richly varied. How do you move your camera during a shoot?
My strongest desire is to create images that surprise me. I try to refrain from doing the same thing, so I use all kinds of movements. I move my camera in different directions, not just up and down or from side to side. For example, this photograph of fallen leaves on the pavement, I loosened the bolts on the tripod head where the camera sat as much as possible so that the camera was dangling loose, and shot while moving the camera. I found the combination of the random pattern of falling leaves and the uniform patterns of the camera’s movement to be pretty amusing. 

“What I have been doing is to add visual strength, or to increase the level of ability to see things around us. “

How do you choose your subject?
My subject should not have a regular pattern as I repeat the same movement over and over again to create an image. It is clear that it is not easy to come across a perfect one, and my creative process is more like trial and error, rather than making a decision. I want to try out all sorts of different subjects, so I usually take photographs of things around me. 

Faces_toothpaste © Atsushi Okabe, courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery

How did you select the subjects for your second series, Faces?
My subjects remained consistent. They are mainly objects of daily life, but this photograph of squeezed-out toothpaste is my attempt to find a subject not yet discovered. The worldwide population of photographers, armatures and professional alike, has grown and everything you see in this world has become a subject of photography. So I am in a constant search for things that have not been so much photographed. I usually choose ones that have great colors and can be expected to turn out to be excellent images.  
In Faces, the subject matter was presented in a straight forward manner. I looked for the subjects that would work well with this concept. I am always trying to find a way to translate concepts into visual realities. I try to create images that were far from being clichéd and unimaginative as possible, sometimes with the use of excessiveness. But I don’t really want to do anything out of ordinary. I like methods that anyone can do but no one does, such as stacking cardboard boxes up. With this series, I wanted to demonstrate the possibility of visual expressions created by such method. Perhaps, it is because I have always felt insecure about my lack of technical skills that I think being creative shouldn’t be just for the chosen few. What I have been doing is to add visual strength, or to increase the level of ability to see things around us. I consciously make visual observations every day and that’s how I find subjects that interest me, such as frosted glass and barcodes. 

Faces_cardboard 2 © Atsushi Okabe, courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery

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Interview: Atsuhi Okabe / Transforming the everyday into new images
Posted on Sep 23, 2016