Yukari Chikura | Interview
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in photography?
From an early age, I was not very good at talking to people. Naturally, I wanted to find another way to express myself. After graduating with a degree in piano performance, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, longing to unlock my creative potential. Driven by a desire for unbridled expression, I immersed myself in the art of composition, teaching myself, and ultimately earning the title of a composer.
As time wore on, my spirit yearned for new avenues of artistic expression, and I found myself captivated by the alluring beauty of the visual arts. I made the resolute decision to pursue a career as a photographer, eager to capture the beauty of the world around me through the lens of my camera. From the depths of my soul, there has always been a yearning to wander, to explore the hidden corners of this world and discover the secrets that lay waiting. In my travels to far-off lands and the unknown reaches of my own, I have sought to glean the wisdom of those who live in the same era as me, to uncover the marvels of their cultures and ways of life.
With each step I took, and each person I met, I was struck by the sheer beauty and wonder of the world. So, I turned to the art of photography, hoping to capture the essence of the landscapes that took my breath away and the unforgettable personalities that I encountered.
How would you describe your photographic style and what do you want to convey through your images?
Originally, I was drawn to the captivating world of documentary-style photography. However, as I've grown and developed as an artist, I've come to realize that each message requires a unique style of expression that can't be restricted by adherence to a single style.
I'm constantly pushing myself to explore new ways of conveying my message, and every project I take on requires a fresh approach. In my work “ZAIDO”, I sought to honor the unyielding spirit of those who have persevered through hardship to maintain their traditions and culture for over a millennium. Through my work, I hope to kindle a spark of hope in the hearts of those who view it.
Your series "ZAIDO" captures the essence of a traditional Japanese ritual. Can you tell us about your experience photographing this ritual and what inspired you to document it?
In the aftermath of devastating tragedies that left me bereft and broken, including the untimely demise of my father, my own harrowing injuries, and the cataclysmic Great East Japan Earthquake, my will to live dwindled away. On one such day, my deceased father came to me in a dream and said, “Go to the village hidden in deep snow where I was a long time ago.” Driven by a feeling that cannot be explained, I followed his words.
On arrival, the village was covered with silvery snow. Mist had settled, making it seem like an otherworldly dream place. There, an ancient and mystical shrine ritual was being performed. As if I were under a spell, I took pictures of this ritual, called “ZAIDO”. It turned out that it had been carried out for more than 1300 years, almost disappearing due to fires, theft, and war. It was the perseverance of the people who had, against all odds, by rising time and time again, managed to preserve what was precious to them, that give me the courage to live again.
You have travelled extensively for your photography, including in your own country, Japan. How do you approach photographing different rituals and landscapes, and what challenges have you faced?
The diversity of cultures and people living in the same era fascinates me deeply, and I'm always eager to explore new destinations and traditions both at home and abroad. In my travels, I conduct extensive research beforehand to gain a deeper understanding of the people and their ways of life. Even when language barriers exist, I strive to immerse myself in the local culture and learn as much as I can. In my work on “ZAIDO”, I encountered challenging situations where women were not allowed to enter certain areas. Yet, through the kindness and cooperation of the villagers, I was able to capture the heartwarming essence of their traditions.
As a visual artist, you have the gift of healing your soul through the power of art. How did your project "Fluorite Fantasia (Looking For My Father...)” become a healing journey, more than a poetic ode to your father and your relationship with him? How do you think photography helped you to heal?
“As a visual artist, you have the gift of healing your soul through the power of art.” - If you happen to feel that way, it would fill my heart with immeasurable gratitude. In the wake of my father's sudden passing, I found myself plagued with thoughts of remorse and aching with the wishful thinking, "If only I had spent more time with him if only I could see him just once more...".
I hold firm in my belief that anyone who has experienced the loss of someone irreplaceable shares this same heart-wrenching sentiment. Under the guidance of the mystical fluorite, I embarked on a soul-nurturing odyssey that granted me a chance to sense the lingering presence of my late father. Through the wondrous sights and enigmatic encounters of my journey, I found myself gradually restored and healed. Through the process of creating this body of work, I was able to find solace and restoration. The act of creation serves as a balm for my spirit, bringing with it a sense of healing that permeated every aspect of my being.
You have won many awards and have been featured in many publications. What do you think makes your work stand out and what advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
While I'm uncertain whether my work stands out from others, my greatest joy comes from knowing that it touches the hearts of those who view it. In today's world, photography is no longer the exclusive domain of a select few, but rather an art form that is accessible to anyone with a passion for it. However, to stand out in a crowded field like this is no mean feat. So my advice to you is this: immerse yourself in the beauty of not just photography, but also other creative mediums. Explore the world around you, and let it inspire you to weave captivating tales with your lens. And don't forget to indulge in a good book or movie now and then, as they can be invaluable sources of insight and inspiration. Above all, remember that perseverance and patience are key. Never give up on your dreams, no matter how daunting the journey may seem.
What do you think are the most important skills for a photographer to have, and how have you honed those skills over the years?
Beyond technical skills, what's most important to me as a photographer is the ability to convey a message or emotion through my work. Every photograph requires a unique expression that suits its intended purpose. For me, a camera is a powerful tool for expressing a range of emotions and experiences.
I studied photography almost entirely on my own. Therefore, I carry with me a constant sense of urgency, a deep-seated awareness that there is always more for me to learn and explore. I've attended some workshops. Yet, of all the transformative experiences I encountered, none could compare to the profound impact of the workshop centred around the “photobook-making workshop”.
Your work often explores themes of culture, tradition, and identity. How do you think photography can be used as a tool for cultural preservation and celebration?
With the advent of social media and the internet, photographs can now reach a vast and diverse audience, facilitating the exchange of ideas and cultures across borders.
There are many cultures and traditions of other countries that are unfamiliar or difficult to understand. By communicating with them visually, I hope that people will become interested in them and deepen their understanding. I hope that by communicating the attractions, people will realize the importance of preserving traditional culture.
Japan is a country surrounded by the sea on all sides. That is why it has a unique way of life and culture that is not found in any other country. However, this is not the only difference between Japan and the rest of the world. Sadly, various natural disasters are also part of everyday life in Japan. I was afraid that the culture that has been passed down through many sacrifices is disappearing.
But there were people there who tried to keep it alive, no matter how hard they had to work. It is because of their dedication and the great influence they had on me that I was able to find the meaning of life again. “What does it mean to overcome various difficulties and keep culture and art alive?” - We want to think deeply about this again and keep asking people this question.
Finally, what role do you think photography plays in society and how do you hope your work contributes to the conversation?
Photography plays a significant role in society as it has the power to communicate important messages and evoke emotions through visual storytelling. It can be used as a tool for art, journalism, and personal expression, among others. Photographers can highlight social issues and bring attention to important causes, as well as provide a creative outlet for self-expression and exploration.
In these trying times, the world finds itself beset by an array of challenges, from the ongoing pandemic and its far-reaching impacts to the unstable geopolitical climate and the unpredictable fluctuations of the global economy. As such, uncertainty and unrest have become the hallmarks of our current era, casting a pall of apprehension over all who call this world home.
It was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that my photo book “ZAIDO” was published. Against a backdrop of isolation and loneliness, I aspired for my work to serve as a beacon of light, a "spiritual journey" that could offer a balm for the soul and a source of healing for all who encountered it.