Exploring Japanese creativity through the lens of photographer Paul Barbera
NEW YORK – Where They Create: Japan offers insight into the environments and working processes of the most creative minds in Japan. We caught up with the man behind the photos – Paul Barbera – at his New York base to find out more about his new book, in advance of the home-town launch event on 1 December.
He has visited 32 creatives across Japan, from design studios and fashion labels to architects and flower artists, and we gain from his preface to the book that he learnt a lot of things through the process, though perhaps a bit of mystery and intrigue is also a good thing. 'Not everything needs to be explained nor put into boxes, and boundaries are often blurred,' the photographer states. 'This is the most exciting part of Japanese creativity and I hope that I have captured some of this journey of discovery and appreciation in these pages.' Read on to be enlightened further, and then grab yourself a copy of the book here.
What is the 'Where They Create project'?
The name is pretty self-explanatory. In essence, I document creative spaces. I have been doing it since I was 16, when I started art school, and my friend's father was a painter and I would go and test my cameras and photograph him. The studio visits started in earnest in my early 20s when I started living abroad. As a project, WTC was born nine years ago when I created the blog and posted the images online. The platform got a lot of traction and has enabled me to shoot creatives and their studios all around the world. I am up to 280 studios so far, and counting.
What do you hope for when making your way to a creative studio?
I think it is important that I don't have any expectations actually. The only thing I ask for when I enter the space is that they allow me to shoot as I find the space, there's no need for them to tidy up. I find that most studios understand my project and allow me the freedom to shoot their studios in the way that I want to so I can get a true insight into the space, which allows me to share those revelatory moments that I experience with my audience – my job is to find the moment which shows peace and order.
The book's cover star, fashion designer Takahashi Jiroko has a greenhouse in her studio.
Why dedicate an entire book to Japan?
I did not make it to Japan until I was 32. However, it was a long-time dream and I've now been back seven times. Japan is unlike anywhere else in the world. Every time I visit, I always walk away with more questions than answers. I felt I was not alone with this sentiment – Japan has had a major influence over the West in terms of creativity but it's always dynamic and changing. I believe we are in one of those moments again where critical discussions about design and culture are revolving around Japan – from fashion, architecture to art and literature. I wanted to capture this moment by spending an extended period of time to shoot creative studios in one country – something I have not done before for this project.
This is your second book in the series but it looks very different than the first one. Does this reflect a change in your way of working too?
I think the book, creatively, needed to go into a different direction to make it more accessible. Less like a coffee table book and more like a magazine – it is a lot cleaner and simpler – and the volumes are now based around countries, which I believe is a better story. As a photographer, I have also evolved creatively and sometimes you have to adjust your shooting style according to your assignment, but I do not think my photography has changed that much from the first book, as this is my most natural way of shooting.
Shoes are made by hand in the creative space of Noritaka Tatehana.
What was the greatest challenge in creating this book?
Publishing books is always challenging, a lot of images are needed, especially as this is a 312-page book, and editing is also a lot of work. My greatest challenges for this book were definitely the coordination of shooting 32 creative studios in different cities in a two month period, also the language barrier and the openness of studios to allow full access. I was pleasantly surprised by how open many of the Japanese creatives were, however there was definitely a barrier which had to be broken at times.
Was the outcome what you expected it to be?
I have extremely high expectations and, of course, as part of the process, some studios declined to be part of the book which was disappointing but this was not necessarily surprising considering how private some of these creatives are. However, I couldn't be happier with the bill of creatives that supported the project and wanted to be featured in the book. I am very proud of how it came together.
From the interview with architect Tadao Ando in the book, we discover that he walks from his home to his studio every day.
Which studio visit stood out to you the most?
It is very easy to this answer actually and this because of the amount of attention I received from this creative. I usually shoot for only an hour or so at each studio but I had the chance to spend quite a bit of time with Shinji Ohmaki, who is a Japanese artist who creates some incredibly delicate work. I first met him at his studio at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and he then took me to a site-specific installation of one of his works. I then travelled two hours by train the following day to visit his home which is located in a remote fishing village and I met his entire family including his wife, daughter, parents and in-laws, and they all totally opened up to me, letting me photograph them as they interacted as a family. His work and studio encapsulated the book's soul in discovering the Japanese creative process.
Do you have any plans for future books?
Yes, this is an ongoing series and I'll be focusing on different countries for each book. There are so many dynamic and creative studios around the world and they are continuously evolving. I'll be at a studio near you soon.
Photos and answers courtesy of Paul Barbera.
Flower artist Makoto Azuma captures 'precious moments from once a plant root is cut to give its life a final expression.'
This is an interview with Paul Barbera, the photographer behind the book Where They Create: Japan which details his journey around Japan. He shares his observations with an audience who relish a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process, which is further enhanced by the interviews conducted by Kanae Hasegawa, which delve into the way the creatives work. Barbera will be at the book launch event in New York on Thur 1 Dec. RSVP here. For more information on the book and to order your copy go to: store.frameweb.com/wheretheycreatejapan