Our Face (Portrait series 1999-present)
Since childhood, I’ve always wondered about people, myself and everyone else in this world― whether our existence is really felt in the world, whether our world really exists― and my photography is an on-going extension of that sense of wonder.
In 1995, Japan suffered two major calamities: the Kobe Earthquake1 and the Aum Sarin Gas2. At the time, I was struck by my own paucity of imagination, how little I could really picture the pain and violence befallen people who ought to have been very close to me. How could I imagine the world of others “as if it were me right there”?
Amidst daily feelings of emptiness, I set before myself a tough task: I would go around actually meeting others, take their portraits and layer them at very low exposures onto one sheet of printing paper to create a single image― a built-up group-in-one metaportrait. Since 2000, many artists rely on computers to digitally merge and morph layered images, but I prefer to use dozens of repeated micro-exposures to integrate the presence of a multitude into one. Such printing in the darkroom is exacting; like handcrafted artistry of a bygone era, it allows no mistakes. Each individual image must be projected perfectly level, only then will they all match up on a pictorial horizon line, none larger or smaller, better or worse.
Starting from 1999, this project has taken me all over Asia. Eventually I plan to continue on to America, Europe and Africa. Perhaps one day it will form a collective body of work that will let us visualize the interrelatedness of everyone here together on the planet.
With the advent of the 21st century, photography seems to have outlived any set function. Will it cease to have any value at all? I myself have become interested in photography’s inherent potential to let viewers experience other worlds (however far removed from their own reality) with personal immediacy. How when looking at vintage photographs or snapshots of unknown children, for instance, we can immediately picture ourselves right there in the scene. If photography can contribute even a little toward us humans having more of this sympathetic sense of “being there”― what I call “spontaneous empathy” toward others and the world at large― that’s reason enough for photography to exist and to give hope that we can coexist.
Ken Kitano 2010
1. At 5:46am on 17 January 1995, magnitude JMA 7.3 seismic shocks at two different epicenters along the Awaji Island Fault rocked the Kansai area. This “Great Hanshin (Osaka-Kobe) Earthquake” wreaked the worst damage in Japan since the “Great Kanto (Tokyo-Yokohama) Earthquake of 1923.”
2. On 20 March 1995, terrorists planted packets of sarin poison gas at multiple locations in the Tokyo Metro, leaving 12 dead and upwards of 6000 seriously affected. Consequently, former leader of the Aum Shinrikyo Cult, Chizuo Matsumoto (aka Shoko Asahara) was sentenced to death as the principle perpetrator in 2004.