The Griffin Museum celebrates the craft of photography in all of its forms, as well as highlighting visual artists at the beginning of their creative journey. Over the past thirty years, showcasing luminaries of photography, we have had the pleasure of working with many emerging talents. Perceiving Pathways is a series of interviews, conducted by Tori Currier, looking at some of the artists who have hung on our walls. In conversations with them about their creative paths, often beginning with their first exhibition with us, we share these conversations about the many ways art practices can evolve, and spotlight the various decisions and influences that come together to create the artworks you see.
It is our hope that these engaging conversations are an opportunity to connect with and learn from artists about themselves and their processes, cultivating deeper appreciation of their artwork and a broader understanding of the photographic arts.
Jerry Takigawa is an independent photographer, designer, and writer. Joining us for Perceiving Pathways, we discussed his creative path beginning with his 2015 Griffin Exhibition, False Food, which spoke to environmental advocacy and issues of plastic pollution, to recent series including Balancing Cultures, which gives voice to his family’s experiences with WWII American Concentration camps. In conversations about his artwork and workshops, as well as artmaking in the age of Zoom, Jerry illuminates the significance of connection, vulnerability, and embracing the personal in art and life.
How would you describe your exhibition experience at the Griffin?
The experience itself was entirely enjoyable. I think Paula had mentally earmarked False Food before we even met in Santa Fe in 2013. The exhibition in 2015 is a fond memory of being able to move about the country freely before the pandemic.
Tell us how your work has evolved since your 2015 exhibition, False Food.
After the Griffin exhibition, False Food led to many exhibitions including the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. Paula
generously nominated the project twice for the Prix Pictet. The work has been part of a permanent exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium about ocean plastic pollution and recently featured on the cover of Allison Cobb’s book Plastic: An Autobiography. In 2016, I began work on Balancing Cultures, a photography series about my family’s experience with the WWII American Concentration camps.
Your 2021 Balancing Cultures exhibition started with family photographs. Which ideas and decisions went into the layering of photographs and objects?
The idea underlying Balancing Cultures is about a compulsion to tell the story of a trauma in my parent’s life that became an unconscious driving force in my own life. I wanted to tell that story to the best of my ability—to be their voice. Their hidden emotions surrounding the WWII incarcerations and attendant racism was quietly transferred to the next generation. Decision-making includes holding this subconscious force (to finally say something about the incarceration) along with allowing an intuitive force of receptivity and openness, which guided me in choosing/arranging elements for the images. This kind of decision-making results in what can be called “being in the zone,” where focus is everything and time falls away.
2020 – 2021 were reflective years for many of us. They, too, have shown us how supportive art communities are. Which new thoughts or discoveries about your work/practice and role in the photography community will inform it in the New Year?
If I reflect on my work over the past 4 decades, hindsight is 20-20. I can see how in the Kimono Series, I publicly began to
embrace my Japanese heritage. And in Landscapes of Presence, I allowed myself to work in the Zen moment and develop a still-life approach that would become useful in expressing ideas for years to come. False Food emerged easily from Landscapes of Presence. My still-life approach matured during this series and working with environmental issues was familiar territory for me. Balancing Cultures required tenacity and research. Honestly, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see I’d been working my whole
life toward this project. There were many obstacles inherent in making this work. 1) My parents didn’t speak much about the concentration camps particularly the politics. 2) Their shame about being considered the “enemy” during WWII and their desire to protect me from future such events. 3) Their anger at the loss of their rights as citizens and loss of personal property was not readily expressed and by the same token, their silence transferred these emotions to my brother and me. 4) By expressing these emotions, was I betraying my parent’s silence? I was cautious about sharing this work with the public at first. But surprisingly, the public and the photography community both welcomed and encouraged this work. Ironically, this is one of the primary messages in the PIE Labs (Photography, Ideas, Experience) workshops I created at Center for Photographic Art—the more personal the message, the more universal the audience. I’m learning to embrace life through the personal.
Could you tell us a bit more about your PIE Labs workshops and the primary messages you teach, including the importance of personal messages in art and life?
Essentially, the premise is to loosen up creative calcification and help artists evolve beyond their creative worldview. Unique to the approach, we invited people involved in some aspect of creativity (but not always photography) to allow artists to break out of f-stop thought patterns and delve into the world of creativity: human vulnerability, story, and connection. PIE Labs was once described as not a how-to but a why.
Reflecting on your path so far, what is one hope or ambition for 2022?
I feel a plethora of feelings and ideas simmering in my consciousness. So many thoughts that, ultimately, are all connected. When I talk about my work, my early days were fraught with a desire to say something with art, but not knowing what was important. Today, I have a better understanding of how and why things are the way they are—and there is no shortage of things to choose from. One assignment for 2022 is to recognize and begin my next project.
An influence for False Food was an environmental issue, specifically the harmful effects of plastic pollution on Albatross of the Midway Atoll. How do you approach translating critical issues into visual art, whether in terms of style or subject matter?
How indeed. Typically, it will be a fortuitous intersection of a strong feeling about the issue and a visual approach that resonates with expressing that issue. Sometimes I can encapsulate the issue with a title that I “hold” while sorting out the visual approach. Sometimes I just need to start making things. For me, subject matter needs to be rooted in authenticity—something personal, something I feel strongly about. Where do ideas come from? I think there’s a lot to be said for holding the issue(s) and the various visual approaches lightly in a kind of idea soup of consciousness and allow pattern recognition to map out projects. Being able to talk with others about ideas is also useful. Most of the issues that I wish to express are vast in scope. The challenge is to translate a vast problem into an idea that personalizes the expression. By doing that, it becomes more accessible.
I am curious about your process of how you can sometimes “encapsulate the issue with a title [you] hold while sorting out the visual approach.” Do these titles begin verbally, as words that you transform into visual objects? Can you sometimes visualize artworks through text?
Creating a title can give me a handle on a visual approach. (Yes, they are verbal). A title can suggest a visual starting point that will then have a life of its own. Not sure I can visualize artwork through text; it would be more like visualizing images through feelings. And, feelings can be had through words, ideas, and visuals.
You’re a photographer, so you’re intrinsically a viewer too! How have your ways of viewing and engaging with photographic art changed over the years? Have they been shaped by how you might prefer your own work to be viewed?
For the past couple of years, viewing photography has been mostly screen-based expanding the field from which I am able to experience other photographer’s work. This has the benefit of diversity of imagery but with the missing in-person experience. The Zoom-based salon world has brought artist’s intentions to the forefront. As has the artist statement, now standard in most juried formats. From a purely visual approach standpoint, I admire images that either I wish I had made or images that resonate with my way of seeing/making. I don’t make work with screens in mind. However, in thinking about making new work, I sometimes rehearse the underlying intention to qualify the idea (to an imaginary audience).
How have screen-based and Zoom audiences redefined how you, as you have shared, qualify your ideas and processes when thinking about making new work?
The practice of Zoom presentations is an opportunity to share the backstory about why certain images were made. Scanning Instagram each day brings a wealth of images into my daily experience. When thinking about new work, I find myself mentally rehearsing its intention. Partly to assess what I would tell an audience but also to test whether the visual idea is effective in conveying the premise.
As creatives, we’re always looking to grow. So, what is one metric of artistic growth as a photographer?
One answer is embedded in your question. I believe personal growth is the same thing as artistic growth. As you grow, your art grows. And as your art grows, you grow. I’ve always allowed myself to have the equipment I needed (and sometimes just wanted) to do photography. Yet, the real advancements in my work have not come from the advances in technology, but from my own personal evolution as a human being and an artist. Ironically, while I’ve always sought to put more of myself into my photographs, it’s my photographs that have informed me about myself. One way to tell if what I’m expressing in my images is personal—does it takes courage to say it? Does it feel risky? Courage is being vulnerable. Courage and vulnerability are two sides of the same personal growth coin. When you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice. —Cheryl Strayed, writer
Jerry Takigawa is an independent photographer, designer, and writer. He studied photography with Don Worth and is the recipient of many honors and awards including: the Imogen Cunningham Award (1982), the Clarence J. Laughlin Award, New Orleans, LA (2017), Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50, Portland, OR (2017, 2020), CENTER Awards, Curator’s Choice First Place, Santa Fe, NM (2018), the Rhonda Wilson Award, Brooklyn, NY (2020), and the Foto Forum Santa Fe Award, Santa Fe NM (2021). His work is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Monterey Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress. Takigawa lives and works in Carmel Valley, California.
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Tori Currier is a curatorial intern at the Griffin Museum of Photography and a senior at Smith College majoring in Art History. Passionate about the photographic arts and public education, she strives to support artists at the Griffin by developing educational features which spotlight their work and amplify their voices.