Naoko Tamura and the Image

as an Aspect of a Vision


Naoko Tamura1, a Japanese artist based in Kyoto, but resident since 2014 c/o the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, is the author of many works that mainly focus on image in all of its aspects. The main means of her work is photography. Through appropriating the practice of photography, she, in addition to her own work, has also produced collaborations with various artists beyond genres, including film directors and contemporary musicians.

(Through it, in the course of the years, she has also experimented with other means of expression such as filming (in 2009, she collaborated with director Shinji Aoyama to “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge”), installations and performances (“Les commentaires d’Habacuc” Josef Nadj, “The Tragedy of Hamlet” portrait of peter Brook and actors, 2001, Photo Performance and Direction, collaboration with Marzena Komsta, 2004 or Installation & Performance, collaboration with “View” in stage production, 2005). )

In 2004, Naoko Tamura published a collection of untitled images with the Publishing Company Seigensha “Voice”, in which, through the distortion of daily subjects, she recreates a new visual dimension, ethereal, where contours blur and what we observe seems the reminiscence of a dream, of a detail that slowly fades away. Always in search of a dialog/monologue with photography, the image and the surroundings, the artist followed for 7 years the daily life of the patients of the Clinique de La Borde, a place recognized for its institutional psychotherapeutic treatment.

The result of the ongoing project was “La Foret de Sologne”2 exhibited at the Taka Ishii Gallery in 2010, followed, in 2012, by the publication of the book by *Igakushoin. In 2014, she took part in the Fotofever Art Fair in Paris3 , where she exhibited a peculiar set of Polaroids (as well as platinum prints derived from them). In 2015, she presented her latest work, “Thaumata” at Taka Ishii Gallery4.


Floz Visions: As an artist, how do you relate with what surrounds you? And where do you get your inspiration from?


Naoko Tamura: I feel that it is important to rid yourself of preconceptions and confront things with a free eye. I also think that it is necessary to take the time to look at and feel things at a slow pace within everyday life. I believe that these personal aspects become the work and gradually lead to something that is in a more public sphere.

The issue of concern is not how something is captured in a photograph, but is about how one is able to relate to what is being photographed. It is often the case that I observe something very slowly while simultaneously isolating it, and when I encounter it again in a different form I photograph it in a spur of intuition.


Floz Visions: Starting from the premise that photography is a form of art, how important is aesthetics for you, during the creative process and in the final composition?


Naoko Tamura: I have a firm concept about my work, yet at the same time I also take an interest in things that cannot be controlled by myself. My works not only embody the subjects I want to capture, but I also accept the accidental things that happen. I work a lot with film, so I am interested in darkroom work as a means to optimally fuse and bring together the actual image of the picture and my own ideas.


Floz Visions: According to your experience, what is the thin line – if you think it exists - that separates or connects art, in a broad sense, from/to photography?


Naoko Tamura: Photography is aesthetic and romantic, and conveys both imagery and the abyss, thereby sometimes it allows you to imagine what you cannot actually see with your eyes.

I think photography can transcend genres depending on the way of its use. It’s so vast that it cannot be described as a mere picture. I am not certain whether there is in fact a line that separates art and photography. Though photographs serve as a record and as memory, I think their charm lies in the fact that they do not lend themselves to a simple description. The issue is whether or not there is something about them that stimulates the imagination of those who see it.


Floz Visions: In your works, there are two common threads: the intellectual and abstract part and that made of atmospheres and feelings. How do you manage to combine these two parts in one sole expression?


Naoko Tamura: I feel that while my works are coherent, they at the same time constantly embody a sense of mystery. If I were to describe it in words, it is a coexistence of intellectual elements and abstract elements. I realize that this in some manner appears to be a contradiction. It perhaps illustrates a desire of wanting to submerge myself into the depths of such affairs and matters that are always clearly visible. This may be a quintessentially Japanese notion, but what I in fact touch upon is the what is referred to as the ‘Mono no Awai' (the distance between things). To be more precise, it is to also sense the presence of a thing rather than simply determining it through the mere tracing of its contours. I am thus trying to explore ways of expressing this notion within the context of photography. A contributing factor for appropriating this concept of ‘Ma’ (interspace or distance) in my work is perhaps related to my experience of the Japanese tea ceremony prior to my engagement with photography.


Floz Visions: You like to use different means of expression: photography, films, installations and performances. More or less, they all have to do with image and with its reflection in our imagination. In the introduction to your latest work “Thaumata”, you mention a phrase of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard taken from “Water and Dreams” that reads like this: “If life is a dream within a dream, the universe is a reflection within a reflection”. Can you better explain why you have picked just this phrase and what it means to you?


Naoko Tamura: For example, one could name dance as a non-linguistic means of expression. I feel that photography in the same manner, is deeply involved with aspects of physicality. Such as participating in performances using Polaroids, and creating installations with film stills and portraits, I have continued to engage in a mode of expression that centers on photography.


When I first began working with photography, I had kept a record of my dreams in a diary in hopes to convey them someday on film. In my first publication Voice, I had selected a photograph that captured a reflection on water (a mirror image) for the very first page of the book. It was to serve as a metaphor (symbol) that one would enter a dream as the book was opened. I was also interested in the abilities of the camera to capture, transfer, and project (all pronounced ‘utsusu’ in Japanese), and the implications they presented. In this respect, in Thaumata, I had used photography as a device for establishing a connection with certain characteristics that are inherent to the mirror. This endeavor is psychological and physical, poetic, and philosophical. Or it is perhaps magical and playful. I essentially present these feelings within the context of the “photograph.” I am also intrigued by that the things that remain seemingly unnoticed within our lives, what it is that is lost, and the things that contain both a mythical and mundane aspect.

The Zen terminology of “dream,” describes one’s entire living life to be all but a single dream. In thinking about this phrase, what I also find interest in is how to look upon this dream, and how one is to perceive the subjects of matter and time.


Floz Visions: Why have you chosen to use the Polaroid for some of your works? What did it allow you to express?


Naoko Tamura: I am fond of the material of the Polaroid as a substance, and I also very much like presence of the Polaroid!

Each and everyone is one and only and is unique, therefore I appropriated it as a series of faceless portraits from the point that that is itself.


Floz Visions: “Black” (2013), a Polaroid exhibited during last year’s Fotofever Art Fair, uses a technique that is different from that of the other photos you have presented. Can you explain it to us? And explain the meaning of the transcribed poem?


Why, still in the set of Polaroids presented at Fotofever, did you choose loss and death as subjects?


Naoko Tamura: An individual’s face and contours are aspects that best convey their identity and are also the most impressionable. Concealing these aspects means to remove all prejudices, and also illustrates an intention to become free of such concerns. In addition, what had greatly influenced me (to create these works on Polaroid) is my experience of taking photographs in the psychiatric clinic of La Borde. Facial expressions and gestures are extremely important when sensing a person, and what had served as a preface for me to photograph this individual on Polaroid, was my questioning of what it is I in fact look at when confronting and taking a photograph of someone. Within this series is “black 2013” where a text is transcribed on Polaroid using a typewriter, yet this in my mind is also a portrait. Instead of engraving light, I have created a portrait of a person through engraving a particular poem.


For these reasons, the subjects of “loss and death” that you have mentioned, are not specifically the theme of the work. I suppose in a sense however, there is a common thread in that certain things are made evident through the loss of facial features and contours.



Floz Visions: Many of your images do not follow a narrative structure, but what connects them one to the other is a poetic imagination that they create inside their own universe. And the spectator that watches them is allured and enraptured by this waving world and its fleeting contours. Is it a well-pondered choice not to give them an order?


Naoko Tamura: I take photographs as if writing poetry, in that I scatter fragments of words that I then proceed to connect with one another. In one of your previous questions you had mentioned various means of expression such as performance and film. I previously engaged in a theatrical performance where I had taken Polaroid photographs on stage instead of acting out lines from a script. These Polaroids (words) were gently bestrewn throughout like a flurry of leaves.

With the exception of the 4x5 Polaroid series, I rarely decide what I want to or plan to photograph beforehand. I suppose it is somewhat like taking a snap, and is not in any means an act of pre-established harmony. The photograph of the stone in Thaumata was taken by chance as a consequence of my experience of being left alone in a desolate stone pit in Avignone. This eventually came to form a single series through an ultimate harmonization.



Floz Visions: I wish to close by thanking you for letting us enter your dreamlike universe of images and by asking you if you are working on some new project.


Naoko Tamura: I am continuing to work on my project photo-movie *court metrage. The motifs are derived from the mirror like a part of Thaumata.


After returning to Japan, I have often stayed at Tokushima*, Shikoku in my hometown.

The area is rich with nature and is a land of mystery that is untouched by human hands. I am exploring the ancient history of this place, and by travelling back and forth between there and a metropolis like Tokyo, I feel that I do perhaos approach again upon this issue of ‘loss and death’ that you speak of. I want to work with these images as if making preserved specimens through a Collodion process.


Thank you so much for this conversation.



[1] www.visunao.com

[2] Cit. “ Quand je suis avec eux et que l’on ne se parle pas, je sens tout de memele poids du contact, comme un tentative de communication mais via un tout autre language que la parole.”

[3] Stand Kana Kawanishi Gallery (Tokyo) www.kanakawanishi.com

[4] Naoko Tamura “Thaumata” (5 Giugno – 25 Luglio 2015) Taka Ishii Gallery Paris, www.takaishiigalleryparis.com




© Floz Visions 2015