Mari Kojima was born in Shimane, Japan, but since then has spent time on and off living abroad. She graduated university with BFA in fashion design. Because of an unforeseen circumstance, she returned back to Japan in 2008, and soon after discovered photography as a means to express the inner turmoil and happiness that exists within her. Besides taking photos, she has worked as a fashion designer assistant, curator, FM radio DJ, project manager, event planner. She now works and lives in Tokyo. Read below for the full interview…
Many people know exactly what they want to do growing up as a child. You weren’t one of those people. After going from radio DJ, to project managing, event planning, and more, was there always a slight feeling of unfulfillment from those jobs?
Mari: Yes, there was always a slight feeling of unfulfillment since I don’t really stick to a specific field for long time. I think I’ve learnt many things and always found important similarities and connections through all the jobs that I’ve experienced. But, I’m not an expert of any of those jobs that I had at all, but I’m happy that I’ve always had a chance to try new things.
You had an unfortunate family happening that made you return home a few years ago. Would it be OK to ask what series of events made you turn a negative into a positive and discovered your love of photography?
Mari: It’s OK, I can answer that [smiles]. One of the main reasons that I decided to move back to Japan was because both of my parents got cancer and I didn’t want to live too far away from them in case something happened. Also, at that time I was living with my boyfriend in Brooklyn and engaged, but we ended up breaking up. I had quit my job to get ready for the marriage, but since it didn’t happen, I had no job and no reason to stick to living in New York. On top of that, so many bad things happened like big repercussions spreading out around me. I just wanted a new start, so I decided to move back and re-locate myself in Tokyo.
When I moved back to Japan, I met Patrick Tsai, who is a really talented photographer and he gave me this tiny point-and-shoot camera, Olympus Mju-II, and that was the beginning. I think those bad things that happened to me definitely affected me, but maybe in a good way. I was super depressed and sensitive when I started taking photos. When I found something stunning in scenery, that was a big hope, or maybe a envy or jealousy since I didn’t have that. Those little things that I found kept me moving on and I think what I captured turned into something oddly beautiful. That was the time I realized that I could connect my feeling and the visual together, and I started getting into photography.
Did all those past professions help you become a better photographer? Did the attention to detail being in the fashion industry help your photographic eye?
Mari: I actually don’t think they directly helped me to be a photographer. I guess my photographic eye is a mix of how I grew up and emotional experiences from my daily life, which is separated from work.
As for fashion design, I liked the process of making 2D into 3D by using a flat textile. I think Photography is more direct and has a totally different approach than fashion design. If I press the shutter button, what I see through the lens gets burnt onto film directly. Photography is really momentary to me, I don’t really construct my thoughts or ideas up onto it like I do [with] fashion design.
Living abroad and also being in the East, what cultural observations have you witnessed through your lens?
Mari: I think there are so many hidden cultural rules that we have to follow in Japan, but once I see people or things that “crossed the line” here, they sometimes look really sensual since I know that’s something that I have to avoid, but secretly I’m attracted to breaking it too. It’s always like a peep show here. I like this twisted feeling of Japan, it always feels like something hidden underneath. You have to really try to know what the truth is here. On the other hand, in the U.S., I felt things were more direct and dynamic.
Aside from photoshoots, you seem to enjoy documenting day-to-day life with your friends or impromptu shots you happen to come across. Is trying to capture life in its natural sense important to you as a photographer?
Mari: Yes, I can say that it is really important for me to document my day-to-day life. How I see things sometimes make me realize what kind of a person I am. I sometimes notice slightly odd things at a totally normal situation, and I just want to document them to see what I actually saw. I like looking through developed/printed photos to find out what I thought were ironic, beautiful, or sexual within the odd moments that I captured more clearly.
Author Douglas Coupland said he actually had to leave Japan because he developed a skin condition brought on by the intense sun waves. As a photographer in the Summer months do you find this to be a problem as well?
Mari: I actually don’t know much about the actual impact of the sun waves here in Japan, but I love “Life After God” by Coupland, which my best friend gave me as a gift.
Anyways, summer here has been really crazy these years here. When I was little, during summer break, playing outside all day long was the most exciting thing to do, but the past few years, it gets too hot in summer especially in Tokyo because of the heat island phenomenon. Kids don’t go outside to play during summer daytime since everyone is really worried about getting heatstroke since many people get it during summer. We have all sorts of funny items during summer though, a little portable electric fan, a frozen scarf ( http://www.shirokumanokimochi.jp/), etc.
2011 seemed to be a year of self discovery for you. What kind of experiences did you have this past summer and how has it shaped you as a person?
Mari: 2011 was really crazy, I think every experience that I had last year, it just made me realize that I’m not special or anything at all but I’m just a human. The earthquake happened in March, which was really unbelievably shocking. After the event, we faced untruthfulness of government and the most major electric companies here, were trying to hide all the horrible facts and effects over the damaged nuclear plants and radiation. I just couldn’t do anything and just felt really helpless. My brother-in-low’s parents had to leave the town that they lived in because of the high radiation and decided to temporary move to Tokyo. It’s been almost a year since the event but they are still living in Tokyo. We know it will take a long time to solve all those problems that occurred.
It might sound really mediocre but after the earthquake, I felt like I needed to shift my life and take it more seriously. If something happens, if I die, I would have regret over many things that I didn’t do, even little things…. I’d regret that I treated people bad, didn’t talk to my parents for a little while, wasn’t being honest, etc. At that time, I wasn’t really happy with my job, so I finally decided to quit. I guess that was my turning point and since then I started focusing on what I want to do more.
With that said, what do you want to tackle in 2012?
Mari: I’ve been wanting to do a solo exhibition since 2010, I hope it’ll happen this year. Also, I’d love to try fashion photoshoots. I’m going to start working on a new project involving people around me, I guess it’d be lots of fun.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime?
Mari: I love anime, I also really love manga. Anime wise, I love Doraemon by Fujiko Fujio, which is totally classic since I grew up with it. Some of Fujiko’s old SF short comics are really dark and twisted, sometimes I find some similarities with the stories by F. William Brown. I guess Fujiko was actually influenced by him. If you like stories like Borges, I totally recommend reading comics by Daijiro Moroboshi. Harnagedon: Gebma Taisen is my favorite anime too. Yoshinori Kanada, who did the effects for Genma Taisen is such a talented animator.
As for the Asian films, I loved Infernal Affairs. I also love Stephen Chow’s early 90s films. Love on Delivery by Chow was really funny. I watched Tropical Fish by Yu-Hsun Chen when it got released a long long time ago, and I still remember that I loved Chen’s humor.
What type of equipment do you use?
Mari: Many point-and-shoot cameras, old Canon and Yashica SLRs, any cameras with a good quality lens!
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