The following stories are from PERISCOPE, an iPad and web based magazine that existed from 2012 to 2014.
TIM HETHERINGTON INTERVIEW
Your Idea is Bigger Than Your Media
Text: Yumiko Sakuma / Photography: Ports Bishop
It has been a full year since Tim Hetherington was killed while covering the front lines in the city of Misrata, Libya during the civil war. But today he continues to inspire many of us through the work he left behind and the stories his friends and colleagues keep telling. His solo show is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York through May 19th.
When we started to prepare for the 0 issue of PERISCOPE, Tim Hetherington was one of the first people we went to. That was because we thought his approach to his work in conflict zones was so much more than what we think of "photo journalism." I had met him in 2008 through a mutual friend and subsequently asked him for an interview. He had just come back from Afghanistan where he and Sebastian Junger shot a feature-length documentary Restrepo. After his life was taken away, we revisited the recording of the interview.
Q. How did you come to your occupation? Photography or travel, which one came first?
The travel came first. I was brought up pretty much on the move. We lived in 12 different pl aces growing up. My parents by nature they moved around a lot. It gets into your blood. Then, in 1992, there was a recession in Britain and there was no job, so I left the country and started traveling. I got into photography because of that. I have travelled to about 70 or 80 countries. Around 2005 and 2006, I lived in West Africa and worked in 25 to 30 countries in Africa. That is because while I travel for assignment work, people ask "Will you go do this?." But I am not interested in being a war photographer who flies from hot zone to hot zone. That is not what I do. My work is in depth. So my personal work is focused on long-term projects and for that, I've lived in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and now Afghanistan.
Q. How do you distinguish yourself from "war photographers"?
Really my works are narratives, I am really interested in stories. I find different visual ways to talk about narratives, political narratives. My work is about conflicts and politics, but it links in very kind of intimacy like soldier sleeping. I am interested in getting very close to my subjects, and I live how they live, or share things with them.
Q. Your tell stories by using different media.
Somebody said to me last night “Your idea is bigger than your media.” It was about one person, but I liked that quote. In the past we defined ourselves by being a writer or being a photographer. And with technology being so flexible, you can be so much more. What should define me is my subjects. People who see my work in the press think I am a photojournalist. People who see my installation think I am an artist. I am both of these things but what connect them is my subjects. I never fitted in the photography community or film community. And that is who I am. I am on the outside.
Q. How did you come to that realization?
I just stopped being able to fit in, I think. Also, the difference between digital media and print changed all of my thinking. Between what you could do in print and when you see light scanning pictures and moving along to digital and flexibility of projection, digital changed a lot of how I think about what I can do.
Q. What do you think makes you good at connecting with your subjects?
I am a chameleon in who I am. You have to be. I am a chameleon because moving around makes you a chameleon and you learn to adapt. You are taken to a new country, new town and you don’t have any friends there. So you have to adapt. You have to fit in and you feel awkward. I feel awkward when I kind of get into a subject, because I am on the outside. So the question is how you get onto the inside?
You have to learn how to connect with people. And I think honesty is the most important thing. You can see someone being honest in their work. You can sense it. People also sense the honesty when you deal with them. We are humans, we pick up all sorts of subtle body language. If you drop me in a foreign country anywhere, I will survive OK because I will adapt. Over the years you intuitively learn how to relate to people on a much more intuitive level. You have a gut feeling. Is this a good situation or bad situation, do I need to leave here or not? You may not speak the language, but you start to pick up from the situation, the body language, the vibes. So intuitively you start to connect with people. Ultimately if you are honest with somebody and they feel that honesty because you feel they are being honest with you, they will also feel the same way deep down. So the only way to be is to be honest to somebody. And if you are honest with them then you are going to connect with them. That is how you create a connection, and then if your work is honest, it connect the people in the same way. It is pretty straightforward.
Q. You are white and really tall. I imagine you stand out?
Yes. That is why in Africa I use the Hasselblad. I shot all the work in Liberia in medium format. Because if I put my camera to my face, because I am quite tall, it looks quite aggressive especially if it is in a war zone. So by taking the Hasselblad or Rolleiflex and holding the camera lower, it totally changes the dynamics of how you relate to people. I am talking to you and photographing you, but you can see me.
Q. Are there any commonalities in subjects you find yourself drawn to?
Figuring out what your work is about takes a long time it is always changing. But by looking at the projects you’ve done, you can examine your footsteps. So now I can say my work is something that has intimacy in it. It is really important for me to connect to the subjects and show them the work. It is about connecting them to the world. I am connected to some in Liberia as you are and we all are connected inevitably. This happens in the cycles of human behaviors. A lot of it is political because I am interested in conflicts. I am interested in conflicts in the way the very edge of human experiences like in a war, that there is something human there. People assume I cover war because I want to show the war is bad. People who have never been to a war think wars are bad. I mean a war is kind of bad but it is also there is something else about war they don’t know because they have never been there. If you look at this photo, this is in the middle of war and you have a moment of real tenderness between two people, which is about the love. There are all the terrible things about war. But it is interesting to go to a war situation and to show that, even in the extremities of human activity like war there can be a moment of tenderness. And it is important as a human to say “you know what? The evil does exist all the way to the edges. But even in a war you can find moments of love. People are still people even in these extreme acts. And it is much more nuance than “this is good and this is bad”. And that interests me. So if I can show that, then I can connect you to this picture. And that is important because then you connect to Liberia where you have never been connected before. You can’t say, “there is people in Liberia. They are just kind of crazy killing each other.” That is what I want to do.
Q. Why do you think you are interested in conflicts?
The war is fascinating because in very few other human occupations can you see emotions with such clarity. Human emotions in war is extreme clarity. What other situation can you see such extreme version of love or hate or greed or forgiveness? You see stuff, and it is incredible. That is what I find addicted to and what you feel by seeing that stuff. You yourself experience it, too, fear, complete terror, complete happiness that you are alive, and that is like a drug in itself. I spent years with soldiers in Afghanistan recently one of them said to me, “You came out and you are on leave and I feel nothing. I don’t feel anything.” Because being in a war your feeling is so heightened that when you come out everything seems gray after that.
Q. How do you deal with it when you come back to New York or London?
I have a friend who calls himself a war photographer, I don’t call myself a war photographer. And I asked him once, “How do you deal with the depression when you come out?” and he said to me, “You just have to embrace it. You feel depressed and you just got to go home, lock the door, put some really melancholic music, take a cognac and just really get into it, just really go for it.” I thought, what a great way to deal with it. Put on Nick Cave, or Tom Waits, and be sad. I think it is a funny occupation because in some way I want to resist it. It is kind of difficult because in some way it is quite destructive. You are putting yourself through situations that could be very stressful. It is difficult on those who are around you. But this is what I do, and that is a part of who I am.
Tim Hetherington's website
Sebastian Junger remembers Tim Hetherington:
OTOMO YOSHIHIDE INTERVIEW
A Reluctant Activist
Interview: Yumiko Sakuma / Portrait: Ports Bishop, Festival Photos: Hikaru Fujii, Ryosuke Kikuchi
Otomo Yoshihide, an experimental music giant from Japan who is probably most well known as the leader of the 1990s noise rock band Ground Zero, has recently become a de facto activist representing the people of Fukushima in the wake of the nuclear power plant crisis. He started a UStream TV station, Dommune Fukushima!, and on August 15th, he hosted a music and arts festivalFUKUSHIMA!.
Late last year, he came to New York to play a show with Christian Marclay and Periscope caught up with him.
Q. Your speech at Tokyo University of the Arts about Fukushima was translated into various languages and circulated widely on internet.
As the speech was made about a month after the Tohoku Earthquake, I was still panicking. But since nobody had spoken out, I made a resolution that somebody had to start, and that if I spoke out, I would have to shoulder and stand by what I'd said.
Now I feel like, opening my mouth or keeping it shut in the future won't change anything because I have already made that speech.
Q. What do you want peopleoutside of Fukushima and Japan to know?
I want them to know about "current conditions" in Fukushima, even though that term is kind of vague. Unlike right after the disaster, if you are interested there is much information about the accidents at the Fukushima power plants as to how widespread the radioactivity is. So people outside of Japan might wonder why people in Fukushima have not evacuated or have not fled. They might also wonder why I am trying to make art and host cultural activities in a dangerous place like Fukushima. I am not even sure if it is right to assume Fukushima to be a dangerous place. Of course it does have some danger, but I think I operate out of an area that does not require an immediate evacuation. People are divided on that point. I honestly don't know. But as long as more than 80% of people are choosing to live in areas that have not been evacuated by the government, I want to choose a way of living and thinking with these people.
I am not doing the Fukushima project to advocate against nuclear energy, even though I would like to see it go in the long term. What I focus on iscreating a place where we can think about how people can live in areas that have experienced the disaster. And I want to tell the world how horrible things can happen and the way they mess up your life.
Q. How was it growing up in Fukushima?
I was aware that there were nuclear energy plants on the coast, and that they were operated by TEPCO, but I thought they had nothing to do with me. I hatedgrown-up society and I just wanted to do music and noise in a place that has nothing to do with complicated stuff, which I have been doing. So I do have some anger at myself for having been that way.
Q. You play music with physically challenged children in "Otoasobi Project" ?
The fact that I started working with them opened a door to society for me. Before that I only wished to play music with people who knew music. I didn't bother to connect with regular people and I didn't feel the need to connect with the society. But I happened to get involved with physically challenged kids and it became interesting. I didn't mean it to be some social activity or for me to become an activist, it was rather an extension of playing music. I just happened to meet interesting people. They are a pain-in-the-neck, but really interesting people just like musicians tend to be pains-in-the-neck in general. They all tend to have problems, like drug problems. But if you think about it, people have different types of challenges and I learned that in playing music, physically challenged kids are no different. What I learned was the appeal of working with not just physically challenged kids, but also with amateurs. I'd never cared for playing with musicians who are not pros. I used to feel like (if I were to play music with amateurs,) I'd have to come down to their level. But there is a different type of fun in playing music with amateurs, and physically challenged kids made me realize that. So in addition to playing with physically challenged kids, I started a project called "ensemble" where the public can participate. So when the nuclear accident happened and I went back to Fukushima where there were no professional musicians, naturally, it occurred to me I can do what I had been interested in. There are things only amateurs would do, like not thinking about profits. What I had been doing linked to what happened after the disaster, and we got to create a framework where people can participate in the process. Of course, it is not a solution under the radiation, but it can be something that energizes people into thinking how to live in this.
Q. So that led to the Fukushima! festival?
Having talked to people in Fukushima, I concluded that we needed something that would give people energy to live, something like a festival. Right after the earthquakes, you could do with food and a place to sleep, but after that, you would need culture, like words or festivals. Without that you wouldn't be able to understand and confront what the conditions are. I also proposed that, since the name Fukushima became so internationally well known, but in a horrible way, we would make efforts to turn the name into something positive. So with people like poet Ryoichi Wago and punk musician Michiro Endo, we launched Project Fukushima! in May. To begin with, I thought two things needed to happen: one was to create a place where beginners like us can study about radiation, and the other was to start a medium where we could communicate information out of Fukushima. And we chose August 15th, the day Japan surrendered to end World War II, to hold a festival at a place called Village of Four Seasons, which is a gigantic lawn that had a relatively low radiation level. After speaking with the scientist Shinzo Kimura, we concluded that having a festival for one day would not pose a serious danger. But since the lawn had cesium, we saw the need to set something up to prevent it from contacting people's skin, or being tracked outside from people's shoes. And then Kimura suggested laying down Furoshiki, a traditional cloth for wrapping. So originally, we thought every single member of audience could bring a Furoshiki and turn it into an art work. I consulted with Toru Nakazaki, an artist and he said it would be impossible unless we spent a month sewing Furoshikis into a gigantic piece of Furoshiki. So we made this 6000 square meter (1.48 acres) of Furoshiki, asking people all over Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, to donate Furoshikis. For three weeks, we had 20 to 30 volunteers, including artists, musicians, the neighbors of my parents, and a lot of ordinary people in Fukushima. The festival started out by laying the Furoshiki, and on top of it, we played all kinds of music including "Orchestra Fukushima" where amateurs and musicians like Ryuichi Sakamoto played music together. It really was a blast.
Q. How do you feel about being called an activist?
I think everybody is an activist in some ways whether you like it or not. You don't have to show that side when things are normal, but hardships like this force you to act. I happen to be a musician and have a few media outlets which I could use to get out the information about Fukushima when there is so little coming out. I don't know what would come out of it, but I feel like I should do this. I don't know how these activities would connect to my music. I don't dare to think music can change the society, not even a bit. One thing I can say for sure is that I want to keep this project alive, and that we need to keep studying what kind of condition we are in. Radiation is not something we can feel or see, but something we have to think about. So if we stop thinking about it, it would be the end of it. If there is something culture and art can do, it would be to show a framework where we can think about it.
Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?
I am not an anti-nuclear energy activist, but there is one thing that I cannot accept, which is the fact that Japan continues to export nuclear plants and technology after all these things have happened. As long as Japanese people agree on it, I can accept that we have nuclear energy, even though I don't like it. But even though this crisis has caused so much damage, how as human beings do you justify exporting the technology? I can't forgive them and I want to say this out loud. I am anti exporting nuclear energy. I want to invite people to come and see what’s happening in Fukushima. There are many things that the government has done since the earthquake that have made me sick, but this is the biggest one. Japan could regain credibility by quitting the export of nuclear energy plant, but they won't because it is profitable. That is their real motive.
Otomo's speech, The Role of Culture:
After the Earthquake and Man-made Disasters in Fukushima, April 28, 2011:
Japan Society video
THE UNDERGROUND DREAM: THE LOW LINE
James Ramsey Interview
If the idea of a park was expanded upward by the High Line, there is a project underway in New York to expand it to the opposite direction: Delancey Underground, aka the Low Line.
Conceived by designer James Ramsey and joined by two of his friends, the project aims to build a public space underground on the Lower East Side where from 1903 to 1948 a trolley terminal served commuters between Williamsburg and Manhattan. Underground Development Foundation, the organization Ramsey started with two of his friends, R. Boykin Curry IV and Dan Barasch, was recently granted a non-profit status and now is in the process of fund-raising, preparing an exhibit to open in September, and going through a set of engineering studies. This massive, ambitious undertaking, if all goes well, might be materialized as soon as 2014 or 2015. We asked James Ramsey where the idea came from.
Q. How did you find out about the space and how did you come to the idea of having a public space underground?
New York history has been always an interest of mine. About three years ago, I was working with an engineer who had formerly worked for the MTA. One of the things he told me was there were all these lost spaces underneath the city. I thought it was incredibly interesting and he pointed me towards this Low Line site, which is the biggest, the most impressive one. It was just right down the street from my house. That is how the idea came into my mind. New York City is always a forward looking city. It is a city based on commerce. It is a city based on progress and making money. Because of that, we pay a little bit less attention to our own history and the history of our building environment than some other cities. But the fact of the matter is it is an old city and there's a ton of stuff down there. And if you know where to look, you can actually find places of old New York. I think that archaeological quality of New York is incredibly interesting to me.
Q. Did this idea have to do with the High Line?
There's a lot of similarities between the High Line and this project. When I was first thinking about this concept, it wasn't something directly inspired by the High LIne per se, but the High Line did something so creative with the unused space in New York City that it had an effect on a lot of people including myself in enabling to think a bit more ballsy about what public space can be.
Q. I imagine a project like this would require you to jump through major hoops. Did you actually think it was possible?
It does. It started off as more of just a cool idea. Then, the more i thought about it, the more interesting it became. And I started to actually design the space and started to think about how it might look and feel like. I talked to a buddy of mine who had some political connections and we were able to get a few meetings with some people in the mayor's office first, but then eventually landed one with the head of the MTA. Not knowing anything about the process or anything about what was involved or what to talk about with government officials, I just went ahead and started doing it and talking to these people. And in the process, I began to discover what the actual path is.
Q. When did you think this project could materialize?
This is the long way down the road. I've explored it as a private interest, something that I thought interesting and cool. The more I talked to various friends of mine, the more it seemed like something we could actually get together and accomplish. In particular, I have two people that I found the organization with. One of them is R. Boykin Curry IV and the other is Dan Barasch. Boykin is an old friend of mine with a lot of deep political connections. Dan is also an old friend of mine who has a lot of experience with not-for-profit groups and local city government. So in exploring some of the ideas with them, we decided to start an organization to make this thing happen. In terms of creating a non-profit organization, we took a lot of cues from the guys who started the High Line and they have been advisers of our from the very early stage. One of the first people I'd ever talked to about the concept was Josh David, who was the founder of the High Line.
Q. This seems like an ambitious, difficult undertaking. What drives you to do this?
First of all, this is exploration of New York history in a way. It also an exploration of design and thinking about what this thing could possibly be. Being able to do something significant and create a landmark for the community to enjoy is the other thing that drives me.
Q. In a place like New York, what do you think public spaces do?
New York was built on the grid plan and there isn't a whole lot of left over space because of that. Then any space that exists is typically developed. Because of that New York has less open green space than other cities. In particular, this neighborhood is one of the most historic neighborhoods in New York, but also one of the most neglected in terms of having open space. So from Urbanism standpoint, this is something that could potentially redefine what you can do, but also create some vitally needed urban space in a very important neighborhood.
Q. Where do your ideas come from?
This is going to sound really weird but most of my ideas and good design work that I do kind of happen while I am sleeping. Typically, I go to sleep thinking about something and over the course of the night i'd have dreams of walking around these spaces. In the process I actually end up designing them.
Q. Do you wonder why you are doing this?
At the end of the day, I had an idea. And as I began to think more and more about it, it is such a compelling and cool idea, I am in the position to try making it happen. If not me, then who? If not now, then when? This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
IT ALL STARTED WITH AN AX
Peter Buchanan-Smith Interview
Text: Periscope / Peter Buchanan-Smith Portrait: Ports Bishop
The story of Best Made Co. was born out of an ax that Peter Buchanan-Smith made as an experiment. The ax was a surprise hit. It made it into the permanent collection of the Saatchi Gallery in London, and it was featured in media outlets all over the world. Since then Best Made has produced many axes by teaming up with a fourth-generation ax maker in North Carolina and adding more products to their line of tools and outdoor goods. They are now about to expand that line into the world of apparel. While we are working on a feature story about Best Made for our iPad edition, we wanted to share our initial conversation with Peter about the genesis of the first ax.
Q. How did you start making axes?
In 2009, the economy tanked. The world seemed like it was coming to an end with all the stuff like the Lehman Brothers demise and the Bernie Madoff scandal. We had just come out of the Bush Administration. I was going through my own personal turmoil. I experienced a divorce and the loss of a dog that was like a child to me. I was also losing a lot of faith in my profession. As a graphic designer working on package and identity design, the whole profession seemed like it was eroding in the collapse of the economy. I was losing clients and budgets were being cut.
Then Andy Spade invited me to submit something for the gallery he had started. And for a very subconscious reason, I chose an ax. I painted the handle and sent it to him, and he loved it. So I did about a dozen of them, and they sold out instantly. I realized then there was more to this ax. It was an excuse for me, obviously, to take control of the matter by starting my own business, to gain some sort of independence, which is the reason most people start their own companies. However, it was also a chance to dive much deeper into the world of this object and the lifestyle it affords. In other words, living life in its most basic form by chopping wood outdoors. And at the back end of the dark doldrum of life, that is all I wanted: to be outdoors and chop wood. And I knew that there were a lot of other people who felt the same way, even if it were just people who spend too much time in front of the computer. Twelve axes led to another, and another and another. I realized that it was a chance for me to create a whole world with a simple tool. I wanted to try and see if we could encompass other objects and other tools that involve the same feeling, fill the same space, and provide the same use.
Q. What was your relationship with these tools before the brand?
I grew up on a farm, a small farm where we depended on simple tools. It wasn't like I was running around on a big tractor all day. It was more about building fences, bringing hay and chopping wood. Growing up on a farm, my only other sibling was a sister, and I didn't really have anyone to play with. My time was mostly spent on my own, out in the middle of nowhere, building things. These supposedly “adult” tools like axes, hammers, and saws, were a part of my tool bag. I used them all the time.
Q. Do you feel like you started this business at the right time when people appreciate craftsmanship more than before?
Yes, I do, but it goes back to what I was saying. I don't know if it is a backlash or a reaction to the fact that we all sit in front of a computer all day. That's the main thing. And then, everyone now talks about returning to American manufacturing, and there's this nostalgia about American made stuff. I don't dispute that, but the way I see it is that we have been so inundated with the products that came out of nowhere and go nowhere. We don't consider how and where they were made. Because of that, they are easily disposable. There's little attachment to clothes we wear or food we eat. Maybe it started out with something as simple as the slow food movement. Then when the economy tanks, on the one hand you have less money, but on the other you are inclined to spend that money better than you did before. So, why not buy something given that you know where and how it was made, and the story behind it? It's not made at an anonymous factory. That to me is the whole movement.
Q. I'm amazed by the fact that you have built a business in New York City around an ax. And to be honest, I’m not sure if people actually use the ax. Does that matter to you?
It does. I would love it if everyone used it. I would guess from our conversations with our customers and our outreach that maybe half of the people use it and half don't. While the use of it is, literally, to go out and chop wood, there's also some use to just hanging it on the wall. It's like a window to the wilderness. That to me is useful. The worst possible scenario is for one of our axes to sit under someone's bed and gather dust. That is horrifying. That is why we have a policy of never ever giving out axes to just anyone because how do we know they want it.
Q. Some of your products come with names and sayings like “Fortitude Ax” and “Be Optimistic Felt Badge.” Where do they come from?
They came from the fact that we are selling an ax. It is a tool that you can hurt yourself with, or in the worst case scenario, you can hurt someone else with. What makes the tool so beautiful and sexy is that it is dangerous. Rather than investing more than we could ever afford on liability insurance, I decided that it makes more sense to impart a message with every ax, one that would be this wholesome, virtuous reminder that says, "Thank you for buying the ax. You can now use this ax on the condition that you are responsible and you use it the right way." The foundation of the cornerstone is this notion of "Courage, grace, compassion and fortitude." Those four things are framing the ax. It's not something you would expect from someone who is selling axes–to be righteous about a product. Having done that and feeling that it was a good to thing to do, I inquired, "Why can't we apply that to a lot of other things? Why can't we be a company that actually has a good message in general?" We are constantly putting things out there that will reinforce that we should be good citizens or be optimistic. With Ralph Lauren we may aspire to wealth and a chateau, but with Best Made, we can inspire to be courageous and content without the chateau or whatever.
Q. I get it because I met you and know that you mean it. But does that translate through a line of products?
We’ve just barely scratched the surface. A lot of the people we’ve reached so far are the ones who already get it. They appreciate the virtues of optimism and courage. The challenge going forward is being real about it. To me, religion is kind of scary in that context. Every brand has a religion entrenched within it. The easiest answer to that challenge is to speak in universal terms. And you try as hard as you can to stay in the arena where those people are. You are not speaking from somewhere else, and you are with them. That to me is the beauty of the outdoor world, a case in point. It is huge. So many people have partaken in that. People who shop at REI, or on a much bigger scale, Cabela's, are all our audience on some level. It’s hard for me to find reasons that someone who shops at Cabela's would not appreciate what we do. We represent a lot of things they appreciate.
Best Made Company
JOURNAL: NEW BRAIN, THE BENEFIT
Jeffrey Shagawat's Journey Through Cancer
Text and Photos: Jeffrey Shagawat
Jeffrey Shagawat is a 37 year old photographer based in New York City. Last year, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain tumor. To deal with the devastating experience, he began documenting the process with two still film cameras and a video camera. This body of work entitled NEW BRAIN is the culmination of his journey. Jeff's cancer is now in remission and he is in the process of putting a gallery show together. We asked him to share his story, and here it is:
I don't remember much about the night it happened. I remember a strong electric shock and my body parts contorting in unnatural ways. The rest is a blank. I was told that I would wander around my apartment opening doors and cabinets, moving items around. When I was done being a zombie, I would lie back in bed breathing and snorting heavily until I went back to sleep. Scary stuff. Looking back, it's kind of funny because I was a zombie, opening and closing doors in the kitchen, naked. What an image, right? I'm finally on the right mixture of meds to relieve me from having any more seizures.
Suddenly my life became all about oncologists, neurologists, social workers, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation, blood letting, hair losing, pills, paperwork, and major emotional highs and lows. To deal with the devastating experience I recorded it all. I never left the house without two still film cameras and a video camera. I saved and documented everything. The first picture that I took was from the gurney trip into surgery as my family looked down at me with horrified faces. When I awoke I took a lot of self-portraits of me with a stapled skull, of me losing my hair, and of my recovery process. In between, I took a lot of shots from the ambulette to and from appointments, and also did some street photography, artistic nudes, and shoots with friends. I coped with my change through the lens of a camera.
With NEW BRAIN, I wanted to recreate the sense of confusion that permeated at the time of diagnosis. I was in such shock back then and so medicated that the footage has now become a part of my memory. The videos are an interesting take on having an illness. A lot of it is medically related, like appointments with doctors, giving blood, and talking with my ambulette driver on my way to get radiation. On the flip side, there are also tons of abstract images of me wandering the streets and going on late night benders to relieve stress.
This experience has greatly affected my artistic vision. I had never truly realized how powerful a tool art is. I feel like it’s saved my life. Now, I couldn't imagine going through this experience without creating art out of it. It focused me as well as distracted me. I couldn't let the sadness take over.
There were a few other things that got me through it. I don't remember how exactly, at some point, I started to eat a small amount of mushrooms here and there. It gave everything this purple, fuzzy, fluffy feeling. I would go to the doctor's office, and everybody would say things like,"You are in the best mood." I remember thinking, "I am dealing with it, I am making my art and I am going to win." I was taking a small amount just to get through getting into an ambulette every morning and dealing with chemo. It definitely helped. It lightened up the intensity of it all.
When I went through radiation and chemo, I would go home at night and go to a bar. People would say, "Take care of your immune system." Fine, but you still have to live. You just can't stop doing everything that you know. I would have people come back to my place and play records, going off to this other land for the night because come next morning, I would be picked up by a van again. Then at night my friends would come back and hang out with me. Some of my friends were upset, but the fact that we had so much fun made everything fluffy.
So NEW BRAIN is not a sad tale. I want it to be an inspiring story. It's about how one person conquered a devastating disease. Or at least how one person coped during a horrific year. The images may be shocking to some, but my story is honest, raw, triumphant, and bizarre. When I started to put this together, I was excited and inspired, but now it's starting to feel distant. I look forward to making it all more distant! The headaches and side effects are endless and I wish I could put it all behind me. But more importantly, I made it. That’s what gives me the strength and pride to want to share my story.
Because of NEW BRAIN, I have been interviewed and touched lives by bringing awareness to cancer and creating amazing art. I was a part of an art exhibit at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine that featured artistic expressions as a result of cancer. This should be enough, but I still want the full vision of NEW BRAIN to have its life in a gallery. I looked at this body of work as if I was releasing the demons. Now, trying to turn this into a gallery show has become the demon! I've been relentlessly shopping it around in a few cities, but nobody has picked it up yet. It's strange. I would have thought people would've jumped at the chance because in one way or another, cancer has affected everyone. But I guess in this day and age, people aren't looking for a slice of reality. Or in the words of one Chelsea gallerist, "The cancer thing is done and you have to be dead for it to succeed."
VOICE AS AN INSTRUMENT
Q&A with Oorutaichi
Text: Periscope / Performance Photo: Yoshikazu Inoue / Portrait: JIMA
I discovered Oorutaichi when he released MISEN Gymnastics from Bearfunk in 2007. It was this crazy sound that was different from anything else and on another level entirely. His sound is so unique that I have this image of him holed up somewhere, creating his own world. His music is not influenced by what people are playing in other scenes or what is big now. His music makes me wonder: how did he come up with it? How did he get to that point? What is he thinking? By Tim Sweeney
What kind of a kid were you?
I was a quiet, docile type.
You still seem that type, but when you perform, you are a different person.
When I used to do improvisation, because it is something you could only do once, I tried to shoot my wad. Then gradually I developed into my current style.
What were you influences?
What led me to my current style using electronics was dancehall reggae. I was really impressed by their style of laying super emotional rap on top of programmed tracks. I like that over the top hotness.
How was your own language developed?
My language sounds like singing now, but when I was doing improv, I was using my voice as an instrument. I think that is how.
So it is more like an instrument?
Yes. When I got into dancehall reggae in my college years, I discovered Patois, the English based Jamaican dialect, and I was influenced by its interesting vibrancy.
Was there any other influences outside of music? In performance art?
There is one traveling street performer named Gilyak Amagasaki who now must be 80 years old. When I saw him perform, he was around 70 years old and danced like a clown, did air tsugaru jamisen (a traditional three stringed instrument) and ran around wearing only fundoshi, (a traditional undergarment) out of a state of elation. He made a strong impact.
What are your inspirations or interests outside of music?
I like to meditate. Vipassana Meditation is something that I am interested in as much as I am interested in music. After the Great Tohoku Earthquake, just like everybody, I really got into a phase of thinking. With that, I went to India and practiced the meditation that I had been interested in.
What did you take away from the earthquake?
I thought we had been living in this virtual world. It felt like I needed to take time at looking at myself for once. For example, take the rice, you don't see who makes it. We had been living in this world where you don't see connections between things. I felt that unless you build your life in a place where you can be aware of connections with things around you, when a disaster happens, everything just spills over and goes upside down.
How is Vipassana Meditation different from other meditation methods?
It is a really simple method where you observe your breathing. I stayed at this facility for ten days where you are not supposed to talk, and you just meditate. It doesn't throw you into some spiritual place, but you work on observing yourself step by step.
UNCOVERING A FAMILY SECRET
Michael Hainey's Interview
Michael Hainey is living proof of people being so much more than what they seem to be. During the week, Hainey held the title he is mostly known for, the deputy editor of GQ, and on the weekends, he devoted himself to painting; this went on for many years before he finally began showing his work at galleries. And for the last 10 years, he worked on his recently released memoir, After Visiting Friends, a powerful tale in which he reflects on his journey to find out what happened to his newspaperman father, Robert Charles Hainey, who died at the age of 35. It turned out that for all these years while he was writing professionally about Men's fashion and style, he was also searching for clues, visiting his father's surviving friends, learning what happened in the events leading up to his father’s death, and spending his morning hours weaving it all into the writing of this book. We asked him why he chose to share his story.
The basic premise was that your father died when you were six years old and you weren't told why.
We were told a story by our mother who had been told the same story by my uncle, my father's brother. From the time I was around 10 years old, I had just always thought the story didn't make sense. When I got to be 18, I found this obituary about my father with this clue that said he died "after visiting friends." I thought, "That's funny. I've never heard of any of his friends. No one has ever said they were with him that night. Then a good twenty years went by before I decided to try to figure it all out. Who were his friends and what was the truth about what happened that night?
Why did you decide to share your story?
It's a very personal story and it is my story, but I thought it would resonate with people. Every one can see himself in it, every one can see their family. We all have a family and every family has a secret. We all long to go in search of that secret and find the answer to it. I feel my story will inspire people and give voice to their own questions about the secrets inside their family and show that what you fear in going on a search sometimes brings every one closer together.
In investigating what happened, you dealt with a wall of silence.
Yes, the silence from my father's old newspaper buddies was because there was a code they lived by. In addition, they were acting out of a protective instinct towards me and my mother. I have nothing but affection for them. We all say we want the truth, but it is a different thing to be the messenger of the truth. They didn't want the responsibility.
Was the writing process therapeutic to you?
The book started with some of the vignettes of me being a young boy in a year or two after my father died and my memories of these days and years. I used to tell the stories to a friend of mine who told me I had to write them down. And as I started to write them down, I was able to articulate. You get them out of yourself, and you are released from them. At the same time, you are able to turn them into art. Get them on the page, and they no longer have power over you, but they still have the power to inspire people or give voice to other people.
Did you find it difficult to switch from being a reporter to writing about yourself?
Yes because I don't talk about myself a lot. People who know me well always say, "Don't deflect." Since I was a boy, I've learned to avoid talking about myself and I would always flip it back to the person asking when someone asked me a question about me. I wrote the first draft of this book and showed it to a friend of mine who is a movie producer. He made notes and told me he loved it, but he also said "There is one problem with this book right now. You are not in it. It is all about your father, but I want to know what you felt and how this affected you." It was such a bell that went off in my head. But I needed someone to give me permission to do that. I put the first draft in the drawer and started over.
How do you feel about your story now that it is out in the open?
I guess I believe that your weakness is your strength. If i can say "I am feeling this," or "I've gone through this," I hope that can inspire someone or gives them comfort or makes them feel less of a freak or an outsider. Because I felt these feelings so long. I guess I wanted to say "You are not alone."
We now know that you were a newspaperman yourself. Did you think you were going to be in Fashion?
Never. I went to GQ because I like the writing and the kind of journalism they do. What attracted me was that it is at its best, in terms of style and fashion, art and creativity, and you are seeing something creative brought into the world. So that always interests me, people making it, how they are making it. I always liked style. I sold men's clothes for a while in college. I remember being a kid who was always particular about what I would wear, and being aware of how I was looking, but not in a vain way. After my father died, there wasn't much money in the house. I would always have my brother's hand me downs. But I was always thinking about making them look the way I wanted them to look.
A lot of people think of you as a fashion guy, but that is just a part of you.
People who have inspired me are those who don't fit into a box. If you look at Walt Whitman, he edited a newspaper and wrote poetry. Frank O'Hara was a museum curator and wrote poetry. Robert Motherwell was a critic and he became a painter. I always believe that whatever I want to do, I am going to do it. And maybe I'd inspire people. I don't want to put myself in a box.
After Visiting Friends
MUSIC ECHOED INSIDE OF A HIVE
Tyondai Braxton's Rare Video Interview
Videography: Grace Villamil / Text: Periscope
Tyondai Braxton, a Brooklyn based composer and former Battles frontman, is about to premiere his first large scale mixed media installation titled HIVE at the Guggenheim Museum on March 21st.In a rare video interview, he talks about how the idea of Hive came about.
THE WORLD OF TIE-DYE
A Q&A with Shabd Simon-Alexander
photo: Shabd Simon-Alexander and Paul Mpagi Sepuya : interview: PERISCOPE
The world Shabd Simon-Alexander fashioned is far afield from those you would associate with the word "Tie Dye." But for years she has been creating an artful, unique line of clothes using the techniques of Tie Dye. Now, while briefly putting the making of seasonal collections on the back burner, she has written and had published, "Tie-Dye: Dye it, Wear it, Share it," to spread the joy of Tie Dye. Shabd discussed why she wanted to write this book.
How did you discover Tie Dye?
In 2008, I was at a garden party where the host set up a table for tie-dying. I had so much fun. I didn't want to stop. So I played with it for the whole summer, exploring it, figuring out my aesthetics because I didn't even like the look of it. And then I thought, I wonder if I can make a living out of this so I can keep doing it everyday.
That led you to start cutting and sewing.
I always made clothes. I put together a fashion show in high school. I knew I didn’t really want to work in fashion, but I always enjoyed making it. Then after school ended, for about eight years I was making handmade clothes for HaNNa, Hanna Fushiwara's gallery in Tokyo. After starting this tie-dye thing, I met a group of cool New York based independent designers. Eventually, the community I was in started to change around the time that I wanted to write a book. For me, fashion was a means to an end, not the end itself. It was a way for me to create and communicate directly with the people buying my stuff, something which doesn’t occur in making art so much.
You wrote the book to teach people how to do it?
I taught classes almost since the beginning, about a year after launching my line. People were so excited about the classes. I'd have people who would drive in or fly in from different cities and countries to take my classes. I'd get emails from other people asking about it. There was no good book about it, so I thought, “Okay, I need to teach these people too.” What interested me about the Tie Dye was textiles, not just making them, but also how the textiles play into social and cultural life, the way they travel through history and bring the community together, and the way they keep culture alive. If they’re not used on a regular basis, they will die out and then they are lost forever. So from the beginning, I wanted to promote the idea of Tie Dye. In fashion, as soon as you start making something cute, people will rip you off. Maybe it’s not your ideal, but you can embrace it or you can get bitter about it. So I embraced it. When small designers make stuff, and big designers copy them, it helps get the idea out. I can only make enough to keep myself and a few people in Brooklyn busy. But what about all the people in India who culturally will always make tie-dye? If you make the clothes trendy, young people would be interested in it, and if you make it financial viable, some big companies will want to do millions of tie-dye fabrics, and then they need to go to these villages in India where they have practiced it for hundreds of years. So I’m not directly affecting any of this, but I can be a part of this chain reaction that helps this thing stay alive.
Tie-Dye is one particular method. You never found it limiting as a way of expression?
No, I think the name is the only limitation. Naming the book, I had to make a difficult choice. I know what people think about the name and I had a similar feeling. We could avoid using the word, or we could use that word and battle through people's prejudices. If people open my book, their idea about Tie Dye might change. I think of Tie-Dye as a medium, not as an aesthetic. So that’s how I approached it when I started doing it. I was like “Well, it’s just like painting or drawing." You know, nobody says, “I don’t like music.” You would say, “I don’t like rock music” or “I don’t like classical music.” It’s more about what you do with that medium.
You researched the whole history of Tie-Dye.
l had this idea that tie-dye was from the 60's. Then when I started researching it, I realized that it’s older than history, it’s been around for thousands of years. We don’t even know when it was created, but it has existed all over the world. You imagine if you try to dye a solid color and do a bad job, you'd probably end up with tie-dye. It probably grew simultaneously all over the world. There are so many different aesthetics.
So it is about fighting a certain idea or stereotype about it by introducing this whole new aspect of it.
I hope so. And I think learning the extent of the history is not to bring you backward, it’s to let you know that it’s not one solitary thing and it can be anything, so that people go forward with it . By understanding how many possibilities there are, I’m hoping that people will go beyond what I could ever imagine. Once they learn techniques and possibilities, I hope they will make crazy stuff, past my wildest dreams. And I hope they will post them online or email them to me, so I can see them.
AMETSUCHI: WEAVING FIVE PIECES INTO ONE STORY
Q&A with Rinko Kawauchi
Portrait: Ports Bishop / Text: Yumiko Sakuma / Photos: Courtesy of Rinko Kawauchi
Rinko Kawauchi’s most recent body of work culminated in her latest book AMETSUCHI, (“Heaven and Earth” in ancient Japanese), released by Aperture in May 2013. Instead of using her signature Rolleiflex, she wandered into a new realm of expression by using a 4 x 5 format, and weaved five seemingly unrelated pieces into one magnificent story. We caught up with her while she was in New York right after its release.
In your new book AMETSUCHI, (“Heaven and Earth” in Japanese), the central subject was Aso, the site where agricultural burning takes place, surrounded by four more subjects: the Wailing Wall of Israel, a planetarium, Shiromi Shrine's Kagura (a type of Shinto theatrical dance), and the Tokyo sky.
About five years ago, I saw a landscape in my dream and that prompted me to start visiting Aso and photographing Noyaki, controlled agricultural burning. Last year, I had a show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography called "Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow." Originally, I wanted to show the agricultural burning, the Wailing Wall, and the planetarium photos, but because of its strong significance, the wall seemed slightly off. It wasn't my intention to make a political or religious statement. I wanted three subjects to be seen on the same level, but the wall seemed to stand out and have a separate meaning. While I was exploring options, I was invited to visit Shiromi Kagura, which I thought would be the last piece of the puzzle. When I laid the photos out, the shrine was a perfect fit as a subject and a part of the whole concept. At the start of making this book, I thought of just focusing on the agricultural burning, but ended up adding one picture of the sky seen from my apartment in Tokyo to the existing four subjects. Then, I felt it was completed.
The Wailing Wall is an interesting addition.
As we say things like, "climbing over the wall" and "up against a wall," walls are a symbol of difficulties and they themselves have metaphors. The Wailing Wall in its existence is symbolic and sad, and coupled with the strength of the land of Israel and religious issues, it serves as a symbol of origins and difficulties. When I photographed it, I thought I didn't have to show the pictures as I felt that it was too strong as a subject. Later, I realized that there was a common thread between the wall and the agricultural burning in my way of facing the subject. Because I was thinking about the origin of the place, I found a connection. Because the world is not a place that is just beautiful, I thought including the symbol of difficulties in my work would add another layer. That is the role that the wall is playing.
There was the central theme of how you connect to the earth among these completely different subjects.
Yes. How I, myself, connect to the earth, and how all these things happen all at the same time on it, being connected with each other and co-existing, these have been always my themes in my work, but I wanted to express them in a new way. My work is proof of my life and with every single body of work, I want to explore how I stand and co-exist with various things and how they are all circulating. It is my mission to explore a new way of looking at things and share them with people. I intend to see a different self and in that sense, it is documentary of myself.
The design of AMETSUCHI is very exquisite. You inserted negative prints inside of the pages.
That the world is made of Ying and Yang and everything has a positive and a negative side to it is one of my theme. We ended up turning that thought into the design of a book. Sometimes you see a glimpse of the negative side and that is another truth about the world we live in. I asked Hans Gremmen to participate as the designer and what he came up with fit perfectly with what I was thinking. He translated my intentions well.
What is next for you?
Over the last two or three years, I have been shooting three subjects: festivals in China, birds of Britain and Izumo. I am in the process of thinking about how to express those subjects which I have been shooting all digitally. After that, I would like to make more moving image work.
How long have you been shooting films?
I bought my video camera around 2005. The first work I released was the one where I filmed Japanese immigrants in San Paulo, Brazil in 2007. Then, I moved onto making "Illuminance" which was at the time of its original showing, 15 minutes long . I gradually lengthened it to 30, and then 45 minutes. At first, I thought it would be completed at an hour or so, but I came to like the idea of adding more footage to it over time. By the time I die, it will be like 10 hours long and it doesn't have to be completed, ever.
Your work has two opposites elements of personal and universal.
Personal is connected to universal. There is the concept of awareness of the whole and we all live on this earth and chime into one another. I have a desire to touch that idea, I do want to touch on the fact that individuals are connected to each other subconsciously. People often tell me my work brings back their memories. That is because my work has elements that everybody has in their memories. If I can touch somewhere deep in people's memories, I could say I have succeeded in what I wanted to achieve. When I finish a shoot, of course I was there and I took that photo, but there are times when I feel like I was shown something, like it is somebody else's doing. If I could feel that, the work has left me and it is completed. When I feel like "I" took the photo, it is still in the works.
What is the attraction of video work for you?
Maybe there was a stress about doing photography. For example, when a moment of curtain waving catches my attention, the sense that I feel doesn't always translate to a photograph. There are times I can put them on photos, but that sensation seemed like the better fit for filming and that is why I picked up a video camera to release that stress. Sometimes it feels like the video would be better for what I wanted to make for all these time. Photography in a sense is a claustrophobic way of expression and there is a limit. For that reason it is interesting, but there is a contradiction that it doesn't have to be photography to express what I want to express. I might be trying to resolve that conflict by doing videography.
ENGINEERED GARMENTS ON THE RUNWAY
Daiki Suzuki on the first show and Made-in-USA
Video: Managu Gaku Inada / Photos: Yoshiyuki Matsumura / Interview: PERISCOPE
By now you may have heard that Engineered Garments showed its SS14 collection on the runway for the first time ever in July. It took many people in fashion industry by surprise. Daiki Suzuki, the designer, had presented his collections at Pitti Uomo for the last 10 years, butnever before in New York. So Periscope went to Daiki to ask, "Why now?"
What made you decide to do a runway show?
We had been showing at Pitti Uomo for the last 10 years, but we decided not to go back this year. At first, we didn't know if it was all going to work out, but as a bluff, we told ourselves to keep going for at least 10 more years. The first year was a shocking loss, but things started to get better in the second and the third year. Since then, Pitti has become a whole different place. It occurred to me that we didn't want it to be a routine, that it wouldn’t be fresh anymore. Originally, we liked that we were the only casual brand in a non-casual environment, but then casualness became a tone. We didn't want to be buried in that and thought it was a good timing to leave. When we thought of the next step, we debated different possibilities, like showing in Paris or Berlin, or strengthening Women's, but I thought it would be good to do a show as a new challenge. I was at the store one day and it occurred to me to do a show there. It would be in line with our style to do a small, handmade show in a private manner, not for the press or for marketing, but for buyers who'd come to buy our stuff. Back in the day, there used to be "floor shows" before the word "runway" emerged, where models walked around the floor and buyers placed orders. That is how I imagined it could be.
Is there a theme for the season?
We never have a theme, but we add something playful and symbolic to our usual style. “1968” was chosen for this one, a chaotic time when there was an Anti-Vietnam War mood along with the remaining Beatniks and the emergence of Hippies in the United States and Psychedelia and Glam Rock in Europe. I wanted to express that with print on print.
How long have you used "Made in New York" on your labels?
From the beginning, in 1999, when we only sold to Japan. Nobody was using that phrase.
Now it is a huge movement. What foresight.
We were lucky we rode that wave. But we didn't think anything of it at the time. We wanted to make clothes that looked normal, but with subtle things that would make a big difference. That is why I wanted to manufacture locally, because we could pay attention to the process. Even if it would cost more, I wanted to make things by building relationships with factories and watching how they were being made. I liked the idea of making things together with other people.
It feels that the idea of "Made in USA" and heritage are over-saturated. It became a thing.
Now that everybody is doing it, it is nothing special. I do wonder, Ok, it is American made, what about design and quality? The products are more important than where they are made. It is not simply that everything made in the USA is good.
For you, someone who was drawn to America because of American made goods, what was the appeal?
During my teens and 20s in Japan, I liked anything that was American. Foreign goods were considered better and we all aspired to have them. Everything on my body, except for my own body, was American, though the moment I got here, that aspiration was ruined. The beauty of American-made goods is difficult to describe as is the question of "what American culture is." For example, American denims that I grew up with weren't superb or anything in terms of quality of fabrics or techniques. They would fade, they were hard to button, but if you wore them for a year, they became yours. They are not like Hermes clothes that give you comfort from the day you buy them. But that adverse value was a good fit for me. That’s something that would not happen in other places. It is only possible because of the people and the environment here.
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TAILORING
Q&A with Abasi Rosborough
Interview and text: Diego Hadis / Portrait: Ports Bishop
Nothing in their backgrounds would give one the impression that Abdul Abasi and Greg Rosborough, founders of the New York–based clothing label Abasi Rosborough, were destined to become fashion designers. Though the two met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 2006, they each came to menswear from a rather circuitous path. After high school Abdul joined the U.S. Army, where he worked on Apache attack helicopter–systems’ repair. Greg played sports throughout his youth—his father was a basketball coach—and majored in business as an undergrad at the University of Arizona. After graduation from FIT, Abdul began working for Engineered Garments, and Greg started at Polo Ralph Lauren, but as the two made their way up in the industry, they would often get together to discuss their own ideas about design. Eventually these meetings blossomed into a forward-thinking, super functional line of clothing with advanced tailoring and ergonomic construction that allows for full body movements. With Abasi Rosborough’s debut fall/winter 2013 collection, which is being carried exclusively by Japanese retailer Isetan, and increasing interest from other stockists, the future looks bright for the brand. Diego Hadis met with Abdul and Greg to learn more about it.
Diego:Was there one thing in particular that led you guys to start Abasi Rosborough?
Greg: One of the eureka moments for me happened on an Air France flight. A male steward in his nicely fitted suit was helping a passenger stow her bag into the overhead compartment, and as he lifted it up to about his shoulder height, he realized that he couldn’t get it any higher because his jacket was constricting him. So he set the bag down, took the jacket off, picked the bag up, stowed it in the overhead, and put the jacket back on. As a designer, I thought, a major failure just happened for this guy. Your arms were evolved to be raised above your head, and here’s this garment that says, “No, you can’t do that.” And it’s this garment that’s worn by millions of men around the world every day, and I thought, “There’s something just fundamentally off about that.” So I started asking, “Why do we all wear this suit? Why is the suit this icon and archetype that can’t be altered in any way, shape, or form?” And every year people put out the same suit—it’s like a new car with a different coat of paint each year—and it isn’t evolving. You have this garment that is essentially a literal transplant from 1870, 1880, and it’s still this standard of menswear. When you start looking closer at it, it’s riddled with outdated thinking. It’s a combination of equestrian and military clothing, and neither was ever meant for everyday use. The military clothing was meant to pull your shoulders back, puff your chest out. There are silly little things: We have buttons on our suit jackets’ cuffs because there used to be these big gold military buttons so that soldiers would not wipe their noses on the sleeves of their uniforms. And that has diffused so that now we have these semi-functioning buttons that really don’t do anything, they’re really an aesthetic thing. The reason we have two buttons on the front of the jacket but you’re only allowed to button one is that King Edward VII had a little bit of a belly and couldn’t button both. But he was so fashionably influential that that became a trend that has lasted a hundred years now. We have an extra button because this guy was a little out of shape, and now that is a standard of fashion?! It’s so odd.
Diego: So that extra button doesn’t really have a purpose.
Greg: Evolution should have moved us past it, but it’s still sitting there. The shoulder pad comes from military clothing—you’re meant to look like a trapezoid and have these ultramasculine shoulders. Going further back to the Victorian era, you have lapels because your head is supposed to look like the center of a flower, and the lapels all fold away like petals. But all these are very outdated ways of thinking, and as we got into development—if we were ambitious enough to say, “We want to tackle 21st century tailoring for the guy of today,” what exactly were we going to start doing? You just start gutting the suit and questioning everything about it, and everything starts falling away very quickly. The garment was not designed for the body at all. It was designed to be a straightjacket of sorts—you conformed to it, it didn’t conform to you.
Abdul: The whole idea for us was for it to have a reductive quality. Instead of adding things, we thought about what we could take away. The human body has evolved over millions of years, it’s perfect in the way that it flows. And we asked ourselves, “How can we create something that does not hinder the body?” A lot of what we thought about, as modern men and people who live in New York, is how do we dress? I like to dress in a layered fashion, a modular way, so everything works together. You look at our collection and think, Wow, that’s a ton of looks. But essentially, these are all the same.
Diego: Originally, I thought you had a lot of different designs. But I later realized, this is actually the same jacket worn different ways.
Abdul: Exactly. For us, it’s about permutations. Our stuff is not cheap—but you buy this jacket, you can wear it two ways. If you buy this shirt, you can layer it with the jacket. Everything is meant to function together. Just like the human body: We’re layers upon layers of tissue, bone, tendon. And although we have an epidermis, underneath we have muscles and we have ligaments, and things push and pull, but nothing gets in the way, so everything is layered and in its place. As we work with natural fibers, we thought, When you’re hot, you take off layers. When you’re cold, you add layers. So you start with the base layer, and you add a dress shirt, and you add an overshirt. Then you add the jacket, and you can wear the jacket right side out or inside out. So it’s a very sober and clean silhouette on the outside, but then you can also make it a bit more graphic worn the other way—almost like a day-to-night situation.
Diego: So the collection is truly modular.
Abdul: We thought that was the best way to attempt this. We’re designing a way of dressing. We’re not saying that this season we’re informed by Americana, the next season we’re all about the Wild West,. No: We’re all about the human body. And just like you have your iPhone 4, and then the iPhone 4s or 5 comes out with updated features—that’s the way we want to attack this. So every season, we’re going to refine and tweak and make things better. It’s a dialogue. We’re not saying this is the end-all, be-all, but what we’re striving toward is the end-all, be-all. That is by careful refinement, trial and error, discovery, and seeing what we use and what we don’t. Right now, this is what we think is a contemporary version of a suit, but maybe next season we’ll find a better way to fit it on your body, or adjust movement, or conceal something. So it’s that sort of progression.
Diego:What you’re saying is that the evolution continues.
Greg: If we wanted to take this to the nth degree, we could just create one big bodysuit that’s like a second skin. But you have to gradually evolve what’s out there now, because if you push it too far, there’s no point of reference. And this is kind of a suit, but there’s something further to it. That’s how we want to design: Take what exists and just make it better. And that’s what your job as a fashion designer is. A lot of designers think, “My job is to style things.” No, your job is to solve problems.
Abdul: Our prototypes were actually a bit further along than what you see now, but we decided to dial it back because we wanted it to look like that suit jacket you already have but just that much better. What we did was to take elements of activewear and formal tailoring and place them together. A layman might say, “Why don’t you use 100 percent stretch fabric and make a jacket?” And that’s easy, but then we can only use that fabric to have that process. So what we did is just like the human body—you have stiff, you have soft, you have push, you have pull. [Puts on a blazer.] We don’t want to nerd out on design details, but just to illustrate, this jacket is 100 percent cotton—which is traditional and natural—but in order to increase movement, we put a knit panel at the underarm. This was a direct result of that Frenchman on the plane because, essentially, the way his suit jacket was built, there was no up-and-down movement, so we put a stretch fabric here.
Diego:But that’s all-natural stretch fabric?
Greg: And all-natural is another tenet of our design because, the same as with the human body, natural fibers have evolved over eons, so we humans come along and think we can come up with Dri-Fit, but it’s really just polyester with a different name on it, and it does nothing else. Wool will always perform better than any synthetic fiber. Cotton will perform better.
Diego: They’re proven elements.
Abdul: Yeah, exactly, and sometimes you just have to look at the obvious, you know—open your eyes. Nature in itself is perfect—the ecosystems, the things that have evolved—it’s harmonious, and everything works together. Why try to develop some Gore-Tex coating that does this when you can get a wool that is hydrophilic, that has all these microscopic properties that have evolved for years to keep people climate-controlled?
Greg: The one thing from historic tailoring that we did keep, because we thought it was important, was hand-canvassing, and using authentic 100 percent–horsehair canvas, which is called hymo. So our jacket is fully hand-canvassed through the entire front panel, which is how it was made 140 years ago. We thought that this one element really harkens back to a strong masculine shape. We didn’t want to take that out because it would sag a bit, and I think the suit still has to have some power to it, some gravitas. What we figured out in development was, when you cut out all of the suit’s guts and still clean-finish it on the inside, each garment is actually reversible because there aren’t these lapels and shoulder pads getting in your way. We got really excited about that. At first we were doing all-tonal linings, but then we realized, This is our chance to have fun with this garment in a new way. So maybe you have your monochromatic quote-unquote conservative side, and this is more of your fashion side. Also, we have a carrying strap, just for ease of use. You’ve seen these in old hunting jackets, but if you go to visit a museum and want to take your jacket off and not have to carry it, it’s over your shoulder; it’s easy.
Diego: It’s futuristic in the sense that you’re positing this idea that all of the suiting we’re wearing is actually rooted in the far past. So it’s only futuristic in relation to that—it’s actually contemporary.
Greg: Right, and somebody needs to step up and say, “The suit is going to evolve.” It can’t be the same suit in the year 2100. Also, once men put this on—and we’ve seen it time and time again—they’re comfortable in it and say, “Oh, yeah, I’d wear this.” It’s not so much that it’s a fashion statement, it’s that we humans gravitate toward comfort—whether it’s food, shelter, or whatever. This is saying, “You can feel comfortable and still look sharp.”
Diego: And how did you get to where you are with Abasi Rosborough? What did you do after graduating from FIT?
Abdul: I got hired by Engineered Garments as an assistant designer, worked there for a while, and then moved on to the Nepenthes store. And E.G., being a Japanese company, was very nurturing—it was a lot of standing back and watching and not being able to actually do things, but observing—which was the key, because now I think that informs the way I look at things. As a designer, your first impulse is just the holistic design, but the fine details are what the Japanese are so good at. And that’s why our clothing has that edge, because we pay attention to the details, and the details are not just the details, they make the garment. So that road kind of led me to where we are now.
Diego: Greg, what lessons did you take away from your time working for Ralph Lauren?
Greg: Obviously, you learn that branding is paramount. Probably the number one lesson that I learned as a designer at Polo was that everything is about storytelling. Ralph is a really good storyteller, and his story is always about going to a place, setting that scene. So you go on safari, you go to Barbados, you go to Alaska, you’re on an English hunt—whatever it is, he captures that mood via clothing, and that story gets people excited. That was probably my big takeaway—that and “choose good fabrics.” A lot of what this is, though, is also a reaction to working at Polo. One thing I didn’t like there is that you can take the label out of the Polo shirt, and the Rugby shirt, and 50 shirts in the world, and you don’t know if it’s a Polo, a Calvin Klein, a Tommy Hilfiger—expensive or not, it’s all kind of the same stuff with a different label. In response to that I said, “I don’t ever want to design something that feels like it could be somebody else’s with our label on it.” So you see the paneling—you could take our label any which way, but you know that it’s ours. That is our design, that is our garment, we own that.
Abdul: It’s branded by design. Just by looking at it, you know what brand it is. And there are designers out there—people like Rick Owens, Yoji Yamamoto, and maybe even Comme des Garçons, to a certain extent. You look at their stuff and, even if you don’t know what that is, you’re like, “That’s probably Comme.” A lot of times, you can tell by how it’s cut, or the whimsical nature, or whatever, and we wanted to adhere to that as well—make something that’s branded not only by a logo or this or that, but just by looking at it: “Abasi Rosborough, they always do something like that. That looks like a piece from them,” you know?
EVERYBODY STREET: NYC the MUSE
Q&A with Cheryl Dunn
Interview: PERISCOPE / All images courtesy of Cheryl Dunn
Back in 2010, South Street Seaport Museum commissioned photographer and filmmaker Cheryl Dunn to make a short film about street photography to celebrate its exhibition about Alfred Stieglitz. Faced with such a strong and positive reception, Cheryl, herself a street photographer, went onto what ended up being a three year endeavor to expand Everybody Street into a feature length film. The film features some iconic figures in street photography including Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell, Martha Cooper, Boogie, and Luc Sante just to name a few, but also chronicles the history of New York City, probably the most photographed city in the world, through the eyes of these pioneers. The film will premiere in New York on November 11th at Nitehawk Cinema and will be available to download simultaneously. Periscope talked to Cheryl about the film at her studio in the Financial District.
The original project was in relation to the Stieglitz exhibition, right?
South Street Seaport Museum hired a friend of mine to bring in a fresh audience. Historically, it's a really incredible place and the building is fascinating. One of the floors they uncovered was from an old sailor hotel, it has graffiti from the 1700’s on the wall. The museum houses all these ship parts and a lot of very interesting New York City artifacts. This area had a lot of artists in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. Danny Lyon made this incredible book, Destruction of Lower Manhattan. You could get a loft for 50 dollars back then. It’s a weird and interesting area. And with the Fulton Fish Market, it had a lot of teamster action, a lot of gangster action, very tumultuous action. Then the World Trade Center got blown up twice down here as we know. So my friend called me and asked if I had any ideas. I said, “I would like to make a film about street photographers.” I thought to myself, “What kind of dream project could this be?,” to be able to film these artists, photographers that I really revered. So we pitched that idea because Stieglitz’s was considered to be one of the first photographers who took the 4×5 camera off the tripod, roaming the streets and documenting the bridges being built and immigrants coming in. I wanted it to be a historical piece, through the wordsand images of living photographers and those who had made a body of work that was about the New York City streets. And that is how it all came about.
What made you decide you wanted to turn it into a feature length film?
Well, when you spend 3 hours with Bruce Davidson, and you put 5 mins of him into your film, there is still a lot of material left. I discovered a lot of feedback that told me that people wanted to see more. So in 2011, I went back into shooting and re-reached out to some additional photographers and shot that whole summer. I stopped shooting in the fall of 2011, but then we got Elliott Erwitt to participate the day before Christmas. And Boogie was a photographer that we added too . The problem is that you can keep reaching out to people and you don’t know when to end.
Did you make the film for those who are into photography? Or did you consider a wider audience?
Yeah, I intentionally didn’t make it too technical. I did ask everyone technical questions, but in building the story, that part was less interesting to me even though I’m very interested in questions about what camera they used. It became more the psychology, the way of moving, and New York City. You know the film went through many incarnations. It's very difficult to make a film about thirteen characters that is not confusing. So instead of weaving characters, we made the history section and technology section, a section about danger. We made these other sections that were topical.
Do you feel like it ended up being bigger than street photography?
New York is definitely one of the characters. In light of disastrous events like, say Hurricane Sandy, without these people who are compelled to go to the streets and make a visual record of New York City, it won’t be the same. And there’s also the architecture, the physicality of the city too. There is obviously the love that all these artists have for New York City because it is their muse. In the history section, Max Kozloff, who was the executive editorart editor at Art Forum for many years and is now in his mid 80’s, speaks succinctly in really perfect sentences, using funny adjectives that were from the 30’s and 40’s, expressions like “hugger-mugger” and all these funny words. He talks about why William Klein came to New York.
You know, New York City photographers have a problem. The problem is people are always going to want to come here to photograph the streets in New York. It’s like no other place. It’s like you go away for one week, come back and are like “Where did that place go?”, it’s in a constant flux. People are constantly streaming here, people move out, new people will come. So it’s just this place that has this really vast history of street photography like no other. For all of the reasons we don’t even know but there’s that energy of the street.
We now seem to live in a different time, everybody’s got Instagram and everything is so instantaneous. After talking to these icons, how did you feel about the photography today?
Everybody has a phone that takes pictures and digital cameras. So in a way it’s like “Oh, it’s easy, everyone is a photographer.” But that is not true. You’re a picture taker. There is more to the photography than taking a picture. There is, “What do you say with what you’re taking?”. Taking pictures is just the half of it. I don’t believe that art forms replace other art forms. The particular art form will exist no matter what happens to technology. When acrylic paint was invented people would still use oil; it became something else. Black and white TV, color TV, there is still black and white film. It just becomes a new thing. Every single frame of that digital camera now can be a fifty-foot billboard. But now the art is editing, finding the frame amongst a billion different frames. So it’s a new medium. I sometimes go to music festivals to shoot, and I am in a sea of people , there are many with cameras , mostly young people in the front row, I see at least 10 to 15 people with a film camera. They are buying film cameras on Ebay really cheap. Those kids don’t want to be like everybody else. They want to be unique. They want to make something that’s not like everybody else. So I found that really interesting and refreshing, cool.
What was the hardest part of making the film?
I would say my darkest moment was summer last year. They say making a picture film is like making a baby, you have to edit it for about nine months but it took me much longer. So by the end I was editing by myself here everyday, every single day, 7 days a week, and it was the hottest summer. I tried visualizing what I would be doing instead of editing the film. I would be reading the New York Times, maybe sitting on the beach falling asleep, having a drink, and I was like, “Okay no big deal. I'm making a feature film !".
What was the best part?
What I really loved was the challenge of someone saying they could only give me 30 minutes of their time. I’d show up and wind up hanging out with them for hours. People would warn me that some of these guys would be difficult. Then, when you meet them, they were super sweet. When you think about how many times someone has been interviewed, if you did not do your homework and asked them the same old questions that everyone has alreadyasked them, they are going to shut you down. For Elliott Erwitt’s interview, I read every single thing ever printed about him I could access and every single thing online. I practice this craft, so hopefully I come across informed, because I do it. I really love that challenge, and being successful at it. That was super fun for me.
Do you think they consider you as one of them when you go in and talk to them?
One thing you don’t do is to throw your ego in the mix. Don’t talk about yourself. You are there to talk about them. But when I’m doing a photo shoot, when I’m doing a portrait, say, I have very few minutes to do it. It’s helpful to reveal yourself a little bit, reveal your vulnerability because they are vulnerable, they are trusting you. And you don’t have much time to gain their trust, so if you reveal your vulnerability quickly then that happens faster, easier.
It seems that photographers have a camaraderie thing.
Yes, but they are also competitive. One of the photographers, he called me the day after the shoot and asked that one of his quotes not be used in the film. I had to ask “Do you hang out with the photographers?”, and he said “Photographers are like submarines. You’d never want to run into another one.” And he laughed. It’s competitive and it’s real.
Do you think doing this affected you as a photographer?
Yeah, it was a great education, like going to grad school. I probably learned more than a few years in grad school. This group of photographers, some oftheir careers are 60 years plus, or more . I feel pretty fortunate that I got the people that I did. I think it’s a wellrounded history of New York City street photography.
A LIFE OF A CINEMATOGRAPHER
Eulogies for Ryo Murakami
Edit: Takeshi Fukunaga
Outside of movie industry insiders, moviegoers often overlook the role of the cinematographer even though it is often their magic that makes a big difference in the craft of movie making. Ryo Murakami was one of these cinematographers who made a huge difference in any project he was involved in, including the documentary Blank City and Alicia Keys’s "Girl On Fire" music video. We had not known about Ryo Murakami's legacy until we saw some of our dear friends deeply saddened by his passing, on June 29th, 2013, from Malaria, which he contracted during the shoot in Liberia. It was unfortunate that so many of us learned how talented and loved he was only after the unthinkable happened. Now, his friends and family are coming together to keep his life’s work alive. Takeshi Fukunaga, a filmmaker who was working on the feature film Out of My Hand with Ryo, collected these eulogies so that we can all celebrate his life as a cinematographer, father, brother and friend. (PERISCOPE)
Donari Braxton, Director of Themes From a Rosary, Producer of Out of My Hand
There is a highest class of leadership that can’t be taught, but somehow, by some, can be learned. Ryo Murakami was a leader, not solely in natural temperament. His leadership was a kind of synthesis in wrought discipline, purpose, and personal and professional integrity. It’s the kind of leadership that’s only accessible through extraordinary intention. In that sense, part of me believes that Ryo’s most defining qualities were, actually, the choices he made. The world through Ryo’s eyes, just as in the world through his lens, had no sense of arbitrary, and no sense of passive.
He had the ability to disarm and earn what seemed like the near-immediate intimacies of those who met him. To those who knew him, be it in simple, casual conversation, he had a singular way of maintaining a sense of being present, that invariably made each one of us feel important to him. Ryo could not divorce these qualities from his art, where in composition after composition the casual world appears suddenly radically distinct and emphatic, stormed with now and with meaning. And where the subjects of his lens seem to radiate their conditions and pour forth their secrets, as if despite themselves. Ryo saw savagely, and listened patiently, in art as in life. Superb in intensity, superb in calm. One learned whatever one could from him.
He’s survived by his wife, for whom I've endless admiration, and by his two spirited children, and a third on the way, a family whose lives I'll always hope to be a part of. I miss him every day.
Kevin Hanlon & Daniel Carracino, Directors of Bill. W.
We worked on our documentary film, Bill W., for over eight years. We interviewed nearly 70 people and shot over 30 hours of elaborate recreations. Ryo Murakami wasn’t the project’s first Director of Photography, but he became its last; it took us a couple of years to find him. He shot the great majority of footage that appears in the film, and simply put, the film would not be what it is without Ryo’s contribution.
Ryo was an artist. In simple terms, he created beautiful imagery, and he understood how to create that imagery so that it could be used to tell a story. He possessed the innate compassion, insight, and vision – which can never really be expressed in words – that is the true mark of all genuine artists. These qualities were impossible to miss for anyone lucky enough to have known him, and they are embedded in all the work Ryo left behind, for those who didn’t.
When Kevin and Ryo worked together for the first time, they developed a rapport that was critical to making our film. And when Dan met Ryo soon afterwards, he developed the same kind of rapport.
It might sound strange to put it this way, but that rapport was, at its core, love. We loved Ryo. Not just as a DP, but as a man. And we miss him dearly.
Mika Ninagawa, Director of Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire”
When I first worked with Ryo, I thought to myself, "I won't have trouble when I shoot in the United States." I thought we could work on many things together. Meeting somebody that makes you feel that way is a real treasure. I’m so sad that I am speechless. I wanted to work with you a lot more. May you rest in peace.
Laurent Fauchère & Antoine Tinguely, Director of 1956
We had the chance to work with Ryo on two of our most exciting projects. It all started when we met him while making our short film, 1956, which was shot in NYC. After interviewing several Directors of Photography, Ryo was definitely our match. His skills, his sharp sense of lighting and his passion for storytelling immediately seduced us. We’re not even talking about his amazing sense of humor and his lovely personality that turned our long working days into some enjoyable and unforgettable moments.
During the shoot, we quickly knew that we wanted to involve Ryo in several other projects, the next one on the list was a production job in Prague for the luxury watch brand, Vacheron Constantin. It was an ambitious project which required him to be in Prague and Lausanne for more than a week. That's when we had an opportunity to get to know each other and share some precious time with our families.
We miss you, we'll never forget you Ryo! Adieu l'ami !
Kaori Brand, Director of Standing Strong by the United Nations University (UNU)
The first job I did with Ryo after graduation was The Wisdom Years, a documentary series co-produced by the United Nations University and WHO. After that, we worked together on many opportunities for the United Nations University and the Ministry of Environment with him going to frigid Shiretoko, disastrous areas in Tohoku, and mountainous regions of India. The footage made possibly by his unique aesthetics, outstanding skills, knowledge and supportiveness toward the directors, and his affection toward subjects, people, and locations provided depth to each work. Ryo was a good friend and irreplaceable cinematographer who will never be forgotten. Thank you for giving us such wonderful footage.
Celine Danheier, Director of Blank City
Ryo was not just a wonderful and talented director of photography, he was truly a kindhearted, generous and inspiring person who touched the lives of everyone he worked with. The film Blank City would not have been possible without Ryo and it is a great loss to the film community. Most of all, we feel the loss of our sincerely beloved friend. We are thankful to be able to celebrate Ryo through the impressive collection of work he leaves behind and through his wonderful children & family.
Kota Sato, Gaffer of Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire” Music Video, Pan Cake
I met Ryo in 2006 on the film set in New York. We both worked as assistants then. I was impressed and envied by how he was making his way through in the States. Four years later in Japan, we ran into each other on the set of an independent movie and this time we were both part of the main production staff. And last year, we got to work on Alicia Keys’s music video. The celebratory drinks we had that night were exceptional. We were both stepping up and I was expecting to have a lot more work to do together. I won't forget Ryo's confident smiles, wonderful footages and the good times we had together. I hate to have to say this. Rest in peace.
Jeff Folmsee, Director of The Collector
Ryo is a fallen comrade and I miss him dearly. He was a key collaborator on The Collector, the documentary I produced and directed for HBO. I will forever value the good humor, professionalism, talent and dedication he brought to every aspect of his job, no matter what it was on any particular day. If a production had a Most Valuable Player award, Ryo would have won hands down.
You could always rely on Ryo to step up and quietly help solve whatever problem we were facing in the day to day dramas that are part of making any film.
When we were trying to convince HBO to let us shoot with the Red camera—something they had never done, and did not want to do – it was his voice at the big meeting with the tech department heads that finally persuaded them to let us break new ground for the company. On set, there was nothing more reassuring than to look over my shoulder and see that Ryo was standing by, always completely invested in whatever it was we were trying to solve. In post, I would always look forward to hanging out when it was just the two of us staring at a color correction screen as he tweaked the controls to come up with a look for the film.
But of course, what I will remember most about Ryo is how quick he was to smile, and find the common human moment in whatever it was we were doing. It seemed effortless for him to be positive, to believe in the solvability of everything – he believed in the worthiness of the fight. I miss him terribly.
Delphine Dhilly, Director of Far From Iraq
As I feel the infinite pain of him being gone, I look for ways to believe it is still worth it. I fear cinema may have lost its meaning for me. But the other night, walking home from a screening of a beautiful and unusual film, I had a glimpse of where Ryo may have wished me to go back to as I was doubting my ability to “live” and “live” cinema without him. I think Ryo would have wanted me/us to get back to that Brooklyn College Cinema department, where 3 young people from distant countries and cultures, Ryo, Mike and I, shared the common ground of coming from small towns, and were somehow lucky enough to make this ‘hard to define’ encounter and to continue to make film onward. I know I can trace my urge or curiosity to do, to think, to look and to search, like Ryo did, from there. From that time, that place, that had become My Place to go back to, in my heart and mind and soul, if I ever doubted. That place where we met and hoped and worked and laughed, has extended and influenced me in such profound, funny, brave, and inspiring ways that I can never let it go. Now more than ever, this place is the place to be.
Mike Fox, Producer of Out of My Hand
Unforgettable. Respected. Attentive. Devoted. Diligent. Gifted. Open-minded. Appreciative. Strong. Kind. Giving. Inspirational. Critical. Outspoken. Humble. Caring. Rock-N-Roll. Collaborator. Peer. Listener. Explorer. Student. Mentor. Japanese. New Yorker. Son. Brother. Father. Husband. Cinematographer. Artist. Friend… LOVED. MISSED.
Jonathan Turner, Director of Glasser “Design”
Light streamed through the screening room windows, as it always did, but it shone brightly on Ryo that day. He had come by to share a rough cut of his documentary about rubber farmers in Liberia. We shut the blinds and the projector whirred to life. I was mesmerized by the opening scene. We see a lone man, deep under a cool canopy of rubber trees. A machete hits a tree trunk and releases it's milky white sap. The scene shifted to the dirt roads of a dilapidated work camp village. There’s a woman wailing in the hot sun, holding the limp body of her dead infant. The scene shifted again to a medium shot of a beautiful and vibrant Liberian man pleading to a gathering about the benefits of unionizing.
The hardest thing about losing Ryo for me is losing his humanity. Of course he was in Fukushima shooting very soon after the devastating tsunami. It's not just because Ryo had a beautiful eye for cinematography or that he was very calm and cool on set or that he could carry his own equipment for days to document a hidden forest. He brought a profound sense of humaneness wherever he went and that ultimately we are all in this journey together to help each other. It's a beautiful thing to be able to craft something with artistic integrity that also makes us reflect on our own humanity. I felt like Ryo achieved that often in his work and luckily we can enjoy that work as long as we are alive. What I really miss is the physicality of him, that glow, that smile.
Judd Ehrilich, Director of Run For Your Life
When I first met Ryo, with his leather pants and spiked hair, he seemed to come straight out of the downtown NYC of my youth. I found just beneath the cool exterior was an incredibly inquisitive and genuine person. We became friends and, when I decided to start a production company, I asked Ryo to partner with me.
Ryo and I worked on countless projects together over the years, including several feature documentaries. One film told the story of NYC Marathon founder Fred Lebow. Like Ryo, Fred left his family in another country to come to New York City, where he worked tirelessly to fulfill his dreams. For both, their life's work was not just a job — it was a calling.
Ryo gave so much of himself to every project because he believed in what he was doing. It was never about money or fame. It was about being true to himself — his gifts and his vision — and creating images and stories that had the power to transform the viewer. Ryo succeeded and his work will continue to affect people for generations.
Beyond Ryo's impact as an artist, his legacy will be felt by his family, his children and all the people he touched around the world simply by knowing them and being part of their lives. Ryo is gone far too soon but I will always be grateful I had the chance to be his collaborator and friend.
*Ryo Murakami's family created ryomurakami.com and a Facebook page to share his work and offer a forum for those who loved and admired him to stay connected to him and the images he dedicated his life to.
WILD WORLD OF NATURAL FRAGRANCE
JUNIPER RIDGE: Re-thinking the Concept of Perfumery
Interview: PERISCOPE / Photography: Ports Bishop
Let's face it, a lot of big cities smell bad. You might not realize that while you are there, but it becomes apparent once you leave the place. Juniper Ridge, the world's only wild fragrance company, has been providing a solution to us pathetic city dwellers who love nature. Not only do they make their products (cologne, room sprays, incense sticks) with 100% natural ingredients by extracting fragrance from plants, trees, wild herbs, and mushrooms, but they are site-specific and work to capture the smell of wilderness areas in the West, such as Big Sur, the Mojave Desert, the Yuba River, and the Siskiyou Mountains. Hall Newbegin, the founder ofJuniper Ridge, was recently in Brooklyn for the opening of the pop-up store at Fellow Barber, and that’s where we caught up with him.
How did you get started as the wild fragrance brand?
I grew up in Portland, and went backpacking a lot when I was in high school. I came to New York for college, and really loved New York, but found myself missing the West Coast a lot. I think I was just hungry for that delicious, rich ecosystem and deep wilderness that we have in California and the Pacific Northwest. When I moved to San Francisco after college, I did a lot of odd jobs, spending my time painting houses, working as an office temp, and I even sold sprinklers for my dad for awhile. And then spending every moment of free time out on the trails of the Bay Area.
At some point, I decided to go to an herbal medicine school. I learned about harvesting wild mushrooms and other wild plants for medicinal purposes. From there, I started harvesting things to make syrups, jams, and teas, mostly for my friends. They were really encouraging, so I began to sell them at a farmer's market in the Bay Area in the late 90's.
What was the first product of Juniper Ridge?
The first two products were incenses and soaps — very simple. I also made bundles of wild-harvested sage. From the beginning it was always about bringing the mountains into people’s homes. It was never about being a soap maker or incense maker. It was about giving them that place. And that's still pretty much what Juniper Ridge is doing. We've been able to work with the forest service to sustainably harvest our natural ingredients on a larger scale. And we've invested in better distilling equipment and so we can use more sophisticated fragrance-extraction techniques.
It is about bringing nature to people?
Yeah, I always loved being in the mountains. It is not just about walking in the woods. I've always related to mushroom harvesters because they get so deep into it. They are on their hands and knees doing this, and they're deep in that place. It’s a different thing than exercising and just running past all the greenness. If you engage with your senses, your animal senses, there's something inside of you that wakes up. It’s really a part of our evolution, it’s not like a New Agey concept or spiritual concept or anything. It’s just that fact we are animals and we evolve with nature. And the sense of smell and the way we interact with plants and trees is intimately connected to that evolution.
Is it complicated to make the fragrance out of all natural ingredients? I was once told that you need some synthetic ingredients to make it last.
It's definitely a commitment. I have never bought outside fragrance ingredients for one of our products. If we want an ingredient, we put our boots on and we go get it. I get offers everyday from folks who want to send me five-gallon drums of cheap, synthetic crap. But if we use it, it wouldn't be our place anymore, it wouldn't be Big Sur.
As for making the scent last for a long time on your skin, I think it is perfectly fine if it doesn't last all day. Our fragrances aren't clinging or cloying. We love that they stick around for a few hours and then vanish. That's what real fragrance does.
So in a way, you are trying to change the concept of perfumery, the way people think about.
That’s right. Why has fragrance become this weird specialized thing that they have at perfume counters? Fragrance has always been about using animal senses. Romans used to infuse plants and the oil and make these things like taro cakes with Mediterranean plants like rosemary and lavender. And they’d wear them on their heads, and they would melt over the body throughout the day. Fragrance has always been about wearing nature on our bodies, and I'm trying to take fragrance back to its wild roots.
It's interesting that you started out in the late 90’s in San Francisco where the whole artisanal culture exploded first. It didn’t catch on here until around 2007, 2008.
There wasn’t a market for our stuff until five, six years ago. Whole Foods would tell us they can't sell anything priced at more than 20 dollars. So for the first eight years of my business I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. I thought to myself, this is really expensive to make, I know it’s beautiful, I know there is a fancy market out there, somewhere they would like this because it’s exactly like organic food, it’s exactly the kind of stuff I see at farmers market, and farmers market customers are buying it. There's a very small, sophisticated circle that was the leading edge of that stuff. And it’s spread out from there, so there is a definite wave.
And there are a lot of like-minded people in different fields, it seems like.
I started out around the same time James (Freeman) from Blue Bottle Coffee started out, and back then, there weren’t many around. Now there are people like Abe (Burmeister) and Tyler (Clemens) from Outlier, or Dan (Abraham) from Art in the Age. There's Freeman Coats in Seattle. I just recognize what people are doing, and I say “Oh, I see your goodness in alcohol. I see you doing this with backpack. ” Hikers and backpackers, we spot each other. It’s just like in Brooklyn, on every corner, there's someone bringing their pickles, everyone's making all kinds of things. It’s funny, Portlandia makes fun of that. And it is totally hilarious. Very over the top. But at the same time, it's so beautiful. I mean, what a wonderful world that all this stuff is happening and these are like great American brands. This is America reclaiming its heritage past, and making stuff that will endure into the future.
But there aren't many in the fragrance industry.
The fragrance world is stuck in 50s or 70s, 40 years behind everything else. That third wave movement that started with coffee or locavore cuisine was happening in every other industry but it hasn’t yet happened in fragrance. In fragrance, they are still using the same old French formulation; you got twenty or thirty things you can do according to their rules; you got a hundred and fifty ingredients you can work with and that’s it. There are over eight thousand plant species that grow in California alone. And no one has ever used any of them for perfume.
When burning your incense, it evokes memories of hiking in the woods and there is something really romantic about that, especially when you live in a big city like New York.
We call that an aromatic snapshot. It’s sort of the beauty of nature: it's there and then it's gone. If I miss that pollen time, that's it. It won’t come around for a year again. It’s just so beautiful and fleeting, like life itself. Everything is contained in that. What’s fun for me is the endless puzzle and joy of digging into nature itself. And perfume is only one expression of that. I could spend the rest of my life hiking around the mountain where I live and still only experience a fraction of it. I could make perfumes forever off the mountain and never capture all its dimensions.
I’m hoping there are other wilderness perfumers out there who will come along and do what I’m doing. It’s such a rich world. We have no problem sitting out here and showing other people exactly how we make our soaps and fragrances. I have no problem talking to perfumers about what we are doing. I want other people to do it! There's such a rich fragrance universe out there, just waiting to be explored.
SPREADING THE EDIBLE EDUCATION
Alice Waters' revolution in the schoolyard
Interview: PERISCOPE / Photography: Michael Piazza, Daniel Dobers, Thomas Heinser
Whether or not you are among the lucky ones who have dined at Chez Panisse, any food related movement familiar to you– from the locavore to Farm-to-table dining– probably has its roots in what Alice Waters started in 1971 with the restaurant Chez Panisse. Over the past few years, Waters has been on a fierce mission to expand her project, the Edible Schoolyard, from its small, local beginnings at a middle school in Berkeley into a national movement. She started the Edible Schoolyard as a way to teach children to grow and eat food through the work of sustainable farming. Alice shared her thoughts about the ideas she is trying to spread across the globe.
Can you tell us about ideas you have been trying to expand into the schools?
It’s not a new idea. It’s an idea that is as old as civilization. The idea of growing food that is good for you, farming the land in a way that allows you to nourish yourself and take care of the land for future generations. It’s about eating in season; it’s about eating with family and friends. It’s about treasuring the farmers, and it’s about understanding that nature is the mother of our souls. We’ve been imprisoned in a way by the fast-food culture that’s not very old. This older idea, these values, are inside all of us. But we have been told that they aren’t important. Everything needs to be fast and easy. We don’t need to pay attention to what’s in the past or in the future, we just need to consume, it doesn’t matter where the food comes from, that cooking is drudgery. All of these ideas have been a part of a fast-food strategy to have us spend money.
You have been practicing these values with Chez Panisse since the 1970’s. Where did they come from?
I was lucky that I learned these values when I went France, when I was 19. I learned them from a culture that was intact at that point; they cared about children, what you would put on your table, where it came from, people went to the market twice a day. It was a way of life. So I brought that back with me and I wanted to live like that. And I realized that what I was doing at Chez Panisse felt unique because we were living in the fast food culture. But it’s not anything unique. It’s the way that people have been eating and thinking about each other for a very long time.
There is a notion that organic and healthy food is a luxury. That it is only available to people in the middle-class and the rich. And your approach is to start with school children.
No question, because you have to begin with little children to engage them, with all of their senses. But it does become more difficult once they become addicted to the ideas of fast, cheap and easy. These values have to be taught to our children because they are going to the stewards. This is their world they are coming into. It’s critical that we bring real food into the schools globally. It’s not just about the nutrition of the food. It’s about the values that you take in along with the food. When you eat on the run, you’re learning that it’s not important to sit down. And I just think that we have to feed all children at schools for free because that’s the place of social justice. And then they’ll make decisions differently about how they’d spend their money. Maybe they will spend money on food instead of on another cell phone or shoes, whatever you are spending money on. It’s very hard to hold on to your own culture when you’re being heavily seduced and by a fast-food culture that has dominated whole ways of thinking. And it’s hard to resist the ideas of progress.
One thing you preach is food shouldn’t be cheap.
If it’s cheap, somebody is losing out. Food cannot be cheap. Food can be affordable, but it can never be cheap. Unless, it is subsidized by the government, or it is a part of the big multi-national food companies. They sell them to everybody. They make their money by convincing more people to buy it. It’s quantity, not quality. When you buy something really cheap, you think anything at the farmer’s market is expensive. You are being taught that you shouldn’t think about this too much.
If you learn to how to feed yourself, you can liberate yourself too. You have more control over yourself.
Exactly. Everything comes in there. Being at a table teaches you about generosity, about listening to other people. It’s about sharing; it’s about the pleasure of everyday lives. We just have to come back to our senses.
Can you tell me about what you are trying to do with the Edible Schoolyard?
In the beginning, we thought we could put an Edible Schoolyard program in strategic places. But we realized it was very complex to be engaged in the cultures of different cities in the United States. So now we are gathering all the best practices from around the world and trying to maximize the movement so that we can be prepared when the time comes, we’ll have a curriculum to go into the public schools. There have been a lot of schools who are doing this already, Montessori, Waldorf and Steiner schools. Now it has become that those schools are the foundations for what we need to do in the future. The Edible Schoolyard demonstrates the change can happen very quickly with children. They can learn these values and understand their importance. There has to be a criteria in the school for supplying the food. The schools would support the farm and the farm would support the school. I believe that’s the way to quickly change the food system for at least 20 percent of the population in the United States that’s going to schools.
Do you feel that we are making progress in terms of how we think about food?
In the last 5 years, the movement has multiplied. Young people started to understand the seriousness of this and they worry about the future of their lives, and lives for their children. They are worried about the world. I think they want to be connected to their nature. They want to be a farmer. And this is the most fantastic thing that has happened. People are hungry for connection: human connection and connection to nature. I know this because as soon as you offer that, they’d fall in love. So that’s the other good thing, it’s like falling in love. You just have to prepare the classroom so that children can fall in love. I’m hopeful that they can impress upon the powers to be. But we need to do this in a big hurry.
I understand you have a close connection with Japan.
I feel a kinship with the Japanese because Japan is one of the places that has a deep gastronomic history and has also embraced all of these beautiful ideas of seasonality. That is a deep part of the Japanese culture. And even though the providence of that food has changed in Japan as it has changed everywhere around the world, there’s still something there about the celebration of new rice, something of giving gifts that represent the ideas of food; how precious food is. And how food can heal you. In the United States, we don’t think that vitamins actually come from plants. We’ve been thinking that only medicines can heal us. It would be so fantastic if you institute this nationally.
It seems you started this big fight, way before most people even noticed what is going on. Now the Edible Schoolyard is getting more attention, but it still seems like an uphill battle. What keeps you going?
I have the best kind of job. Because I am talking to young people who are really excited about being filtered through this movement. It’s not even really a movement. People call it a “trend” to eat organic food. It’s not a trend. This is something so basic to human life. So I just get excited every time when I go and see the Edible Schoolyard whether it is in Brazil or Harlem. Kids immediately are involved and are able to talk about it. It’s like they are being let out of jail. Fast-food culture is so narrowing and confining. It’s like you’ve seen the whole world in only two colors, or three colors. And you’re not able to see the world around you. It’s frightening what’s going on right now. It makes my work so much more urgent. When there was a big article in the Wall Street Journal, in November, it made me feel like this idea is coming back in the mainstream again. People are waking up in a very surprising way.
At the same time, there are some worrying signs about GMO’s.
We just have to not buy from them. And they’d go away because they want to sell. But they are just going to another country and setting up again. It’s something we have to keep talking about it in a global way.
We are made of the environment
Ryuichi Sakamoto Interview
Interview: Yumiko Sakuma / Photos: Courtesy of moreTrees
It is hard to think of an artist who is more multifaceted than Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of the founding members of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, a Japanese techno-pop band from the 70’s, he has collaborated with many cinematic geniuses, both through music scores and appearances, such as Pedro Almodovar, Bernardo Bertolucci, Oliver Stone and Nagisa Oshima, and the long list of his musical collaborators starting with David Byrne and Iggy Pop goes on and on. And his reach is way beyond the world of music; not only has he been involved with many activist groups such as the Free Tibet movement, and the anti-nuclear energy effort in Japan, but he has also started more trees, a non-profit organization he uses as a hub for various environmental related activities. With more trees, he has recently taken another challenge: finding a use for exterminated deer. Sakamoto offers an explanation as to why he thinks it is important.
Can you tell us about your deer project?
With one of more trees’ projects, I’ve had opportunities to speak with the elders who are engaged in forestation and I learned that the population growth of deer has been a major problem all over Japan. Japanese Wolves, their natural enemy, have gone extinct over a century. As not many regions in Japan have a custom of eating deer, the consumption level isn’t very high. Starving deer go into the forest where we plant trees, and strip and eat bark and even nursery trees. They also come down to farms and damage their crops. So the Environment Ministry has been exterminating deer, but the bodies are disposed with no use. So we felt the urge to find a beneficial use for deer bodies and started discussing the possibilities of product development. We had founded more trees design so that we could develop products using timbers disposed from forest thinning. About a year ago, in order to tackle the problem, the government increased the financial incentives for the hunters. The requirement is the deer’s ears and the tail. So this invited new hunters who’d kill deer, chop their ears and the tail and leave the bodies behind.
How did you come to think of using deer hide for fashion?
We tried supporting the aspect of turning them into edible meat. Working with local people, we hold workshops where you can learn about using deer meat in restaurants. Then we thought of what we could use the hide for and started exploring product options.
Would it make sense economically?
With timbers from thinning forests, it costs to bring timbers down, dry and produce them into usable wood. Back in the day, we might have made chopsticks out of them, but there are much cheaper chopsticks imported from overseas. So we figured to make well designed products first, tell the consumers what they are, and get their attention. We have a product development team at more trees design, but for it to make economical sense, we have to sell products. It is same with deer hide and the answer remains to be seen. As we want it to spread from the designers and makers to consumers, we are trying to work with top level designers. We are still at the infancy phase.
Deer skin leather hasn’t been a major source for bags and shoes.
It might be used more than you’d think. In Japan, we exterminate about 40,000 deer, but we still import deer skin from China and New Zealand. Domestically, the supply chain hasn’t been securely established and deer skin get damaged easily in the process of killing and skinning. That might be why we have been relying on imported deer skin.
Not much attention has been paid to where all these leathers come from.
Exactly. For example, to make ultra soft leather that is desirable for luxury bags, some producers would slaughter calfs alive in boiling water. Do we want leather to be that soft at the expense of that? We need to think about where these things come from and ideally they should come out of our food chain. The difficulty is that some environmentalists might not like the idea of products that come out of forest thinning. With the deer hide, there are those who have a problem with animal leather. But these ideals don’t solve the situations. Of course I wish that nature stood on its own without the artificial forestation. If deer don’t have a natural enemy, humans would have to take that place. It is about the balance, but if we kill something, at the least we should find a good use. It is not such black and white between consumerism and environmentalism.
I think of you as a global citizen. How did you come to who you are today?
Back in the 1980’s when Japan was enjoying the Bubble Economy Era, there was a popular phrase Tojin which meant an extreme form of consumption. I was living that word and was extremely capitalistic. In 1991, my youngest son was born. Around the same time, I realized I was aging and bought my first pair of reading glasses. I read the Limits to Growth, commissioned by the Club of Rome that was written in 1972. The book taught me that humans’ perspectives are so narrow, especially about the future. I hadn’t thought about the future much before, but when my youngest was born, I thought about raising him for 20 years and started to pay attention to my health. That led me to think about things I was putting in my body. Things you eat, drink and inhale, they all have to do with environment. I myself am made of the environment. That is how I started to change.
What is your idea of Utopia?
In 1999, when I made an Opera titled Life, I asked a lot of notable people a question, What is your salvation? I asked people like Laurie Anderson, Bernardo Bertolucchi, I even asked His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and incorporated the video and sound of these answers into the Opera. Among them, Bertolucchi’s answer was superb. He said “That there is no salvation is salvation.” Utopia to me is a society where we don’t have to think about salvation and Utopia. I sometimes wish we lived in the world where a musician doesn’t have to raise his voice and can just focus on music making.
Conservation 2.0: RABBIT ISLAND
An ER doctor's attempt to un-subdivide the land
Map: Fathom, Text: PERISCOPE
If you think about it, the idea of land ownership is a peculiar thing. There was a time in our history when land didn't belong to anybody. In the case of the United States, since a series of Homestead Acts were passed in the late 1800's, and indigenous populations were forcefully moved onto reservations, or otherwise assimilated, vast American lands have gone through countless rounds of subdivisions to become the modern, if curious, map.
It is what it is. Or is it? This is what Dr. Rob Gorski is protesting, or at least trying to start a conversation about. In 2010, Dr. Rob–as his friends affectionately call him after his position as an ER doctor at a hospital in New Jersey–purchased Rabbit Island, a 91 acre forested island in Lake Superior three miles east of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, for $140,000. According to Dr. Rob, who spent a significant amount of his youth in the region, it was love at first sight. "I loved the idea of preserving an island that had never been touched, never been developed, never been timbered, and never divided."
Despite the abundant and seemingly untouched nature of the surrounding forestlands in northern Michigan, the area does have its share of scars <> incurred from a historical cycle of copper mining booms and a busts. Take the ruin of the Quincy mine rock smelter, for example, located 15 miles from the island on the mainland. Its surrounding stamp sand dunes are made of a mixture of crushed mine rock and chemicals. "They have been trying to seed the rust-colored sand years now, but nothing will grow. It won't support life." There is also a derelict stamp mill in Gay, Michigan, and its black sand byproducts were dumped in Lake Superior and then pushed many miles down the shoreline by lake currents over the course of 60 years. They have now reached a man-made pier in the lake, which has slowed their movement, though they have decimated adjacent trout spawning habitats and riparian environments in the process. "The results of the mining boom are still in the region. People are proud of their mining heritage, but scarred by it too. 100 years of mining wealth for copper industry investors was gained in return for 850 years of pollution and decreased quality of life for an entire region. This type of business model has historically been pulled off because there has not been scientific understanding of negative externalities, and time allows for evasion of responsibility as companies declare bankruptcy and generations change. The land, however, remains constant–for both better and worse."
At the time ofspecific plan for what to do with the island, but one of the first things he undertook was placing a conservation easement on the property in collaboration with the Keweenaw Land Trust. "I wanted to lock in the wilderness character of the island. I wanted to make sure that it would remain untouched forever."
As for what to do next, people around him suggested all sorts of ideas. At the time the locavore and artisanal movements started to peak, and many people proposed ideas related to sustainability: permaculture, gardens, water and solar systems, introducing small game species, etc. Finance types had various ideas aimed at making money. "In the context of what I could personally gain from the island, there is, theoretically, a lot of potential. I could subdivide it, sell parcels, rent it out, lumber it, commercialize it; all sorts of things. But if you maintain the longest possible horizon for your definition of success, you can't do better than leaving it as it is, especially in the context of the modern map exhibiting such significant subdivisions."
One thing that was brought up over and over again was building an artist residency. Ultimately, this idea prevailed and this is exactly what Rabbit Island is today. "We have two small, sturdy structures that shelter artists for up to four weeks in the summer. Visiting artists contemplate their practice, create work, and leave a small conceptual mark on the place, and also on the wider society—writing, music, photography, painting, film. Over time a narrative is developing, yet the forest persists unchanged", Dr. Rob says. This juxtaposition is one of the project’s intentions. "To take an artist, who is the quintessential creator, and put him in a space that is completely raw and circumscribed, and say to him, what are you going to create and how are you not going to fuck up what's all around you–it’s a concept we can all relate to, wherever we are."
But Dr. Rob's real ambition is well beyond having a residency where artists and friends and can visit: He wants to start a movement of "Un-subdividing" with Rabbit Island standing as the first example. "If you look at the map of open space that is left, it is an insignificant fraction of what we began with, and shrinking. As with the original National Park example, the profound value of foresight is obvious in these places, yet the competition for them is immense and market forces favor profiting from division. I believe, however, that few things can outclass wilderness as a concept or fundamental value. On Rabbit Island we frequently cite the phrase ‘Wilderness is Civilization’. Land that is to remain undeveloped from this point forward in American history, after all, will be the result of conscientious human restraint, as opposed to simple oversight, or abundance. This distinction is major, and exemplifies the civilization of an educated people. There is no longer the fleeting promise of unlimited frontier. We are in a new present. I want to show how we might now act on these facts. Can we figure out how to recycle land sensibly as a community and re-organize maps on a larger scale?"
So what do you do? Dr. Rob is currently collaborating with Loveland Technologies, a Detroit based start-up that collects property data from municipal governments and provide them to internet users, and has bought all the GIS files of the Keweenaw Peninsula so that they can experiment with various ways of mapping, and, potentially, un-subdividing adjacent parcels of land.
"We are still at the tail-end of the artisanal movement, which is, to some degree, waning, and becoming a series of memes. It ran an interesting course and offered solutions for a lot of things, but they were often superficial. What I am trying to do is create a project on a larger social scale. Is it an advancement of Land Art, or social practice art? Ultimately I don’t think it matters. Underling it is a recognition that the existence of the internet, data aggregation, biology, and the recently available global satellite perspective of our environment, leads us to ethical conclusions that are necessarily different than they were before these tools arrived. With Rabbit Island it is my intention to make the case–in theory and practice–that large scale land decisions need to swing in a new direction and exhibit an understanding of new rules. "