As it is

by Miho Kajioka

For many years I didn’t pursue my work as an artist, but tragedy returned me to it.

After studying fine art in the U.S. and Canada, I arrived back in my native Japan and began a career in journalism. It was Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami that reconnected me to photography. Two months after the disaster, while reporting in the coastal city of Kamaishi, where over 800 people died, I found roses blooming beside a blasted building. That mixture of grace and ruin made me think of a Japanese poem:

In the spring, cherry blossoms,
In the summer the cuckoo,
In autumn the moon, and in
Winter the snow, clear, cold.

Written by the Zen monk Dogen, the poem describes the fleeting, fragile beauty of the changing seasons. The roses I saw in Kamaishi bloomed simply because it was spring. That beautiful and uncomplicated statement, made by roses in the midst of ruin, impressed me, and returned me to photography.

The photos I am presenting here, “as it is,” span my adulthood, including pictures I took while living abroad, as well as scenes I captured in Japan after the disaster. I snapped the horizontal shot of a girl walking along the sea in Fukushima, 60 km from the nuclear plant, a year after the accident. The two almost indistinguishable photographs of a girl swinging were taken within seconds of each other, and together they show the passage of time. The little pictures of a flower, or a running boy, are scenes from daily life, as it is.

These fragments of my life, from various periods and against changing backdrops, are not so different from each other, and the differences that remain aren’t important. Happiness, sadness, beauty and tragedy only exist in our minds. Things are just as they are.

If you look closely, you’ll see that underlying truth in the empty spaces I leave in my work. Blank space is fundamental to Japanese aesthetics. I remember in San Francisco I had an art teacher who dressed like a cowboy. “You have unfinished space—fill it with paint!” he’d tell me. “There’s no need,” I’d answer. “This is complete.”

A special thanks to IBASHO Gallery