By Paul Rozycki
This past month the Mott Community College Fine Arts Gallery presented an exhibition of photographs, titled “Japan Rediscovered: Photographs by Hideki Kihata.” Japanese-born photographer Hideki Kihata wrapped up the event Jan. 27 with a gallery talk to a room full of students, faculty and the public.
Kihata, a Saginaw area photographer, is Art Department Chair and Professor of Art at Saginaw Valley State University. Though born in Japan, he has lived in the U.S. since he was 18.
He initially was trained in painting, but focused on photography as his career developed. He has been the recipient of many photography awards including the Ferguson Award, Friends of Photography, San Francisco, an individual artist grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and a Purchase Award from the Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Va.
Though he has visited Japan many times over the years, most of his photographic work has been in the U.S. However in 2008, he decided to return to Japan one more time, and focus his camera on the nation where he was born and raised and spent the first 18 years of his life.
He said the title of his show ‘Japan Rediscovered’ gave him a new view of his birth-county, and “reflects my personal encounters with cityscapes, landscapes, and people of Japan, looking at them from my new perspective as a naturalized American citizen who lived on American soil for the past 40 years.”
He said it gave him the chance to look back at his native country, and rediscover a new environment through his photography. However, unlike tourists, he didn’t show photos of Mt. Fuji or Tokyo’s famous temples. His photos of patterns and designs were his own personal response to returning to his native land and the changes he has seen.
He described his work in both his artist statement, and in his presentation, by saying, “For me, photography has been an act of discovery. I use my camera to find out what would happen to the scene in front of my camera after photographing. During the process of photographing….the magical transformation occurs: the subject matters of daily environment transform into particular series of lines, circles, colors, forms, and often create an ambiguous space on the surface of photographic papers. This is why I truly love looking at the contact sheets and look for surprises.”
In discussion with students, he said that ‘snapshot’ photography deserves to be viewed more seriously, and that sometimes the distinction between fine art photos and snapshots can be less than distinct, and that snapshots are a key source of our photographic and personal history.
Many of his works, both in black and white, and color, centered on designs of lines and shapes in Japan.
As part of his artist statement he quoted well-known street photographer Gary Winogrand who said, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed. I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”
In response to student questions about how to make a career in the arts and photography he said “learn graphic design, and be willing to do weddings”. He encouraged students to “follow your passion” with their art, and don’t worry about what instructors or others might say about their work.
Though many of his works were in color, he expressed a strong liking for the emotional impact of black and white photography, and many of his strongest images were black and white.
The Fine Arts Gallery is located in the Visual Arts and Design Center on the Mott Community College campus. The event was made possible in part by the Ballenger Trust at MCC.
Banner photo: one of Kihata’s photographs which had been on display last month at the MCC Fine Arts Gallery (Photo by Paul Rozycki).
EVM Staff Writer and political commentator Paul Rozycki, who is also a photographer, can be reached at email@example.com.