Interview for Harper’s Bazaar Art, CHINA
Where does your original idea of the new exhibition Odyssey come from?
My initial intentions for the work started with a desire to express a sense of wonder and tranquility; and to create a sanctuary for the viewer, a place separate from the chaos of the world, where it was safe to dream. I had been experimenting with space in relationship to the body, and through a year and a half of trial and error I came upon Odyssey. I worked and worked, and it found me. Personally, like many others, I was searching for the answers to life. Along the way I became captivated by what I saw in this new world underwater.
The ideas which set me on this path started a very long time ago. I knew that I wanted put forward the idea that there were still mysterious, impossibly beautiful things on Earth—not solely in our imaginations. And I was contemplating the ideas surrounding the quiet interchange between spirit and body. The collection was originally designed with over 100 pieces that take one on a journey; revealing life’s characters, good and bad, with bodies distorting and color enrapturing you.
Many people have asked me to explain in words the ideas behind this work, and honestly, sometimes there are no perfect words to satisfy my expression – beyond the visual manifestation of it.
Both the latest exhibition Odyssey and your last exhibition Siren are shot underwater. Why are you so interested in shooting at such an environment? We know you grew up at Hawaii. Does the childhood experience with the ocean have any influence on your thoughts?
The beauty and tranquility of water led to my first experimentations with it as an artistic source. Metaphorically, water resembled purity; and a body immersed in it, free from gravity but trapped by many inabilities, was a huge dichotomy that was intriguing. Pain and suffering all mixed up with freedom and purity. This sounded a little like myself, and others around me. But my first ideas were to bring hope back into that dichotomy. And the water provided another world to create in; away from reality, where bodies would bend, shapes would appear and disappear and colors would cry out to me.
I spent most of my life surrounded by water in Hawaii. My father was a surfer and while growing up he taught me a deep respect for the water. After all, it supports life and without it we could not survive.
The amazing-colored clothing of Odyssey leaves a deep impression on the audience. Do you design the clothing and property for Odyssey? What are the principles for you to choose clothes?
My family home in Hawaii is full of hundreds of fabrics, ribbon, bed sheets, blankets, table cloths, curtains, torn up night-gowns, yarn, colorful ropes, masks, body paints, flags, toy knives, Christmas tinsel, tree branches and more. I collect what I imagine will compliment my vision. Each color and prop, as simple as it may be, is an integral part of my character’s story. Then from there, I design color schemes and sketch out rough characters. On the day of the shoot, all of these ideas may have changed as I see what works and what doesn’t work underwater. So, my final designing is created in an experimental fashion as the shoot is progressing. I feel as if I am painting with my many fabrics and props.
Both Siren and Odyssey have factors of Ancient Greek mythology. Why are you so interested in this theme？
It was never my intention to go in that direction. After finishing my first collection Siren, I began to look for a name that would portray its essence. This is when I first became inspired by the story of the Siren; the enchanting beauty and song of the Siren that would cause men to throw themselves overboard to their death. What an incredible way to express a beauty so GREAT that one would be willing to die for it. In common words or emotions there would be no other way to describe that beauty, like it was un-earthly; and I fell in love with this intensity of expression as if it was a new way to communicate. Odyssey was more heavily inspired by these ideas and in the end it was named after Homer’s epic novel, Odyssey, which also portrayed this journey that my created characters were embarked upon.
All the photographs in odyssey are without later manipulation. Many photographers choose to use later manipulation to achieve the result they want. Why you choose not to use later manipulation?
There is no need to change anything. I love the images the way they are. It is also part of my vision to share circumstances that are real and not fictitious, as I am interested most in the plight of mankind. I want the audience to be able to relate to the people they see in the images and I feel there is a stronger impact when I use what I actually see in front of me instead of creating something make-pretend.
What’s the difference between shooting under water and on the surface? It’s hard for the model to pose underwater, losing gravity. How do you cooperate with the models?
Shooting through water is a like playing with all new rules. Maybe that’s why I love it so much. Water is a substance that reacts to light much differently than air; light moves slower in water because of its density.
The process which I’ve developed over the last 8 years requires total focus during the shoot. I prefer ordinary creative people for models, and yes, existing underwater can be difficult. But we practice and practice until the model is comfortable in this new environment. On the one side, the model can experience the beautiful weightlessness of no gravity, and on the other side she or he cannot breathe or see, or know which way is up or down. This is where the beauty is created. Again it is the dichotomy of good and evil, life and death, where every moment that the model encounters during this exploration is an opportunity to capture that one magical image that I’m looking for. It needs to be real between the model and the environment and not posed.
Media sometimes compare your work to Baroque master Caravaggio’s drawings. Do you think there are any inner-relations between your works? How do you think of the similarities and differences between Modern Art and Art during Caravaggio’s time?
I place a large importance on movement, drama, individual figures, light and shadow, and the sense of something greater than oneself. I certainly share these values with Caravaggio and am honored that one would draw a comparison between our work. I also employ the use of nighttime settings and ordinary people as models. Caravaggio’s choice to use beggars as stand-ins for religious figures was profane and shocking at the time, whereas I am more interested in portraying moments of grace using the bodies of everyday women and men.
As compared to modern art, the Baroque period of art feels much more passionate and expressive, displaying drama and emotions overtly and poetically. In my opinion, in the Baroque there seems to be less of a self-awareness of the artist and more of a concept of the artist seeking to inspire others.
You always like to break the rules of photography. Do you have any plan for future projects? Would you keep doing waterworks or turn to other directions?
This spring I will unveil my newest collection, which is currently without a name. I am still using water but in a whole new way. It’s going to be exciting because these images are like nothing I’ve seen before. They involve extreme movement, complexity and lots of bodies entangled together.