Nestled on a plateau in the foothills of Mount Asama, the small town of Miyota may seem like an unusual location for one of Japan’s newest and most vibrant photo festivals. While many of the world’s photography events are based in galleries, museums or warehouses, Asama is primarily an outdoor festival, enabling visitors to explore the work against the backdrop of the town’s rich and varied nature. Festival Director Mutsuko Ota tells Fold, “In our modern times where digitisation is the norm, being outdoors and allowing all five senses to experience the work is a truly unique experience”.
The theme of the festival this year is transformation. “Photography itself is a phenomenon derived from chemical reactions. It also reflects the metamorphosis of a subject and the innate ability the medium has to capture a fleeting moment.” Ota continues, “In recent years, many artists are attempting to evolve the medium from editing found photographs to playing with new contexts. These all speak to this idea of transformation. We are amazed by how nature can inform and affect the experience of the photographs, from the constant shift of the light and wind to the falling leaves. It naturally becomes a space where you physically experience the relationship between nature and photography and how they transform each other.”
The fair boasts the work of 39 artists, a combination of national and international talents including Ruth Van Beek, Weegee, Kensuke Koike, Kechun Zhang, Viviane Sassen, Yoshinori Mizutani, Kensuke Koike and Sayuri Ichida. We caught up with Charles Freger and Scheltens & Abbenes to find out more about their creative process and the projects they have on display.
Using a typological approach, Charles Fréger has been exploring folk rituals and traditions from a vast array of cultures around the world. His latest work, CIMARRON is the compelling and long-awaited sequel to Wilder Mann and Yokaînoshima, both of which celebrated masked rites. CIMARRON means “runaway slave” in Spanish and refers mainly to enslaved Africans who ran away from their masters. For this project, Fréger drew up a non-exhaustive inventory of masked rituals performed by the descendants of African slaves.
What influences inform your work?
Strangely, two painters made me become a photographer. Mondrian for his perpendicularity, his strong wish to get somewhere with minimalism and Protestantism. Van Eyck for the quality of his colours and the admirable details showing the alterity of his models. I also find inspiration in a large group of anonymous photographers who travelled the world during the 19th and early 20th century to collect what’s now still our European vision about the world, like Albert Kahn.
Can you talk us through your creative process? Research must be an essential aspect of your practice.
Photographing is the very last step after a lot of research, documentation and hesitation. I try to understand what I want to work on, to feel out the territory of my study with its limits. Once I know, (if I do), I start to organise the photographic sessions into trips. Cimarron took about 12 trips to the Americas. I imagine my work as if I was going fishing somewhere or trying to catch the white whale. There’s a strong desire, I begin to imagine something, and there’s a projection in my mind of what could be. And then, I travel and meet these people and their traditions. Immediately people understand that I don’t shoot in the usual way. No movement, no dance. My photographs are staged and very controlled. I try to build a photo while being on my knees behind my tripod. I work on details, attitudes, lines, poses with as much precision as possible. Each photograph is both a portrait and a silhouette.
How does Cimarron differ from your previous works?
In CIMARRON, the territory was vast. The more I was travelling, the more I was discovering. I started in New Orleans while photographing the Mardi Gras Indians and ended up exploring 14 countries. CIMARRON is another chapter after Wilder Mann and Yokaînoshima. There are many common points between the series. CIMARRON is about several masquerades existing in these territories because many people were taken from Africa to be slaves in the Americas. There was this violent domination of a colonial system, which forced the indigenous American and African people to be slaves. They were forced to integrate into Christian traditions and somehow give up with their original culture. But these frictions generated a strong cultural resistant with the voodoo and different syncretic rituals. The prism is large and produced an extraordinary diversity of celebrations, which I tried to represent in the book.
Scheltens & Abbenes
Dutch artist duo Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes have built an international artistic practice focusing on conceptual still life with a minimalist aesthetic. The photographer couple has been working as a team since 2002. Currently based in Amsterdam, much of Scheltens & Abbenes’ work is commissioned for high fashion brands and editorials for magazines like Fantastic Man, The Gentlewoman and Another Magazine.
What influences inform your work?
We are influenced and inspired by all that is around us. Some things that we see stand out and need to be investigated further through the eye of the camera. It’s something that we have trained ourselves in over the past 18 years that we have worked together. We feel that it should never get too comfortable and thrive when it’s challenging.
Can you talk us through your creative process? How do your ideas evolve into the final work?
It starts with ‘something’ we would like to investigate and explore to find out if there is a visual potential. We test the idea before proposing it to the client. It’s nice to work for clients who understand our work and respect our signature. It’s always the feeling you have to tame the idea and learn it all over again. The ‘not knowing’ is vital to start and be open for possibilities. Later in the process, we narrow the idea down to become the final result.
You have been working together for 18 years, what have you learned about collaboration?
We’ve learnt how to compliment each other. We are two individuals who are different, and that’s the extra. One can show the other another way of looking which provokes new ideas.
Can you tell me about the work you are exhibiting at Asama?
Zeen is a 10-minute video installation using our previous photographic series as building blocks for new compositions. Our past series were cross-examined and connected to other works. The piece is projected on four walls and guided by a soundscape composed by Diederik Idenberg. A rhythm and concentration start to exist when objects surround you. With this ‘still life in motion,’ we wanted to share the way we look at objects more physically. Objects as living identities.