Any Answers: Miho Kajioka

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The Japanese photographer reflects on her career, and how her appreciation of ambiguity and closeness to nature has helped her make sense of the pandemic.

Born in Okayama, Japan, Miho Kajioka started out as a painter before transitioning into journalism. Missing the arts, in 2011 she turned to traditional image-making methods, and the photographic ‘drawings’ for which she is known today. Kajioka exhibits internationally, most recently at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, and Polka Galerie in Paris, where she launched her latest limited-edition books, So it goes, so it goes and Tanzaku.

I started to study art when I was 19 years old. I think the experience of working for TV news and documentary helped me to build stories and show my projects. I learned how to be clear about what I want to show, but also about how the audience would receive it. It is not to plan, more to imagine.

It does not feel right to be called a photographer. I still don’t know how to use cameras properly to take pictures. Many of my good images were born by accident and I love the fact that I don’t have full control over my works. I use photographic techniques to make ‘drawings’ with accidents.

I am the happiest person in the world when I am creating new works or testing new ideas. Also when the installation has been done at a gallery and when I am welcoming people to the opening, I feel I could happily die!

The speed of the world is too quick for me and I can never react right away. So I capture the image in front of me with my camera then I take time to make sense of what I am seeing and feeling. Only after I started to make photography could I finally understand myself and what I wanted to say.

I taught a workshop for the first time last summer. I never imagined liking to teach so much. Looking at people’s ideas and projects, trying to scan what they really want to show, and giving them my advice was such a pleasure. This is something I want to keep doing.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr is one of the writers who has inspired me a lot. I am sure he was once kidnapped by aliens and travelled through time. Japanese haiku and poetry also inspire me to see how much unwritten parts can tell.

My glass is half empty and half full. I don’t think we need to choose one. The mixture of different elements makes life richer and more beautiful.

Image © Miho Kajioka.

I think there is a difference in aesthetic and intellectual sensibility between Japan and the west. In Japan, many things live together harmoniously and we don’t choose one but instead let things float in between. 

Our senses become very crisp when we are in a difficult situation. With that kind of state of mind, you see what you normally can’t see around you. 

Because of the Covid-19 situation I’ve enjoyed being alone again, finding beauty in my daily life. Facing myself could be hard sometimes, but it is what I have to go through and it takes me to where I feel satisfied.

When we encounter something beautiful or funny, our hearts open and become vulnerable to enjoy it. I think beauty and humour are keys to switch off our brain and let our senses be the boss. For me, beauty is the sign of being right. And not taking yourself and your works too seriously – light – is another essential point. I want to be right and light with beauty and humour.

I get more inspiration from music than from photography. The first time I heard Baden Powell’s Deve Ser Amor, I saw a painting of Joan Miró. A few years later, I met someone who said exactly the same thing. I think I want to make something closer to music than visual arts.

In March, I am going to have a tea ceremony exhibition using my works with tea masters in Kyoto. I’m trying to combine my works with other mediums, testing how things will look.

The best advice anyone ever gave me is ‘docchademo eenenn’, by my tea ceremony teacher. It means that it doesn’t matter what happens, because whatever happens is for the best

Michael Grieve

Michael Grieve has been a contributing writer and photographer for the British Journal of Photography since 2011. He has an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster, graduating in 1997, and then began working on assignments as a reportage and portrait photographer for publications. In 2008 he began writing about photography and was the deputy editor of 1000 Words Contemporary Photography Magazine. In 2011 he began teaching and was a senior lecturer in photography at Nottingham Trent University and now teaches documentary photography at Ostkreuzschule fur Fotografie in Berlin. He is the founder/director of Art Foto Mode, a project that organises photography workshops internationally. Currently based in Athens and Berlin.