Tetsuya Kusu: American Monuments
As a member of the last generation to adore America, I was struck by a desire to see the real America—so I got in a car and hit the road. There, within the vaguely nostalgic scenery I remembered, I found people who lived commonplace, dull, and unsurprising ordinary lives just like us. My stereotype of America changed and began manifesting itself to me with a strange sense of familiarity. ——Tetsuya Kusu
Sometimes it takes the lens of an outsider to see things clearly. Japanese photographer, Tetsuya Kusu, sat in my breakfast room last week sharing his book, American Monuments, and new work made on his most recent west coast road trip. We discussed the America he encountered on his first trip when he could profoundly connect to a population of drifters and homeless Americans, as his own life was in flux. It was not the America he had imagined from movies and media experienced in Japan, but it aligned with the inspiration of iconic road trip photography created by Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander. Tetsuya discovered his own America, walking the fine line of an outsider and insider, making monuments of the unseen and overlooked.
After graduating from university, Tetsuya Kusu embarked on a journey that would take him across Eurasia. His final stop was Koh Tao, a small island in Thailand which became his second home. While working there as a diving instructor for six years, he fell in love with photography. Honing his craft, he shot more than 15,000 underwater images in and around Thailand. Upon returning home to Japan, he started working as a freelance photographer. He concentrated on underwater, architectural, portraiture, and cultural photos for magazines and other advertising mediums. After completing a body of commercial work, he started creating images on a personal basis from 2012 – 2016, continuing to show his art at home and abroad.
His recent effort, American Monuments is a series of staged personal portraits printed as a vivid, full-color A4 book. Tetsuya Kusu is represented by Zen Foto Gallery in Tokyo and based in Kanagawa, Japan.
American Monuments is a collection of photos taken in America at the end of 2014.
I was inspired to take these photos while drifting around America in 2012 with my then-wife, who was battling mental illness. After three and a half years of living this drifter’s lifestyle I went through a traumatic divorce, my wife by that point having begun to recover. At the end of 2014, having thrown away all that I knew and essentially become a blank slate, I challenged myself to return to the place where I had spent some of my darkest days in order to overcome my past and reclaim my identity.
Facing my subjects with a camera lens, I shared in their dignity, freedom, and irrationality, and was thus able to reexamine my own yearnings and aspirations. In doing so, I worked at regaining ownership of my emotions.
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