Kent Nishimura: The States Project: Hawaii
I happened to come across Kent Nishimura’s moving projects online while I was experiencing somewhat similar life-circumstances as the images, with an inundation of emotions and grief. It was his work that showed me not only the Heart with which we live our lives and how that can never be appreciated enough; but also the resilience that goes along with that.
Kent’s two projects “Bound by Love” and “Since You’ve Gone” are storytelling at its best, revealing the overarching themes that are already within each connected life of the inhabitants of our blue earth. Documenting the stories around him he has a way of showing the viewer exactly what it is to be a sentient, feeling being. It’s clear that Kent understands the human condition in a way that not only allows him to wade through the vast Thing that is our one life, but as well to express it so that it resonates with each of us.
Kent Nishimura is a photographer and videographer based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i specializing in documentary storytelling and visual journalism. He was born in Taipei, Taiwan and raised by “the two most wonderful, loving people I know.” He is a lover of good food, great company, vivid colors, and amazing light.
Kent’s work has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Tampa Bay Times, The Denver Post, The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and The European Pressphoto Agency.
Kent has been recognized by the Colorado Press Association, College Photographer of the Year, the University of Hawai‘i, and the Eddie Adams Workshop – among others.
Much of my work is rooted within the themes of documentation and non-fiction narrative. I select my subject matter and photographic technique as a form of visual anthropology, using photography to tell non-fictitious stories that examine and confront the themes and ideas that we encounter within our own lives.
Bound By Love
Lily and Kenneth built a life together. They worked at the cannery together, they traveled the world together, and they raised a family together. They were inseparable; and so, when Kenneth passed away Lily took it hard. Even after so much time has elapsed since his passing, Lily still feels the very presence of his absence, weighing on her. Bound by Love documents Lily’s daily life in her twilight years as she continues to adjust to life, alone.
One thing I’ve found I am grateful for, something that surprised me the first I felt it, is the broad range of emotions and feelings we have the ability to experience; very much including both the positive as well the dark and the negative. I have no idea which other animals feel this range but I’ve ended up appreciating that ability especially in times of difficulty. I remind myself how beautiful it is to feel at all. Can you comment on this sentiment, and have you experienced anything similar in your various journeys documenting these two stories?
Both projects examine the idea of a presence of an absence. Each, in their own way look at this idea and examining it with very different approaches. Initially both projects started out as observational, in some senses detached and almost more scientific. But, with each picture made, each moment distilled, the projects very much took on a life of their own; one that not just examined the idea of these emotions, but about the journey we partake in: the experience of life itself.
Looking back on the roller coaster of emotions I’ve felt, and continue to feel especially through the second project, “Since You’ve Gone,” it’s kind of incredible to think about the range and depth in which the human psyche can experience emotion. How our own life experiences inform how we process these emotions, and how in turn the emotions can inform our life experiences.
Can you tell me how you came to photograph these stories; what urged you to document them while seeing them unfold?
The desire to understand and process how I was feeling on my own terms, is what drew me to these stories. Both are inherently very personal, and in some sense the desire to put a camera up to my face and document the moments unfolding in front of me was a defense mechanism. I used the camera, to protect myself and process everything that was happening. I could put this piece of metal between myself and the very hard realities of what was going on in front of me, especially when my father was diagnosed with cancer.
“Since You’ve Gone” is also in book form – how do you feel the two mediums [ the book and the prints or images alone ] express the story differently from one another? Do you think they inform each other?
The series of prints and the handmade book from “Since You’ve Gone” work on their own, and they play off each other. The images can stand alone, as a series of distilled emotions seemingly taken in a very detached, scientific, sterile manner. The book, which is somewhat more carefully curated is the body and soul of this project. While the images can stand alone, it’s the notes from the journal, and their pairing with images that start to give insight into the meaning of the body of work. The images paired with the journal entries are a bit more nuanced. They lay bare the emotion I was experiencing, and why I was feeling it.
How did you come into photography, and what was one of your first projects?
Growing up, my father always had a camera in hand. He self-assigned himself the role of family historian and documented the everyday lives of my mother, my siblings, and myself. But to be honest, I never gave photography any kind of thought. But my parents exposed me to the arts at a young age. Taking me to the art shows, the symphony performances and so much more. For awhile, what feels like a lifetime ago, I studied music and was on a scholarship to the University of Hawaii for playing the Clarinet. But one day after a few years at the University, something happened and I sort of fell out of love with the clarinet. I’m not sure why. For reasons beyond my current comprehension, my father had just gifted to me, his old film cameras, and one day I happened across an announcement that the university paper, Ka Leo O Hawaii, was hiring photographers. I applied, got hired and fell in love with it.
One of my first projects was actually “Bound By Love.” It started out as a final project for a photo class, and it developed into something so much larger than that. It’s been on-going since 2009.
Having documented such an intense and emotional experience, has anything changed in you from doing either or both of the projects?
Emotional experiences have the potential to change us. Sometimes in ways we can’t even expect. By self-examining during these periods, especially with the passing of my father I learned a lot about my own emotional depth and tendencies. It allowed me to not only discover more about my desire to examine and tell stories about the human condition, but ultimately, it also taught me a lot about myself, as well as giving me insight into how others might be feeling.
Many of the issues you address in these two projects are incredibly impactful especially because they are unquestionably universal on a visceral level. What are some of the ways you feel humans tend to cope with times of difficulty, that you think can be both timeless and healing, as well destructive? Do you feel these behaviors reflect a larger pattern of sorts; histories that repeat? Or do you think humans change dramatically over the millennia? Or?
The life experiences we hold within us, shape and inform who we are, and how we react in this world. While there are definitely universal themes that transcend our individuality, we each handle adversity or crises in differing manners. For myself, Photography had become a way to one, protect myself, but also as a means to gain insight and clarity. A means to truly understand and process the experiences transpiring right in front of my very face. But, everyone handles things different, but I feel that the worst thing someone could do is dissociate from the world around them and shrink into their own cocoon, for while the “Since You’ve Gone” project wholly looks introspectively at my own emotions and feelings not having the support of my friends, not having the support of my family would not have let me come out the other side unscathed.
I do think humans can change over the millennia, but only with the help of others, and learning from our history. For, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
What’s a book/movie/quote/person/artist/or place, that’s is giving you inspiration these days?
I still draw a lot of inspiration from my father; For while our strengths lay within differing skills and abilities, the way he lived and loved in his lifetime is how I strive to live my life, and love in my life. I can only hope to be as an amazing, incredible, and accomplished human being like he was.
Since You’ve Gone
As I’ve experienced grief, anger, sadness, and joy, I’ve used digital photography, in this case an iPhone app, to capture and document the environment and duration of these overwhelming emotions. Each final, resulting image is a unique correlation to not only the variance in duration and intensity of emotions, but a representation of the emotion itself.
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