At the heart of Japanese photographer Akiko Takizawa’s work lies feelings of dislocation, displacement and isolation. Her black and white photographs, unsettling yet peaceful, are imbued with a sense of loss and longing while retaining that vital glimmer of hope. Dim shafts of light creep into dusty, shadow-shrouded interiors or softly illuminate barren landscapes. The images seem suspended between a dreamlike and wakeful state, teetering at the threshold of consciousness. The line between sleep and death, death and life is tantalisingly blurred.
Her most recent exhibition, Over the Parched Field, on display at Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, London from 18 January to 1 March, showcases a selection of collotype prints of Takizawa's work from the last six years, photographs she describes as "semi-autobiographical". Taken at the shrines of Osorezan (Fear Mountain) and Goshogawara in county Aomori in the north of Japan, they depict holy places that were created to memorialise and heal the spirits of children who have passed away. Stone statues adorn the volcanic landscape, protecting the souls of the deceased, while ‘bridal’ shrines are draped with mementoes, left by parents for their children when they come of age. Takizawa describes it as a place of calm that heightened her sense of solitude.
Loss is obviously a central theme in her work – both personal and the loss of others – although the pictures she takes are very much for her. “I take photographs for my own sake,” remarks Takizawa. “In one way I’m documenting what I see but what appears [in my pictures] has a more dreamlike quality. Sometimes it feels like it’s not completely up to me what appears in the photographs. But I feel a need to communicate what I see.”
Takizawa also says she uses her photography to communicate with relatives who are no longer alive. “I feel that my camera acts as an antenna to receive signals carrying urgent messages from the lost lives and objects that fill the air around us.” She adds: “We think of time as a single line but people talk about there being another time, and that concept interests me. I feel a sense of déja-vu, though not necessarily having lived a past life. Maybe living and dying are on the same line. When I look at photographs of dead people I almost feel that their lives are continuing within the photographs.”
Takizawa describes her work as the embodiment of feeling like a stranger in her own country, and indeed she admits that it was not until she left Japan that she could begin to reflect upon her complex relationship with her background. This distance allowed her to begin to make sense of the photographs she took there. “I had to physically remove myself from Japan in order to work on [the photographs,]” she confesses. “Even though I love Japan, I feel I don’t fit in, although I always want to photograph my country.”
Gemma Padley is the Features Editor at Amateur Photographer Magazine and is currently studying a Masters in the History of Art with Photography at Birkbeck University.