At home in a foreign land: for her long-term project, the Japanese photographer took pictures of the Japanese ballerina, Mayu, of the New York Theatre Ballet. We spoke about the concept of home, the beauty of dance and the world as a stage.
For a classical ballet dancer it must be very strange not to perform on a stage. What was Mayu’s first reaction, when you suggested she join your (rather unusual) photo project?
She liked the idea from the start.
How did Mayu “work” within these special locations?
Even though we often got stares from people walking by, Mayu was so brave and professional, she didn’t seem to care about the people around us at all. I think once Mayu starts performing, any environment becomes a stage for her.
How did the people passing by react while you were shooting?
Some people tried to secretly photograph Mayu on their phones, and others asked us for permission to take a picture. Sometimes cars would slow down.
How did you find the settings and locations?
When I have free time, I often go out with my camera to explore specific destinations that I pick in advance. I never did any location hunting for this series; I picked the locations from memory. As you might be able to tell from my landscape pictures, I like to isolate my subjects within the frame, and that approach worked very well with this series, I think.
In this series it was the ballerina Mayu you isolated. How did you work with her?
Everything she does as a dancer is so beautiful, so I asked her to not be too beautiful.
On your website you write that the idea for the project was to express feelings of alienation, degrees of self-doubt, regret. Your photos speak very intensely about these feelings, and in a very aesthetic way! Did the project change your own attitude towards your own experiences? Maybe kind of “healed” them?
By the time I met Mayu I think I had overcome the more difficult part of adjusting as an immigrant, and I think Mayu had also. If I had still been struggling with those feelings, I don’t think I would have made the series, because I wouldn’t have wanted to share them. But even so, the series did feel like a milestone of sorts for both of us. Collaborating with another artist was a joyful experience that reminded us that we were free and independent.
What does “home” mean to you? Do you feel at home now in New York?
New York is a difficult city to call home. It’s always full of energy and constantly changing. I do have good friends and family here now, and I am beginning to feel much more at home; but it is hard to say when that process will be “complete.”
How important is the fact that you are both immigrants?
We are not only immigrants from the same country, but we are also both female artists, which was another very important reason for me to do this series together with Mayu.
Could you imagine realising a similar project with an American dancer?
Yes, I can imagine a similar project with an American dancer, but I would try to find a totally different way to shoot the dancer. For example, in Mayu’s series I purposefully didn’t show her face clearly, so as to express the feelings of an immigrant; but with an American dancer, I would probably take a more open and direct approach, bringing the dancer forward and closer to the viewer. It is hard to say. It depends on the individual themselves.
You realised the series with a Leica M 6 …
Until I started thinking about buying a Leica, I never gave much thought to the particular camera I was using. I viewed cameras as mechanical tools, and as long as they performed I was satisfied. One day about five years ago, I went to an exhibition in NY that had a separate space with a few Leicas on display. I loved the design and, after some research, I decided to buy one.
Which lenses did you use and how did the camera perform?
I love shooting with it. It’s become my go-to camera when heading out, and I use it when working on series as well. It delivers images exactly as I envision them in my mind. I used a Summicron 50mm for this series.
What will your next project be?
I have been focusing a lot more on shooting people recently, and so I’m working on a couple of portraits series.
Sayuri was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1985. After graduating from Tokyo Visual Arts College in 2006, she worked as a photo studio assistant at Iino Media Pro in Tokyo for three years. She moved to London in 2009 where she worked as a fashion photographer, and then moved to New York in 2012 where she worked as a digital photo retoucher in the fashion industry. In 2014 she shifted her focus away from commercial photography to pursue her own photographic interests and projects. She received the Japan Photo Award in 2016 for her Deja Vu series – a house series inspired by the memory of her childhood doll house. In 2018 she was selected among the winners for the Fotofilmic 18 Shortlist Show held in Canada in June for her Mayu series.
To see more of Ichida’s photography you can visit her website.