Artist Talk: Chino Otsuka
Since the beginning of May, London, UK-based photographer Chino Otsuka has been working at the Nikkei National Museum as Artist-in-Residence. As a nominee for the prestigious Aimia/AGO Photography prize, Canada’s largest photography prize, she was able to choose anywhere in Canada to visit and has spent the past two months at the Museum, immersing herself in the collections and exploring the surrounding area, going as far as Tofino.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, Otsuka was primarily educated in the UK, studying photography at the University of Westminster. She received a MA in Fine Art Photography at Royal College of Art and has exhibited widely in the UK, Europe and Asia. She published her first autobiographical book at the age of 15 to much acclaim and has since published three more books. Her photographic works are found in public collections including National Media Museum, UK, Wilson Centre for Photography, UK, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Huis Marseille Museum for Photography and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. The series Imagine Finding Me has become her most exhibited work, showing in over 14 countries.
Chino Otsuka Interview
You left Japan to attend Summerhill School in the UK. My parents were big fans of Summerhill and enrolled me in an alternative school in Vancouver. I remember watching a film about Summerhill. I imagine it was a life-changing experience for you.
I left Japan at the age of ten to go to Summerhill School because I didn’t fit in very well to the Japanese school system and my parents wanted me to have an alternative education. Spent amazing 6 years at the school and it was during this time that I discovered photography and the dark room.
Of all the places in Canada, why did you choose to come to Vancouver and the Nikkei National Museum?
For a while now I have been researching the history of Japanese people who left Japan and when I found out about the residency programme as apart of AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize and was able to choose anywhere in Canada I knew I wanted to come to Nikkei to see their collections and learn more about the history of Japanese Canadian immigrants.
Previously in Holland, I have done a research on a group of Japanese students who went to Holland to study in mid 19th century too.
I understand that you went through every single photograph in the Museum’s collection. As a photographer yourself, what was it like spending so much time in the archives, sifting through old images?
I’m interested in old photographs and how photographs are selected and archived.
In my work I explore the theme of identity and belongings and often show the fluid and distortable relationship between memory, time and photography. Many of my works are drawn from my autobiographical experiences and I work with self-portraiture, or sometimes with the members of my family. I’m also interested in reworking on the old photographs from family albums and archival images.
It’s always a privilege, as an artist-in-residence, to be able to go through and have access to museum collections that are not normally seen or only able to access through database.
What do you take away from this experience?
The whole experience was wonderful.
At the beginning of this residency I knew very little about the history of Japanese immigrants in Canada – hardship and injustice that they had endured. I read and came across so many stories.
As a Japanese, it’s a very important part of our history and I’m so surprised that outside Canada many of these stories are untold, especially in Japan.
As an artist, the residency is always a great time. I can explore and experiment with new ideas. Working away from my usual London environment gives me a new perspective too.
Can we expect to see new work emerge from your experience at the Museum?
Yes. I’m working on it right now. Hopefully I can come back to Vancouver in the near future and show this work that I’ve done during the residency.
What are your impressions of the Vancouver area and the rest of BC?
For someone who goes back and forth between London and Tokyo, the BC landscape blew me away.
And the mountains. To be able to see mountains is amazing. It really reminded me of my childhood when I used to live in Japan.