Kazuma Obara





»Essay/Book Review



Personal, Universal… And Transparency.

  • 2018/10/28


My first week of residency is just finished. I got so many inspiration and start re-constructing my work. As my notes and diary, I try to write what I learned this week from several meetings.




Second Expert Meeting with Sara Blokland


Reflecting the conversation with Sara Blokland, I started thinking about how personal works bring intimacy and empathy to the other person who never connected to the stories before.


Sara Blockland is artist and many of her works are related to her origin and roots “Suriname”.
Sumenari is a former Dutch colony and independent in 1975. The country is located northern part of south America. But larger percentage of their ethnic group is Indian(27.4%) and Javanese(13.7%) who were originally sent from another Dutch colony. (Those numbers are quoted from Wikipedia… )


In many means, Suriname is minority in Holland, minority in the world.


She brought different personal stories thorough the conversation with her mother, pictures from his father. She also interpreted archival images from post colonial time in Suriname and bring the new narratives and perspective to the history and their/ or her identity. Some are quite personal stories but very strong and thoughtful. You can see her project from her website.


We had long long conversation and I asked her, what is important for her when you bring personal story? Universal sense of human being? Universal aspect of social issue?


Her answer was very clear.
She explained that one of the important aspects of personal story is “Transparency”.
Not only transparency of process, transparency for all aspects of you and your work.


After our conversation, I came up some personal works that I cannot believe and understand. Those are very personal and very well accepted. But for me, I cannot. Why. And now I can explain those reason because  “Transparency” is not enough for me.


When the story is quite personal, we have to believe a artist, we have to know more about position of artist as well as their work. And those transparency bring us some sorts of reliability.


The words “Transparency” and “Reliability” are not only for financial company and politician. Those words are also for photographer. When the work is transparency enough, then audience might go into the depth of the story without doubt.


Then, I start thinking about transparency in my work.

One of my questions in my project was how I can visualise the story of victims of Japanese aggression as “Japanese” photographer.


I came across this question when I took strait portrait of children of victims of Japanese occupation at the begging of project.


I strongly felt like, I have no right to take this type of portrait pictures and better not to show.


I imagined the situation that audience will face those strait portrait in the gallery. It will be like face to face. Audience will see their eyes and people inside of portrait will see the audience. I felt like “I” force the audience to see their eyes and tell them, “Look, those people are invisible victims and we have to pay more attention”.

And then I felt like I have no right to say “Look”. Majority of Japanese people including me haven’t said “Look” for 70 years. And “Now” I can say “Look” ?


Most of the case, Japanese government haven’t apologised and ignored those stories for long long time. And I come from such a country and ask them to take your portrait picture. I might say “Look” 30 years ago, when survivors were still active to against Japanese government and tried to bring more attention to solve the problem. Yes, I should tell “Look” still now, but I felt very sorry to say that from my position now.

(Sorry, I know this diary already become complicated to explain my feeling. But allow me to write more. )

I felt that I needed to include myself into the picture as Japanese, as a person who allow Japanese government to do that. I thought, it would be both important to bring victims’ existence and myself as Japanese into photographic project. And I believe that pictures bring more layers to the audience.


Then I finally decided to take pictures of this portrait.



He is a son of Korean Guard who did watch dog of ex-Allied prisoners of war in South East Asia and sentenced death low as a person who punished allied pows to force them to work. But Korean guard were taught to be brutal by Japanese and never taught Geneva treaty. After his mother knew his sentence, she committed suicide. It was hush moment for the family whose father was sentenced as “Japanese soldier” during post war period in Korea. They faced social discrimination in Korea and her mother couldn’t bear the situation. And as the result of that, he become an orphan.


There is only one alive survivor in Japan and he sued Japanese government but his case was rejected. The government haven’t respond properly for those Korean Guard for 70 years.


When I took portrait, I asked him to stand in front of door at the entrance and see out side of entrance. I set up tripod in the entrance just next to him and I stand outside of entrance. I asked him to see me and we faced each other. I had a release and took a picture remote from camera. (There another reason to take pictures in the entrance but I try not to explain a lot. I think it’s already complicated.)


This picture depict that he saw Japanese and at the same time, he saw individual person as Kazuma Obara. We faced each other without lens.


I felt strong guilty when I heard personal history of second-generation of victims of Japanese aggression. The effects of war had been handed down to next generation. And I believed this guiltiness is also important for young Japanese people who might not be able to feel guiltiness any more from history education. I wanted to depict the life of a son of Korean guard and also question who is Japanese, what is Japanese through this portrait.


But at the same time, these people welcomed me and invited me to their house. I really appreciate and happy to talk with them. I felt he saw me as individual person not as only Japanese. And this is definitely important.


I wanted to bring all my feeling and positions as Japanese photographer.


I still have no confidence whether this portrait are strong or not. There is no simplicity and quite complicated to understand the context.


But when I think about what is transparency of my project. I think visualising and telling all my thought would be the transparency of this project. Showing all my process and feeling might bring transparency, might bring some sort of reliability for Japanese photographer.


I don’t know that showing guiltiness is necessary in this projects. I still cannot explain well about how I should confront to this project. This is not problem of language. Even I cannot explain well in Japanese. I need some time to digest my thought.

*Thank you very much for reading until the end of this post.