SEEK Interviews: Q. Sakamaki

This is the second in an occasional series of interviews with SEEK instructors, our colleagues and friends, curators, photographers of all different kinds, our influences, and people who we think you might find interesting. Today we bring you SEEK instructor Q. Sakamaki, a New York City-based two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award who has published five books of his work. Q blends coverage of global events with his personal interpretation of how these events affect people's lives and psyches. We are planning a workshop in Mexico City this year which will feature Q teaching with his friend and colleague Spencer Platt. Follow Q's work on Instagram @qsakamaki - and read more about him on his bio page here: http://www.seekworkshops.com/q-sakamaki/ For now, please enjoy this email interview and two galleries of Q's work. The first is from his project, "China's Outer Lands":

 

SEEK: What is the most important thing when it comes to taking photos? 

QS: To catch emotion related to human dramas, or even to reveal what may be behind those dramas. Through photography, I would like to explore humanity — who we are and what is important or critical for us. Then, I would like to share the work as much as I can. 

SEEK: Can you tell us a little about your friendship with Spencer and how your teaching together will be an interesting experience for students? 

QS: We have known each other more than decade. Both of us cover international affairs, as well as domestic issues in the United States. We often encounter each other in hot spots, including conflict zones, such as Israel, Palestine, Sudan, and Greece (during the recent refugee crisis). We share information and exchange our own views in such places or in New York where both of us live. We share much common ground about humanity, journalism, and photography. However, our style is quite different, since he works for Getty Images as a wire type of a dynamic photographer, on the other hand, I work more likely aiming for magazines, especially for feature stories, often with fine-art like aesthetic images. So, teaching together with Spence will be very interesting for students, since they'll learn different perspectives to swim well in the very demanding seas of photo-documentary and photo-journalism. 

SEEK: You mentioned in your bio that you are combining elements of fine art with documentary photography with aspects of your identity. Can you elaborate on this idea? How does your identity come into play with your photography?

QS: First, any personal expression could be art. Photo-documentary should be so, though in the arena of non-fiction. Due to this nature, I would like to combine my documentary photography with fine art to make my photography grow more.

Second, for me, it is not enough to photograph the moment as it is. Although, again, there is no fabrication and no bias in photo-journalism and photo-documentary, it is also equally, or ever more important to seek something behind the scenes captured in front of us — like something universal, for example, injustice or the human soul. Those have evolved in humanity throughout history, and are nearly always related to identity and belonging of people. However, unlike the general notion, identity and belonging are often changing — at least these are not perfectly definable. This has affected me as well - I moved from place to place many times in my childhood (often facing discrimination), and now I have lived in the United States much longer than I ever lived in Japan. Thus, to explore human dramas, combining with my own identity and belonging is very natural. And through such a process, I would like to figure out what humans are, and where we came from, and where we are heading.

SEEK: And you also mentioned that it could be possible to explore one's own future through photography. Will you tell us more about this idea?

QS: As I mentioned above, photography can be a process of seeking for universal values, since to take photos is to explore human dramas, even the motivations behind them. It also could become a means to figure out what humans are, as any human drama is related to the past, present, and future. So, photography can be a significant process to explore both where we humans came from and where we are heading.

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SEEK: In your recent project, "Tojinbo: Suicide Cliffs," you've taken on a challenging and sensitive topic. A few of the photos seem to have metaphorical elements. This appears to be an effective way to evoke a deeper meaning within an individual picture and to affect the overall body of work. How do you create a metaphor with a photo?

QS: Yes, that is right. I like metaphors in my photography and it could be very effective for not only an individual photo, but also for a whole work, since the world is not so simple, each subject has very complicated matters and elements around it, even though those are related to each other. So, for the creation of an individual photo, I nearly always look for elements that can be not only related to the theme of the story, but can also give deeper meanings and often evoke something haunted behind the story or scene.

SEEK: Many thanks to Q for sharing his thoughts and his photographs. Please visit www.qsakamaki.com for extended edits and many more bodies of work. We conclude this interview with a selection of photos from Q's coverage of the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, both shortly after the event and his return one year later to photograph stories of survival.