In Conversation with Mayumi Suzuki

The Restoration Will, 2016 © Mayumi Suzuki

Did you have a huge pressure on yourself to be able to tell a story that’s emotional as well as truthful?
MS: I never had any pressure to make this book. I was really honest to myself in making it. I didn’t intend to make it an emotional story. Basically, this project was dedicated to my parents.

In your artist statement you said that you feel, through your father’s old muddied lens, you are able to have a conversation with your parents. Could you elaborate on that feeling?
MS: The shooting location was beside the ocean, beach and seaport. While shooting, I was reminded of their deaths. The shutter of my father’s lens was broken but I managed to control the exposure manually. I was waiting for it to get dark and the sun to set. In the cold winter, I stood alone beside the ocean and sometimes I was a little scared. 827 people died in the tsunami at these places. I felt connected with these people, including my parents.

Has making these photographs been a cathartic process that has helped you deal with the feeling of loss you encountered with the incident of the tsunami?
MS: I think finally I can say yes. It has taken me 5 years to tell my story.

The Restoration Will, 2016 © Mayumi Suzuki

What do you think your parents would have thought of your project?
MS: I hope they are happy up in heaven. My father was very proud of me when I studied at the college of photography in Tokyo. I then started my career as a wedding photographer in Vancouver, Canada, and my mother was very proud of me as well. At the time, my father asked me “Why do you want to become an artist? Aren’t you satisfied with being a wedding photographer?” I didn’t agree with his words and now I am an artist and a storyteller.

What background did your parents have in photography?
MS: My parents ran a portrait studio in the small fishing town, Onagawa. My grandfather started the business in 1930 and afterwards, my father took over it. People of the town came to the studio to take their family portraits such as wedding pictures, enrollment celebrations, a baby’s birth or a coming of-age ceremony. I like to say that my parents created family memories for each customer. My father being the photographer and my mother an assistant to him.

What was your process of choosing which photographs to include in this project?
MS: I was looking for an original way to do photography. In 2014, I started to use a 4×5 camera to take portraits documenting the process of recovery throughout my neighborhood in Onagawa. I wanted to follow the way my father shot. One day, my mentor Joerg M. Colberg looked at my photos and asked me, “Is it possible to take a photo with your father’s lens?” I tried taking photos with his broken lens and this project started from there.

The Restoration Will, 2016 © Mayumi Suzuki

How do you think your photographs are able to convey emotions?
MS: I am happy that The Restoration Will is highly regarded all over the world. The audience always says that it is a ‘very emotional story’. But it is the true story of my life. I didn’t intend in making it dramatic but that was how people have perceived it.

Do you hope that through telling your story, other victims of the tsunami are able to attain a form of emotional release as well?
MS: Yes. Not only for tsunami victims, but for all people. I hope my work helps people who are facing grief. Everyone has one or two troubles with either their family or hometown regardless of disaster.

About In Conversation : SIPF Open Call Artists
The 6th Portfolio Open Call instalment of SIPF has brought in a wide range of artists
whose themes range from human impact on our ever changing environment to tales of loss and longing. The photographers chosen for these conversations have displayed an ability to convey profound and complex emotions through their series of images, bringing us into an immersive experience that is unique to each artist. In this series of interviews, we delve deeper into why these photographers do what they do, taking a look at the intimate and personal stories behind each of their projects.

This series of interviews can be found in DECK Journal of Photography #01.