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Norio Kobayashi
"Tama New Town" | From the Japanese Landscapes series, 1983 Norio Kobayashi


Exhibitionist + Visual Art
Norio Kobayashi's Photography Documents the Ever-Changing Identity of Landscape, Life... and His Kitchen

March-April, 2008

Mental Contagion: Why are you a photographer?

Norio Kobayashi: I don't care much about the fact that I am a photographer. I started taking photos when I was 9. I was very happy to play with the camera, it was my great pleasure. Like the great photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, I've spent my life photographing. It is not a special thing. It's like eating, talking or something like that. Still now, photography is my great pleasure.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

MC: What city of Japan do you live in? What is the everyday culture like there?

Norio Kobayashi: I'm living in the suburb of Tokyo. It takes couple of hours from downtown by car. Very close to my home, there is an interchange, and there are big supermarkets and convenience stores. It's a stereotypical "suburb." I live with my wife in a small house (I bought it used). My house is old, so we enjoy repairing it. As people of today, we are living an ordinary life. Of course, there is no Samurai or Geisha. I think it's not much different from the life in the suburb of USA.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Mental Contagion: What is unique or significant about your experience as a photographer living in Japan?

Norio Kobayashi: I haven't concerned about it so much.

Mental Contagion: In the Japanese Blue series, blue plastic is photographed in different environments. Did you create these environments, or was the blue plastic sometimes found? How many people assisted you with this project?

Norio Kobayashi: I started this project in 1992. The blue polyethylene sheets, which I named "Japanese Blue," exist all around Japan. I've never touched the objects, I just find the object, and photograph it. In Japan, blue sheets are used in farming, industry, and also by ordinary people. So it is easy to find bule sheets in anywhere, and I don't need any support. I do this project by myself.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Japanese Blue series

Mental Contagion: Some of the wrapped objects in the Japanese Blue series, possess a subtle similarity to the large-scale wrapping conceived by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, created as a way to alter environments. However, your project seems to convey something different; the blue plastic seems to be part of the environment, and each image tends to have its own unique personality. What was your intent with the wrapping? What compelled you to work with the theme of the blue plastic?

Norio Kobayashi: Unlike from Christo and Jeanne-Claude, I don't create the objects. I found them incidentally. They are wrapped by somebody, for different purposes: some of them are for waterproofing, and others might be for concealing the corpse in the site of construction. Please visit Japan someday! You will find many blue sheets in towns and country sides.

Again, I say, I just find the objects and press the shutter silently.

The purpose of this project is to view Japanese culture and myself by the scenery with blue sheets. Why we Japanese people like blue? In the environment of Japan, what meaning does the blue sheets have?
Moreover, this project consists criticism for the system of modern arts, which reperesented by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, What is the arts? what is the fine arts? and what is the system of arts?

The photographer creats nothing. I just photograph something, and leave there. I love the simplicity of photography.



Norio Kobayashi
From the Japanese Blue series

Mental Contagion: Digital Kitchen is an ongoing photographic series updated on your Web site every 3 or 4 days. Do you photograph daily? Why did you create this series?

Norio Kobayashi: This series is not my diary. These photos are my experimental work.

I started this series in 1999. I started to use a digital camera and the Internet in 1997 and I felt their great possibilities for the future even though the quality was inadequate at that time. Using the internet, anyone can express his or her photos for all over the world. I decided to use it as the way to express my work, not as a communication tool. Moreover, with digital camera, I can update my photos just after shooting them. I usually take photos during my breakfast, and I retouch and upload them within 30 minutes. The primary purpose of this project is to show my photos on my Web site, instead of in a museum or gallery. Of course, I hold exhibitions in museums and galleries with printed photos, however, I love the Internet world, which is always changing.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Mental Contagion: Wrapping is prominent in the Digital Kitchen series, as it is in the Japanese Blue series. What is the interest in this theme within the context of the kitchen?

Norio Kobayashi: I started this series because I was influenced by the sunlight that flooded from the small window of the east side. You know, Japan has four seasons, so the condition of lights varies day by day. This variation makes things look different. Also, the place which changes everyday the most is kitchen. The kitchen is the place that connects deeply with our lives, and it shows the figure of our consumption. Most of the foods are wrapped because of consumerism. Especially in Japan, too-much wrapping is prominent. From the kitchen, such a small place, we can see the present figure of ourselves. I mean, I see myself under the theme of kitchen.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Mental Contagion: There is something very personal about seeing an image online that was taken that same day (the "today" image). For example, I am half way around the world from where you are, but I know that the subject of your photo (assumably your wife) is wearing a red shirt today, and that you ate from plates made by Givenchy. Does this hold any importance for you, or is it simply a photographic exercise.

Norio Kobayashi: It is like throwing the bottle that holds a letter to the sea. I don't know who will read the letter and where. It might never be read. I throw my dream into the Internet, hoping someone will pick up. Actually, you picked up my dream and sent your email to me! It is a great thing to give something to someone throughout space by photography. I think it gives something private, different from seeing photos in the museum.

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Norio Kobayashi
From the Digital Kitchen series

Mental Contagion: Your Japanese Landscapes series was published as a book and won the prestigious New Artist Prize from the Photographic Society of Japanese in 1987. From 1970 to 2000, you managed to capture scenes of the desolate "wasteland" that once was, and as time passed, (30 years) you captured scenes of construction, destruction and, finally, suburban life. Identity and objectivity are the themes throughout the evolution of this project. Can you explain this further? At what point did you realize the importance of this project?

Norio Kobayashi: I made my debut as a photographer with the Japanese Landscapes series. At the time, I wanted to shoot landscapes objectively, using large format camera and color film. My intent was to be objective, rather than artistic. I overlapped myself with the situation of destroyed nature and disappearing identity. "Empty" and "blank" were the themes of this project. I might photograph the same place with a digital camera again someday.

Norio Kobayashi
"Kawasaki City" | From the Japanese Landscape series, 1970

Norio Kobayashi
"Koohoku New Town" | From the Japanese Landscape series, 1984

Norio Kobayashi
"Tama New Town" | From the Japanese Landscape series, 1984
(The dog was found dead on land developed for housing.)

Mental Contagion: Many of your projects are ongoing, continuing to evolve over time. Is this a technique that you feel is inherent to your style? In other words, is it part of who you are as a photographer?

Norio Kobayashi: I was fickle about women when I was young (of course I love only my wife now). Like that, I'm developing 3 or 4 projects simultaneously. This is how I make photographic works, I haven't changed this style. All projects will be completed after 60 years. Maybe I will be dead at that time.... That is to say, I like the unfinished condition rather than being finished.

Norio Kobayashi
"Tama New Town" | From the Japanese Landscape series, 1984
(The Festival of a New Town)

Norio Kobayashi
"Tama New Town" | From the Japanese Landscape series, 1986

About the Photographer

Norio Kobayashi lives and works in Tokyo, Japan and has been photographing since he was 9. He is a professor at Musashino Art University, has had 4 books published and is the recipient of the New Artist Prize from the Photographic Society of Japan, the 18th Kimura Ihei Photography Award from the Asahi Newspaper Publishing Co. Norio's permanent collections can be seen at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Polaroid Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and in the branch located in Japan) and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyotot, Japan, among others. For more information, visit Norio Kobayashi's Web site.


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