A particular school of photographers pursues the art of being invisible around their subjects. In fact, many have modified or purpose-built camera equipment that tricks the subject into thinking that they are not being photographed. Often the reason of achieving objectivity, almost divine-like obligation or commandment, is stated, as if to say “once my presence influences the photograph, it has lost its value as a document”. Just thinking and typing this, I feel antiquated, as if I was someone from a bygone age. While we know by now that this isn’t true, there is more to this. That’s because it sounds like an excuse, a reason to avoid engagement with the subject. Much recent diaristic photography has shot over target by not even choosing an external subject. Instead, it seems all about a Godot-esque dialogue of the photographer with her super-ego. Childhood traumas or other emotional distresses in the biography are stated as the reasons. We seem to grant the excuse willingly – but why?
Photography is all about the engagement with your subject (or absence thereof). Period. Most often life becomes the most fulfilling when engaging with those around you. Relations, friends, companions, strangers, outsiders, freaks. Diane Arbus was known for the merciless depiction of her subjects, but you cannot deny her honest engagement with them.
Wheelchairs are an eye-catching photographic subject, but let us resist the temptation to be misled down the disabled = different people path. What if these are simply Harumichi Saito’s circle of friends and not some protagonists in a photographic project? Almost all of the photos in the gallery show people in them, and if you bother spending the time you realise that these are not just grabshots of interesting compositions or scenes with a person with only one leg that attract attention. There is engagement, and it is genuine interest, a dialog from behind the camera, with a sense of normality and mutual trust. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers seeking cold and impartial objectivity, except for purely selfish reasons.
The above work is taken from Saito’s series KANDO, which has now been published in a new book from Akaaka Arts Publishing, available in the Japan Exposures bookstore.