From the moment we fight our way into the world they look after us and nurture us. They teach us right from wrong, and believe in us when nobody else will. They tend us when we are sick, and clap approvingly even when lines are forgotten, or when a halo slips.
In short they love us, and make us believe we are the world. They are our mothers, the cornerstones of our lives. They are omnipotent, all knowing and invincible.
Until they are not.
Sometimes a book is just a book, until it is not.
Sometimes the subject matter is obvious, other times it is not.
Sometimes it is beautiful, until it transcends the definition.
I became aware of the work of Japanese artist Daichi Koda some years ago when he released the hand made jewel entitled Small Good Lie. A delicate, melancholy study that charted the gradual fading away of a loved one, Someone obviously very close but at the time unnamed. As it transpires the two projects are unrelated, except for the themes common to much of Kodas’s work. Those of love, loss and the desire to remember, all of which are displayed in both Small Good Lie and this beautiful new project entitled (back)ground.
A few weeks ago ( midway through May 2019) after a period of quiet, Daichi was kind enough to contact me regarding a new body of work which he was about to release.
(back)ground is a book, but not a book.
It features a series of portraits, but not as we would expect.
It is not beautiful, it transcends beauty.
It is a book about mothers and about memory.
In the artist’s own words:
” ‘background’ is inspired by the death of my mother. I used to take my mother’s portrait pictures. However, I was not able to get a good one. That’s why I tried to continue to photograph my mother’s portrait by photographing the plants she loved.”
And so an abstract shimmering beauty – the most tender of parting kisses from a son to his mother – is born
The pictures themselves seem to emerge from the paper as naturally as the subject matter depicted does from the earth that feeds it. Blades of grass part the way for saplings and trees. The diminutive rests in the shade of security and protection. Tiny signs of life against a body that has lived a life and wears it’s maturity with pride, that announces it’s scars and blemishes, hard won through the years. Are these the images taken in tribute to a Juno, or do they go further? Perhaps the inclusion of self, of siblings. Could these be seen as family portraits? In each image a matriarchal focus with offspring and progeny at her feet. Captured in a spirit of tribute, a desire, a promise even, to keep a fragile flame nourished.
Aspirations to the eternal.
The images, like the portfolio itself have a duality about them. The pictures depict life and it’s resilience, whilst the book itself, a series of fifteen beautifully reproduced prints on uncoated, textured Japanese paper, are the definition of fragility. Each viewing, each handling inflicting it’s marks, it’s bruises if you will. The prints are cradled in a delicate black folder sealed by hand, and inserted into a matching envelope. Each layer secured and hidden. To reach the core, perfection has to be destroyed, and scars inflicted. But to reveal the treasure nestled within the folded protective leaves of purest black, is to open your eyes to the brightest of days.
Whether Koda was truly unable to achieve his perceived perfection with a literal likeness of his mother, we do not know, and further more it is a redundant consideration. The essence of a person is forever carried in our hearts. They can be seen and heard every time we close our eyes. Their smell and even their voice no more than a smile and a memory away. In presenting his portraits in this manner, he has in fact produced images that pay tribute not only to his own, but to all the mothers that are no longer with us.
Homage, memorial, love letter. One surety, if a tree could truly manifest a spirit, then somewhere a forest gently whispers it’s approval.
(back)ground is presented in a handmade edition of just 36 + 2AP and is offered in a choice of two colours of paper (white or yellow). It can be ordered direct from the artist here.
Robin Titchener is a keen, bordering on fanatical photobook collector of thirty years.