Ryo Kusumoto Kyoto, Japan

LIFE – awe of living several hundred years –

In Japan, animism toward trees existed even before the creation of Kojiki, one of the oldest and primary sources for Shinto (Japanese national religion) written in early 8th century. To believe that we are born from great nature gave us reasons not to control it with civilization but keep humble distance and respect so that we can appreciate what nature offers us. The sense of faith toward an unknown exists in Japanese peoples’ minds. It is to provoke, or perhaps show a path, to solve numerous current problems in the world in a way that the very delicate and fragile distance we choose to keep between us and the nature can also apply in order to determine the distance between us and us, humans.

Ryo Kusumoto


Ryo Kusumoto was chosen by photographer Hiroshi Yamauchi


Laatikkomo’s interview with Ryo Kusumoto January 13th, 2016.


L: Where are you from? Or what cities, and/or countries have you lived in – what places have influenced you?

RK:  I was born and raised in Tokushima, Japan. My home town has a Yakuoji-temple, a part of Shikoku Pilgrimage. So naturally I have been interested in the dignity and awe behind the physical presence. After I went on to higher education, ultimately a master degree in evolutionary developmental biology, I worked for a pharmaceutical company in drug development in Osaka. A great turning point came about 2010 that forced me to became a freelance photographer. I moved to Tokyo, and now in Kyoto. I think Kyoto is the place that had most impact and influence on me as a photographer.


L: What is your first memory of photography/film?

RK:  My first memory of photography would be from train journey about 2000km with C35 Konica when I was 22 years old. It was my frst camera, given by my grandfather who took photos of my grand mother in swimsuit when they were young. It was very compact and useful in order to communicate with strangers. I was so excited for the opportunity to know history of other lives. Little by little, I have been interested in photography as a form of presentation. That had changed my life.


L: How have your studies in evolutionary developmental biology influenced what and how you choose to photograph – or are they two separate identities?

RK:  I guess… I have double standard sight when I take photos in hopes to reach both the truth by piling up facts like the methods of field studies and catching whispers from something inside that only can be captured by spirit. Although it’s very easy to take photos by mobile phones for just recording, there are more possibility to share than just attaching a photo to instant messages. I think it is the role of photographic expressions to go deeper than conventional technicality.


L: Some of your series are shot in black/white and for other series you have chosen to shoot in colour. Does the use of black and white have a meaning in your work?

RK:  Yes. To me b/w & colour issue is about abstraction and universalization. Colours help document the situation. For example, I used b/w for the project on monster quake in 2011 that hit northeast part of Japan. However I decided to document very small community there in the aftermath in attempt to show some commonality cause because scale was too large to be measured. Sometimes colours help us catch interest by their beauties. And there are also essential information for project concepts.


L: In your description of the project “LIFE – awe of living several hundred years-” you talk about the ancient Japanese religion of respect between humans and nature where nature is “not controlled by civilization”. But, from the outside, Japan seems to be pulling in two very opposite directions; one which respects old traditions of cohabitation with nature and another which innovates with plastic fetish objects and advanced technology. Can these two directions exist harmoniously? What kind of future do you foresee?

RK:  I personally think cohabitation in best use of the word among them is impossible. Technologically advanced society is inversely and disproportionally at odds to lose respect and create a drive away from nature. Respect could only be treated as cheap nostalgia and prosperity for modern life will be justified to reduce morality to ward nature, often traded for or exchange of money to achieve convenient lifestyle. Showing these photos could be an approach to build awareness in following two ways.

1. Beauty in nature is all around us and only problem is the fact that you’ve never cared it before.

2. Madness is all around us in society and only problem is the fact that you’ve felt it all along and chosen not to do anything about it.

No matter where the world will be going, past history never changes. Whether it’s in form of journalism or art, I’d like to make opportunity for viewers to take time and consider about the theme through ironic images in photography.


L: What main questions would you like your work to inspire in the viewer? 

RK:  In Japanese culture, we have awe for something we’ve never seen before. So we try to associate them to something around us, sometimes dragon, holly snake, and so on to make assure. I’d appreciate if viewers try long and hard to see not only the surface details, but to give thoughts to the idea of keeping an adequate distance from nature. And the process may take them to stumble upon a hint or two by replacing modern values to the ones in old Japanese society.


L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?

RK:  faith, face, history, society, distance


Thank you so much Ryo!