Up, Out, and Into Space: Why Yoichi Kawamura Points His Camera to the Sky

Karen Kedmey
Aug 8, 2014 10:27PM

While it may seem counterintuitive to choose photography—once primarily used for documentation and record making for documentation and record-making—as the medium through which to translate metaphysical musings into visual form, contemporary artist Yoichi Kawamura manages to make the most abstract concepts manifest in his large-format, color photographs. His work is about what most of us think as intangible, if we think about it at all: space. But the artist begs to differ: “What I am most concerned about in my art is the meaning of space. For me, space is full of meaning. It is not empty.”

Kawamura proves his point in images inspired by Robert Irwin and the Light and Space Movement, as well as by Zen Buddhist philosophy and Western 20th-century philosophical investigations into the experience of the body and the mind in the world. When he turns his camera onto the world, he points it, principally, at the sky. For him, the sky is space. Infinite and ungraspable, it seems empty, until you start to really look at it, which is precisely what he aims to encourage viewers to do. In Untitled (Pier) (2013), as in all of his photographs, the vast expanse of the sky dominates. The razor-thin strip of land running the length of its bottom edge, marked with a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other forms of amusement, is included, as the artist explains, “more as a reference for the space.” So too in Untitled (Beach 15) (2012), in which a stretch of sandy beach and a sliver of ocean provide counterpoints to the azure above. Such unexpected privileging of blankness over substance, combined with the sky’s alluring and varying shades of blue, white, and gray, draws in the eye, compelling viewers to start to see the same fullness in emptiness that the artist sees when he looks up, out, and into space.

Karen Kedmey