Okinawa #006

In Okinawa, the precipitous cliffs that fall hundreds of feet to the ocean below are called banta.

For years I have carried with me a vivid memory of the first time I stood atop these cliffs—a memory of beauty in the endless blue expanse of sea and sky intensified by the fearsome height and history that met my downward gaze.

Five years later this memory drove me to revisit and descend those very cliffs. Standing at its feet for the first time I felt in the cliff’s full visceral weight something so powerful that I was initially unable to take even a single photograph. The shadows seeping from the cliff's surface, the white craters riddling the cliff's coral limestone, and the charred black caves were stark reminders of all that these cliffs had witnessed.

I returned to my studio after six months of researching and exploring the South Pacific Theater with thousands of image files of the cliffs to piece together. As I re-shaped and re-experienced the original digital images, these cliffs became a metaphor for Okinawa’s history as well as digitally-manipulated, hyper-real vision of my experience standing between fear and beauty on Okinawa’s banta.

  • James Nakagawa

About Osamu James Nakagawa

Osamu James Nakagawa explores his biculturalism through photographs that grapple with cultural histories and alienation. Nakagawa was born in the United States but moved to Japan as a child, and to Texas as a teenager. “I am a stranger in all the places my family could call ‘home,’” the artist has said. “The duality and conflict of this experience is the motivation for my photographic exploration, and I am personally invested in finding points of connection and disconnection between actual and constructed memories on both cultural and familial levels.” Nakagawa has captured images as diverse as fields in the American Midwest, rainy urban street scenes, and socially charged sites in Japan. In his series of photos of the Okinawa islands, Nakagawa depicts sublime seaside scenery, saturating their colors in post-production. The images suggest the weight and distortion of his memories of and associations with Japan, but also address the site as a World War II battleground.

American, b. 1962