Pictura Gallery

Osamu James Nakagawa


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How does one take pictures in the dark? And what then, emerges from the darkness? Osamu James Nakagawa places himself inside complete darkness, willingly entering the void, shedding the familiar and letting go of the outside world in sentient pursuit of these unknowns.

Nakagawa’s current project, Gama, takes the viewer inside the Okinawan caves where people sought refuge during World War II. He does not deliver this subject in flat, two-dimensional scenes. Rather, through the conscious construction of light, perspective, and color he “builds” his imagery so that each scene has three-dimensionality, tactility, and atmosphere.

In his process, Nakagawa opens himself as an ingester of information by exposing his own psyche to the emotional contents of the Okinawan caves. He carries his response with him until he is able to work it into the images. He shares some of his own interior with us, and in that sense, these photographs are very personal. In another sense, they can be seen as an expression of the hidden interior of the country, its inner history and inhabitants. In either case, we can imagine these, although they are depictions of very real places, to be internal landscapes. For the viewer, they can even relate to our own materiality.

Let us, for a moment, read these caves as bodies. How would you read these signs of history, distress and scarring on the physical form? Through the darkness, shapes and figures emerge, both mysterious and ominous. There is something alive about the space. Indistinguishable forms morph between flesh and stone, and vines become veins.

Sometimes, exploring these prints is akin to traveling, by sight, through one’s own body. He composes disorienting perspectives and often collapses interior and exterior space so that the viewer can’t tell which way is in or out. This visual maze elicits a physical reaction since it is as if we are seeing the inside of the body scrambled with markers of the outer body. Nakagawa paints colors into the files – dark blues that dip through purple and then shift, melding into deep burgundies. These are the colors of a vein, a bruise, a muscle. And this is the uncomfortable edge that we come against in this work. We encounter the marvel that we feel when we examine our own bodies, oscillating moments of repulsion and wondrous beauty. Wood and stone and bone collapse into one. What happened to this body has been etched in stone, into deep scars that do not heal. Stone mouths permanently agape, murmur their secrets.

— Lisa Berry + Mia Dalglish

Osamu James Nakagawa received an MFA from the University of Houston. He is currently an associate professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Nakagawa is a recipient of the 2009 John Simon Guggenheim fellowship and 2010 Higashikawa A New Photographer Award in Japan.

His work is included in numerous public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, The Corcoran Museum of Fine Arts, Nelson Atkins Museum of Arts; The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Sakima Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and among others.

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