The playful juxtaposition of reimagining traditional stories through the technology of a modern camera is the heart of photographer Kenta Nakamura’s latest work. In his earlier series, titled Your Story, he coaxed his subjects out of serious depictions, having them wear plastic 3D glasses to subvert the philosophy that photography always has to have some sort of deeper meaning. But in his newest series Offerings, Nakamura takes a few steps back, creating peculiar images that question how tradition is made and perpetuated.
“This series started when I asked myself: At what point does God become part of our daily lives?” Nakamura explains. “Every place has their own tradition or set of traditions, and although we as humans created these traditions, there is something beyond human – immortal – about them.” This relationship between tradition and divinity exists in most cultures all over the world, and while Nakamura’s specific subject matter might have allusions to the photographer’s own Japanese culture, his sentiment is universal. “In each photograph, I try to capture something that might relate to a higher power. It’s interesting to think that as the internet continues to evolve, photography evolves with it, and maybe one day 100 to 200 years from now, someone will perceive these photographs as religious icons.”
Each photograph embodies a ritual familiar to Nakamura himself. “I was interested in historical traditions that came to exist before I was even born, and what those might look like when combined with the abstraction of my photographic style.” In an image of a child covered in lipstick, Nakamura references the popular Japanese myth of Hoichi the Earless, a blind minstrel who becomes bewitched by ghosts. These subtle, playful references are found throughout the series, but Nakamura is careful about revealing too much. He explains, “I do not want to fix the images according to the concept. Instead, I want to give the viewer space for their imagination to build new perspectives.”
The images in Offerings are a collection of varying styles, united by the spirited nature of Nakamura’s eye. Some images are the result of the photographer using candid flash, and others are naturally lit with ambient light. Both tactics result in an aesthetic that is not too heavy-handed or driven by formal studio stylings. “As you can see, the lighting is very simple,” explains Nakamura. “If the lighting is too technical, the photography becomes too technical, and that’s not what I’m going for. I try not to make the photography too perfect.”
While Nakamura is protective of the references in his work, their ambiguity and mystery are also a result of the medium of photography in general. “I actually don’t think photography is the best way to communicate effectively,” he says. “I just think that it is very exciting and the most suited to me. The main point of my work is to not place importance on conveying the message so accurately. I like to leave a blank space for the viewers to creatively interpret and expand their values, and I just hope I can be the catalyst for bringing those things together.”