“Where do you wander, my dear friend?” is the question to ask yourself here. Of course, the mind’s eye, much like the spying camera lens, traces and records the places of our lives in each step we take. Wherever we’ve been or laid our hat before now has become an unconscious vision in our head; it never leaves. Not that we’d want it to do so. It’s a part of us. It’s made us who we are.
In Kohey Kanno’s latest photographic project called Invisible Memories (the logical sequel to the masterpiece that was Unseen), the photographer strikes an impactful juxtaposition between New York and Fukushima, and frankly, the resulting imagery is phenomenal. In a sense, you could say that he embarks on a journey into his past to convey these two places to those who might never have seen them before now.
Invisible Memories unfolds with sheer ambiguity. Each piece in the collection is untitled; you can never quite be sure which piece is from where or why it’s included at a certain point. Memories don’t always form a linear pattern, nor do his pictures.
The first destination that Kanno presents isn’t his home, Tokyo, but his father’s, Fukushima. On visiting his grandmother there, and seeing the place, Kanno has allowed a pathway into his family’s history; it is a chance to see where part of his family grew up together. It is an enlightening experience, and one which informs his work.
Filled with all the beauty of raw nature — the wildlife, flora, and rural scenes — you have to leap to imagine that anything may go amiss in this place. And yet, on March 11, 2011, something most certainly did. On that very day, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered a meltdown: a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale that required the country to provide countermeasures to protect the populace and the environment. Ultimately, around 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
As Kanno himself writes, the disaster left a “lingering uncertainty” in the area, something that could be hard to capture in a picture. And yet, he has. In one particular image, we see a dazed face lying in a haze of nothing, the ghoulish empty spaces. Layering the images creates a jarring effect, like a memory short — before and after the disaster. In another, we catch a glimpse of a lonesome figure standing over his yard; they all tell their own affairs.
The second area on which Kanno has focused his lens is New York. Through Kanno’s work, we gain an insight into places that we may not have seen before: the subcultures, street art, and underground parties. This is real-life now, not a mere story.
A half-naked woman is laid over a moss-covered monument. The old and new fight for prominence here with the new ultimately taking the crown. We must not overlook the importance of the street art here, either. It’s the mode that the everyday New Yorker uses to tell their tales; things they cannot express in words are said frankly on the walls that adorn each block. It’s a living, changing thing, which Kanno has managed to capture in a moment, in a picture.
Since no memory exists in isolation, Kanno overlaid scenes from the two starkly contrasting places so that each scene shines through each other. Captured in this formidable manner, some of the imagery looks grotesque and jarring: a nightmare scene from a childhood dream, or more likely, something you may see in the back streets of downtown New York in the wee hours.
Instances of dark human nature are portrayed here. When set against the backdrop of a rural scene or a party-scape, they play out a dual narrative. It’s this very narrative that tells Kanno’s story. Though it may not be personal anecdotes or self-portraits, each place is as much a part of him as any of these things could ever be.
Throughout Invisible Memories, you get the notion that Kanno explores something we all know deep, down inside, but have never expressed aloud. That feeling is a snapshot of our collective unconscious shown in broad daylight. The shape-shifting style with which each picture is presented only furthers its mystical call. It can’t be touched, nor can it be held. Just seen; absorbed.