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Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

Week 07 — June 14, 2018

In Conversation

Fumiko Imano Photographer4 minute read

Fumiko Imano is her own best subject. Having studied at both Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, the Japanese photographer went on to establish herself as a widely recognised self-portraitist, producing images ranging from the wry and playful to the frank and revealing. Her work has been widely exhibited and can be found in numerous books. Here she chats about mirrors, twins, the Internet, and confronting herself through the lens.

Rosalind Jana

Interview Rosalind Jana

RObviously, you star in all your work. When did you decide to begin using yourself in your image making, and why?

FI have been taking pictures of myself since 18 or so. It was to confirm myself: questioning, “how do I look?”, "who am I?”. It was because I had a complex about my self-image as I was bullied [during my] whole childhood time. So it was challenging to see my self-image each time I took pictures of myself, and it became a kind of therapy for me.

But when I moved to London to study, people started telling me that I was photogenic and had a special face. Something like that gave me confidence … [I] even wanted to appear in magazines like i-D. When I finished [my] first year in Central Saint Martins I changed course to study fashion photography at LCF [London College of Fashion], but I couldn't collaborate very well to take fashion photos because I was super self possessive and didn't want to share credit with anybody. I strongly believed if I worked with somebody it wasn’t my work anymore. Who the hell thinks this way if you do fashion photography?! 

I tried, but it was hard for me to use models, make-up and stylists to create my own work. So, I started using myself as [the] model, stylist and photographer in one set. And then, when my self-portrait work got selected as a finalist as a young photographer at Festival International de Mode et de Photographie à Hyères in 2002, I decided to keep creating self-portrait works.

It is because my self-image became "what I am", and I could see her as a third person in my mind — as [a] "main character.”

Your Twins portraits are especially interesting. They made me think of Freud’s The Uncanny, especially where he writes about how the figure of a double is unnerving because it suggests a self may be “duplicated, divided, and interchanged”. Do you find there's a power in doubling up images of yourself?

Yes, definitely! I take solo pictures also, but when I make twins, I feel more energy from it somehow. That is why I started creating twins. When I came back to Japan after studying in London, I didn't know how to fit in the culture, and I was already 27 and not a student anymore. I didn't know how to live — and becoming an adult was quite hard with responsibility, etc. So I started creating twins to cheer me up to live… because if I was twins, if I was two people, [we] could help each other and live like a kid, maybe? So it was my ideal: twins living like kids forever! We don't want to be adult! Kind of...

Could you also tell me a little more about the process of making these images — am I right in thinking you don’t use Photoshop?

I don’t do set-ups; I take pictures when I feel, "I'm in [a] good situation right now"… and when I get [the] pictures, I hide it for a while in a drawer, and then I cut in half with scissors and paste with glue and hide it back again till I can see as a third person to show it to [the] public.

I’m sure you must get asked this a lot given that we now live in a culture full of ‘selfies’ — I mean, I definitely know I take more pictures of my own face now than I did five years ago (though pre-internet I did have a little camera I’d use to do self-portraits with in the mirror!) — but do you feel like your work has changed at all in the digital age?

Yes, I think so. At one point I lost confidence [in] continuing to make self-portraits because everybody started doing ‘selfies’, and showing private pictures. My works are private self-portraits. Before iPhones it was still special and still an artistic thing to show. But when everybody lost [their] shyness showing self-image… I felt like it lost the meaning and quality of it. So, I didn't want to do Instagram — but I do now to promote my work. However, I still can't show my ‘selfie’ from everyday life. I'm scared, and shy about it. It blocks me. I tried to post but I deleted… 

Fumiko's Top 10

Photography (and one comic) Books

You’re pretty prolific in the books you’ve produced. How do you find the process of sorting out all your images for publication?

Making books is quite hard. [The] images are all myself, and it’s all the past of my life. To make works, I have to be a third person… and to make books, it’s a bit like becoming a fourth person.

It is always good to create a book so you can go to the next step. Also, books can go anywhere in the world: to have a private exhibition in somebody's hands, [or] somebody to find me in a bookshop somewhere and bring to their home.

I was in the Tate Liverpool recently and they had some work by Cindy Sherman. I know she tends to be the first one lots of people think of when we’re talking about photography and self-portraiture — but I was wondering who else you admire for using their own face/ body/ self in their work? 

Claude Cahun, Francesca Woodman, Friedl Kubelka, Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama.

Could you also tell me a little about the narrative behind your recent Loewe campaign? 

At UNESCO, you can see beautifully both the Eiffel Tower and the building; it looks like a postcard. Touristic pictures, postcards and souvenirs have always inspired me. Also, I have one of my pictures called Baguette Orchestra which shows the twins playing the flute and violin using baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower. The baguette is kind of a symbol of France to me, so I wanted to do it with Saskia [artist and model, Saska de Brauw] again. 

I also shot a picture called Battle of Jedi which shows the twins battling using leeks in my mum's vegetable garden. One of the UNESCO buildings looked like a fort so I battled with Saskia using baguettes. Baguettes aren't harmful, it’s a peaceful battle, you see? It was a playground for the twins and for Saskia.

The pictures are incredibly fun. Baguette fights, hiding behind hedges... Is it important to you to be playful in your work?

"Playful" is not really important to me. It just happened naturally in this way. Well... I don't know. I like being playful, especially when I'm doing the Twins series, because I made them to enjoy life. But they can be serious as well. It depends! 

Fumiko's Matches Wishlist