Artist Interview: Kit Pancoast Nagamura

Kit Pancoast Nagamura is a professional photographer and award winning haiku poet. You can find out more about Kit on her bio page. In this interview Kit talks about her photography practice and the challenges of being a photographer in the social media age.

Do you have a favorite color or color palette?
Until recently, I’ve never thought about a photographic palette, because that seemed a contrived World-of-Instagram kind of thought, where it’s common to wash over images with one shade or another so that they all play nicely together like designer furniture. To me, things are the color that they are, and if I’m shooting a subject, the real color is the color I favor.  I find that certain dirty pinks and some sun-faded dance hall greens appeal. Deep moonlit blues, and golds send me, too.  But, really? It’s red that is the ultimate challenge, the siren call, and when I find it, I’m a slave to it.  

Do you have a favorite artist?
There are hundreds of artists that I love, and they have all had an impact on how and what I see in the world. But, if I’m allowed to limit the list to photographers, these are the ones I go back to again and again to study:

Eugène Atget, Man Ray, Henri Cartier Bresson, and Edward Weston are ones no longer with us, and living influences include Sebastião Salgado, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Rinko Kawauchi, and Sally Mann.

How do you know if an idea needs is working, needs revision or needs to be abandoned?
There’s a dance around this, usually.  At times I can be absolutely certain, even as the shutter releases, that a shot will need no adjustment.  Other times a really good shot surprises me, leaping out of the dross, from hundreds of “frames of frustration.” My rule of thumb is to not quit until I get what I came for, unless it starts to rain hard or go pitch black. There are times I go home disappointed, in the dark.  Other days the shot is right in front of me, at eye level, and I’m done. When I review work, I’ll usually find a couple of shots (usually) that are solid; a great shot, though, comes along a few times a year. Occasionally I’ll try to fix or jigger a slightly off shot, but 99% of the time, this a risky, because overworking a photograph with filters and adjustments is all too easy to do, and people can see and sense it.  I’ll abandon any photo which I cannot use for reporting, memory assist, experimentation, or which doesn’t make me say “Wow!”  

Describe your studio practice? Do you have any habits or rituals when producing art?
My habit is to shoot every single day.  I read up on techniques, keep up on technical advances in equipment, study gallery shows, and pray at Shinto shrines, but the real lynchpin in my practice is just that: practice. Every day.  

How long have you been working in the medium used for your work for In The Details?
I’ve been shooting professionally for about 20 years. First ten years were all film, and the more recent ten have been digital.

What do you like about this medium and what are its challenges?
Photography in Japan, where nearly everyone over the age of three has a camera, is a genuine challenge.  I love challenges, and I love the world of photographers here. People say photography is easy, and there’s nothing creative about it, but put 50 trained photographers in a room with one subject and they will find 50 different approaches and produce images that are expressive of their style.  That fascinates me. But with so many wielding smart phones, pocket cameras, and massive top-of-the-line DSLRs, to stake out a signature visual hallmark that resonates with viewers requires that one dig deep, and work very hard. I’m game.  

Could you talk about your creative process for responding to the theme of In The Details? Did your idea come to you right away? Did you have to experiment a lot?
“In the Details” is actually a theme that I and a group of female photographers were tossing around when considering a group show two years ago. So the thematic idea came naturally to me; I’ve spent about a decade focusing on details, which is one of the jobs and joys of a photographer. I was thrilled to know that painters, fabric artists, and sculptors could run with the concept. For most artists, the devil is in the details, but heaven is there too.

What would you like people to know about your work?
In much of my work, my hope is that people will initially suck in a deep breath and think, “Hey, that’s gorgeous, but what is it?” But then, as they look more closely, I hope to lead the gaze into a realm of dialogue.  What is going on there, exactly?  Is there a writing form that plants use to appeal to our senses?  Do tendrils reach out to one another in order to strengthen their position or to offer up something in trade for our gaze? Are the structures we build amazing or mazes from which we cannot escape? In some cases, capturing the natural world in a moment of transcendence is enough for me to want to show work. In others, I feel it’s useful to examine the human element in structures, patterns. and shadows, of our world. We learn from what disturbs or intrigues us.


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