For photographer Kai Yokoyama, family is a “series of miracles”
Kai talks us through a project born from pandemic isolation titled The day you were born, I wasn’t born yet, which is his most moving and intricate work to date.
- Joey Levenson
- 5 August 2021
Tokyo-based photographer, Kai Yokoyama’s latest project is a quiet spatiotemporal meditation of his family’s lineage. It’s a stunning exploration of how archive, family, and art intersect – Kai has used a blend of archival photos of his family in Japan with original photography of his own. “I used to travel abroad to take pictures, but due to the pandemic, I had to stay in Japan for a long time,” Kai tells It’s Nice That on the project’s conceptualisation. “I began to feel gratitude for the life I have and for my parents, my grandfather, and countless ancestors who are connected to me,” he adds. Kai’s time in his home country over the course of last year placed Yokoyama on an internal journey to question the roots of his lineage, and how it could manifest in his work. What came of it was The day you were born, I wasn’t born yet, a large and commendable project. “This theme is an expression of my gratitude for the miracle of my birth and existence here today,” Kai reiterates. It’s a gratitude that comes across acutely in the photos, ranging from mesmerising shots of pastoral farmlands to animals to his own grandparents suspended in moments of emotional stasis.
“When I have a slight idea of what I want to do, I start taking pictures and I don’t think too much about it, I just go with my intuition and start,” Kai says of his process. For a project so deeply enmeshed with his personhood, it’s no surprise that Kai wanted to take a less-calculated and more honest approach to the work. “I leave the photos alone for a while, and I repeat this process every day until I have enough photos and I start looking at them slowly from the beginning,” he adds. What happens after is usually a slow process of paying attention to all his surroundings at the time of taking the photo: “the books I’m reading, the movies I’ve seen recently, the conversations I’ve had recently, the sentences in news articles, and so on,” he says. It’s exactly how he mapped out The day you were born, I wasn’t born yet, which took great care to detail and deep moments of introspection to achieve.
“While I was working on this piece, I researched my grandfather’s military history,” Kai tells us. “This was something that none of my family members had ever done before, and I found out that my grandfather had trained as a soldier very close to the house where I grew up.” The discovery led him to find a museum in place of where the house once was, somewhat significantly symbolic of the project’s archival motifs. Digging through his grandparents’ old photos, he found inventive ways to combine them with his own photography whilst inspired by creatives such as Alec Soth, Frieda Kahlo, and Luis Barragan. “There are photos of my grandparents’ archives combined with a photo I took of a shining light on a building,” Kai explains. “I had no idea that these two photos would be combined because I had never thought about it. It was just intuition,” he tells us. It was when these photos amalgamated that Kai finally knew which direction he wanted this project to go in.
“I hope that when people see this work, they will think of their own families and realise that the fact that all of us are in this world today is the result of a series of miracles,” Kai says. It’s certainly accurate, as the photos coalesce into a great pool of reflection for the viewer. What starts as an intensely personal endeavour for Kai becomes a universal experience, for all to engage with and reflect upon. “In the near future, my goal is to make a photo book out of this work,” the photographer adds. “As of right now, I’m participating in a workshop in Tokyo in October to produce a photo book by Yumi Goto.” We only hope The day you were born, I wasn’t born yet continues to make tremors in Japan and beyond.
GalleryKai Yokoyama: The day you were born, I wasn't born yet (Copyright © Kai Yokoyama, 2021)
Kai Yokoyama: The day you were born, I wasn't born yet (Copyright © Kai Yokoyama, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.