Finnish photographer, Osma Harvilahti has a knack for encapsulating the aura of a place within his photographs. Having previously documented Morocco and Kenya, it’s Japan that caught his eye in his most recent series, Fish.
A combination of portraits and observations, the series acts as a visual notebook of Osma’s visits to a country he loves. “My first visit was in 2004, as some of my family was living in Tokyo,” he recalls. Ten years later, Osma “felt a bit tired and kind of spontaneously rented an apartment in Tokyo for three months.” During this time, he developed friendships and during 2015 and 2016, started to work Issey Miyake shooting the clothing brand’s men’s fashion campaigns twice a year.
Now, having visited the country several times on commission, Osma has built up a body of work from his travels to Japan’s coast during his spare time. Having visited the island of Kyushu, Yakushima and the island group of Okinawa, Osma’s series depicts local fishermen, the industry and the culture that surrounds fish and seafood.
The images are, on the whole, chance encounters and snapshots. However, as time went on and Osma visited these places, again and again, he began to seek certain images and narratives. In one photo, an elderly woman sits atop an ice box at the port of Yakushima. “This was one of my favourite encounters,” Osma explains. After taking the photo, he asked her to take one of the fish out of the box and place it on the concrete ground. “She allowed me to place this pink flower in the mouth of the dead fish and, finally, take a photo of it. We were both really surprised by this scene and while we didn’t share a language, we were both laughing and truly entertained by what had just happened.”
Fish although not yet complete, already has a succinct quality to it, the soft images awash with tones of blue and yellow. “The industry and utilisation of the ocean’s resources is, of course, a well known and widely recognised issue and I don’t really have anything more to add to the conversation except these visual notes which are there to recognise the culture and daily life dependent on the treasures of the sea and the stunning beauty found in the nature and around this industry,” Osma remarks.
Although not contributing to any discourse surrounding potential issues, Fish is beautiful nonetheless. Instead, it provides a nostalgic trip and a romantic interpretation of the industry, through the lens of Osma’s love for machinery and everyday objects.
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