Interview with David Agasi for Living with Myself Forgetting / June 2010

David Agasi in Tokyo, April 2010. Photo by Sachi Okubo

In March 2010, Cold Green Tea Press published Living with Myself Forgetting, a hand-made book of photos and writing by David Agasi


What is your favorite time of day for taking photographs? What kind of light do you prefer?

Time is suggestive. I follow the light, or its lack. Usually, I use cameras between 11am-4pm, but that is strictly outdoor or natural light shooting. Indoor scenarios, dependent largely on film type, are more open in terms of my not being bogged down by the changing light of the sun. In most cases, the moment dictates what I shoot and when. A gauzy, overcast day is my favorite outdoor situation due to the cloud cover, which acts as a filter. Too much UV light is something I always try and steer clear of.

Are your photographs an attempt to go back to those moments of clarity when you were a child imagining the world?

Hardly ever. My photographs are usually trying to capture a current moment rather than attempting to resurrect one which has passed. I want the strength of "now" to be enough. I want that to be my daydream.

If your photographs were a musical composition, what would they be? What sounds would we hear?

They would be the fluttering of decaying overtones after a piano has been smashed down upon with both hands, or, a single chord no one has ever heard before that leaves a certain bittersweet impression. Many of Debussy's chords have this quality. They unlock something lodged within us that we didn't even know was there.

What does the term "Living with Myself Forgetting" mean to you?

The title should be worked out by those who view this book personally. It could mean many things depending on how one feels at the moment. In my case, it stands for the state of being nowhere while having tried so intently and passionately to arrive somewhere. It is also about getting older. This, too, I leave to the viewer's discretion. Forgetting is often a natural occurrence, yet, we try so hard to keep memories solid within the course of our daily lives. There is a push/pull to remembering and forgetting the things that happen, so photography has always been a magnet, a medium that, like writing, only gives us limited information. We are required to fill in the cracks -- reconstructing memory while simultaneously allowing forgetfulness.

Do you have a picture that-- for technical, personal or other reasons-- you were unable to photograph and yet cannot forget?

The most recent one that comes to mind is that of a bald man of retirement age bowed forward, half-asleep, sitting in front of a train window on the Yamanote Line near Ikebukuro. He was wearing a suit and seemed to be at temporary peace with everything happening around him. I needed a camera than, and did not have one. It was an epic silence. The city moved behind his head in a very unreal way, as if he didn't belong anywhere on Earth but was, for some reason, there, beamed down from above. Life felt very present in that moment. That's what photography can be, too.

What were your first photographs like? How are they different than your photographs today? How are they the same?

My first photographs were honest portrayals of the people in my life at that time, in my late teens. To most people, they probably wouldn't command a lot of attention, but there was a warmth to them that my later work cannot house, because we are now living in an extremely different social climate, living in a world where most of what we do is succinctly decided upon because of the electronic infrastructure around us. We live in relation to the machines created to bring us closer when what they have been doing for the past 25 years is fueling our isolation. Because we have more or less accepted this, photography has a new identity and purpose, one that has been formatted in direct response to advertising, which now controls an amazing percentage of what we are allowed to see.

Now that is more difficult to gain people's attention, my work has tightened up a lot, has become more graphic and eye-catching, but I don't find the emotional intensity of either period of my work to be all that different. As I continue to shoot and experiment in a more or less naive way, there's room for the unexpected to still take hold of the process. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm not coming from a commercial place. Finding a poetic plateau is much more important to my manner of working.

How do your photography techniques resemble jazz?

Improvisation is absolutely essential to my personal process, allowing themes to develop or decay in a very natural way. When a jazz musician works with different musicians, his music has to change. I've always wanted to work with many different people and subjects so as to keep the energy kinetic and fresh. That doesn't mean working only once with one idea and then ditching it. There are themes which have been present in my work for long stretches, while at other times certain ideas are less likely to be investigated for very long because I want to move on. All of the arts work in this same general way. Their outcome is proportionate to the manner in which they are approached, either in a controlled way or a more spontaneous way, with varying degrees in between.

What is your ideal shooting space? 

The world and what's in it.