Photography book series School Roads by Plancton
PLANCTON, the publishing label of Soup Design's Fumikazu Ohara has released a new photo collection series called "School Road." The basis of the project is to have a photographer from each prefecture go and capture the route they took to school in images. We all followed our own paths to school, so getting to step into someone else's shoes and see their path really strikes a chord of nostalgia. We spoke a bit about this with Ohara and Masashi Asada, the photographer for Mie prefecture.
Let's start by asking why you decided to focus on school roads.
Ohara: A few years ago I decided to try walking the way back to my parents' house instead of just passing by it all in a car as I normally would. Cars aren't allowed on the road I used to take to school, so the only way I travel it was on foot. As I walked along the road, memories from my childhood came flooding back. A lot of things had changed, but a lot was still the same, like the cracks in the pavement or how dirty the water in the ditches was. It was a very fascinating sensation. I realized that the route held a lot of my memories from that time in my life.
What made you decide to capture those feelings as images?
Ohara: Living in Tokyo as I do, most of the roads are generally just paths I use to get around. When I was a kid I used to notice a lot more things, but somewhere along the line I lost that sense of perspective. So, I wanted to give both the photographers and the viewers a chance to remember what their own places were like by focusing on the roads they took to school and taking them back to revisit such locations full of memories and feelings.
What did you remember when you went back down your road to school?
Ohara: One time I lost 3,000 yen I was carrying to go buy a new game along that road. When I passed along there it all came rushing back, like "Hey, I think I dropped it around here! I touched my pocket at about this point!" I never did find the money, so actually I looked around for it a bit just on the off chance it was still there (laughs).
Asada: I took another trip down my path to school, too, and the funny thing is that I still remembered the way. It wasn't that I was consciously recalling all the turns; I was just making them naturally as I walked.
It seems one big point of the series is that it will cover all 47 prefectures. I'm from Chiba myself, so I ended up being most interested in the photos taken by fellow Chiba-native Masako Nakagawa. If the "School Road" collection was product of a single cameraman, no matter how it was presented it would just be a collection of that person's work. But, with this format you have photos by Nakagawa, Asada, and all the others, so everyone is able to go back to their own hometown.
Ohara: If our theme was "hometowns" the strength of the location would come to the fore; however by choosing to go with school roads we were also able to see inside the photographers themselves a bit. We can allow those on the receiving end to take a look inside themselves, too. We wanted to make books that would stir up emotions rather than simply present information.
How did you commission each of the photographers for the project?
Asada: The initial order I received pretty much just said that the theme was "school roads" and that I was supposed to take images of what I considered to be the route I took to school.
Ohara: While I did prepare a little explanation for Asada and all the others, I tried not to say too much. I figured their individual ideas about the theme would be much stronger that way.
(To Asada) How exactly did you proceed with the project?
Asada: The first thing I did was go show Ohara some shots I had taken over the course of 5 or 6 trips back to Mie. A lot of them were just shots of the scenery, so we were both just kind of like "hmm" as we went over them.
Ohara: They had imagination as photos, but to be honest I felt that they could have had a bit more bang.
Asada: So, he asked me if I wouldn't mind going back out to shoot one more time.
Ohara: He was really confident when he came back with the new batch (laughs).
What did you keep in mind while you were shooting?
Asada: I always loved the road back home from school. Going home was the best part, right? (laughs) So, I focused on the after school side of things and had fun with the schoolchildren as I shot my photos. It's hard to take shots of children these days (because of portrait rights and so on), but the kids were having fun and really wanted to be in the photos, so I was actually thankful they were around. That was also something I wanted to express in the images.
Incidentally, each installment of "School Road" also features text written by the photographers. Was this something you planned to include from the start?
Ohara: The text is the glue that holds everything together. Thanks to it we are able to get a glimpse at what lies outside the frame as well. We can perceive the surrounding environment and not just what is captured in the images. That's why we used the text for the introduction and not the postscript. The first thing I want everyone to do is read the text.
I'm sure not every photographer likes to write. (To Asada) Did you have any trouble coming up with something to say?
Asada: I wrote mine under with a little direction from Ohara along the way (laughs). There was an aspect of truth and fiction to my photos, so I felt that the text should convey that as well. I didn't think I was paying particular attention to (the children's) backpacks while I was shooting, but once I started writing I noticed that I actually had.
Ohara: I really like Asada's text, actually. I like it that you can't tell if it's fiction or nonfiction. It's fun to read, and makes me happy.
Asada: I'd like to see the exhibition (held in March at Nakameguro happa in Tokyo) go on the road to other parts of the country.
Ohara: I'd really like that, too. Or we could just do something where we show photos only in the prefecture where they were taken. It'd also be great to do something at school libraries or in the neighborhoods around the school roads. I'd love to do this project as something on an entirely different level from just putting out collections for sale.
Seeing all of this makes me think more people should try walking their old routes to school.
Ohara: With cities there's a tendency to only look towards the future. When you're living at a frenetic pace focusing only on what's in front of you, your field of vision tends to grow more narrow.
Asada: Even though looking at your own footprints or starting point should give you an idea of where you're going. For me, walking my old road to school was more fun than watching a movie or even going to Disneyland (laughs).
The first wave of releases encompasses 13 volumes by 13 photographers. Aside from Masashi Asada, the lineup of participating artists includes Takashi Kumagai, Tomoko Sasaki, Yoshihito Sasaguchi, Risaku Suzuki, Saori Tao, Yuji Takeuchi, Masako Nakagawa, Hirohisa Nakano, Osamu Matsuo, Ittetsu Matsuoka, Osamu Yokoyo, Shinichi Watanabe.
"School Road" photo collection series, ￥1,500 each