The past two girlfriends that I had dated were both photographers. One was named Madi, who you probably already know from My Little Dead Dick, and the other was named Mari, who you probably don’t know. Anyways, both in my mind are equally talented. Once I accidentally called Mari “Madi” by mistake, and I paid for it dearly.
I originally began writing this interview three days after the quake, but soon after put it on hold to do my 7 Days diary, where I ended up recycling some of the same events and anecdotes because it was all happening at the same time. That’s why there are parts in both pieces, which are a little repetitive, so I apologize for that.
The earth quaked.
And like most people in Tokyo, I escape unscathed. After lots of walking since all the trains had stopped, I eventually make it home safely. My roommate is on the computer, and he makes a comment about how he has been getting tons of emails from people, especially his ex-girlfriends. “Earthquakes bring ex-girlfriends,” he says slightly joking (even though it was a joke, I guess that it was kind of true… because mine came over to stay the following night because she didn’t want to be alone).
After trying to have sex and getting rejected all night, I wake up with her next to me. It is a beautiful day, so I decide for my own sake as well as my ex’s, to get out of the house for some fresh air and do an interview to keep us both busy.
Taking a walk does us both good, but as soon as we sit down at the local family restaurant, we are back in a funk. After we finish eating, we try to snap out of it and I take out my recorder from my pocket, push record, and place it down next to the empty coffee cup of my ex – known to everyone else as Mari Kojima- while secretly thinking the whole time, “What does art matter at a time like this?”
For people who don’t know about my ex, her name is Mari and her photographs are beautiful. She photographs her life, nature, and tidbits of the city, blending them so well together, that the chaos and randomness of them all seem to make sense. Since she is young and often tends to photograph herself to the point of self-obsession, it is unavoidable to think of the similarity between her and the famed 90s photographer Hiromix, but there are some slight differences because Hiromix’s early work seems more concerned with documenting the good life – the trendy fashion and lifestyle she was experiencing at the time- while Mari’s interests tend to wander off to things, which someone wouldn’t normally notice or even consider beautiful until after they have finally seen it presented on her blog. I guess the next logical thing in your head is to wonder if she is an up-and-coming photographer or not? I can’t answer that for the fact that she doesn’t really promote herself, but I can honestly say that she has been in my top 10 list of photographers in Japan for the past two years.
I try to start the interview professionally, so I ask her about her childhood. She begins telling me all kinds of random stories, but they just bore me because I have heard them all before, and I already know that they are useless for this article because her photos don’t stem from her early days – they started after we first met.
From 2001 to 2008, Mari lived in America. In her first interview for Transcript Magazine, she said:
“I had such a shitty time in NYC, I got sucked into many stupid things and superficial culture, I was engaged but the relationship ended up a total disaster. Also I lost something really important, and at the same time both of my parents in Japan got cancer. When I moved back to Japan, I felt really weak, dumb and mentally dead. I had no money and no plan… Then I met this first generation Internet-fame kind of photographer who just moved to Tokyo as well. I was never into photography, but I knew about this amazing photo project that he did with his ex-girlfriend. We somehow clicked and started dating. I thought he would be a little hipster prick or something, but he wasn’t.”
After we started dating, Mari borrowed one of my cameras, and for the first few months took mediocre pictures, which looked annoyingly similar to mine. I remember going to the park one day, at the entrance under a big tree there were three high school boys eating cup ramen. I got a flash in my head telling me that I had to go up there and take their picture, but Mari jumped in front and asked them for their photograph first. I stood behind her pissed because not only did I lose another great moment and picture to her for the third time that day, I was finally sick of her copying my subject matter. But after she got her film back from the lab and I saw the two pictures that she took of the high school boys, my anger disappeared. Even though it was the same subject matter, she captured it differently than I would have, and more importantly, I realized that her photos would still be better than if I had taken them myself. This was her real beginning. Quickly her style developed, her subject matter skewed from mine, she got a new camera, and she finally became a legitimate, and threatening, competitor in my mind.
Since then, every time I look at her photographs, it is hard for me to understand her timing – what I mean by timing is the moment when she decides to push the shutter button corresponding to what is happening or developing in front of her.
“When you are making a puzzle,” she says at the restaurant in response to my question about this, “you have to put all the pieces together, and then you complete it. When you look at something, there is that moment too. You put that last piece in to complete it. Maybe it’s color, or feeling, or real things…. I think I make a completed picture in my head, and then take the picture right before it happens.”
I think most people including me would normally take the shot a second or two after her, which explains why Mari’s photos are unique. Another thing that baffles me at times is the haphazard way she decides to frame things.
“I don’t think when I take a photo,” she says sounding like a bad Lomo ad, “I take it, and then it’s digested.”
That haphazardness gives her photos – even the calm ones- a kind of frantic energy, which is a lot like her manic personality. When Mari is around people, especially when she is introduced to strangers, she is a like a puppy overly excited to the point where it is embarrassing. When she is in the room, she controls it – actually she doesn’t really control it because she just spurts out whatever is going on in her mind (which is racing at incredible speeds) – but she definitely takes over the party even when she is not trying to do so. There is so much nervous energy emitting from her that it’s hard to focus on anything or anyone else when you are with her because a lot of what she says is not connected to the conversation that is going on – she just jumps to something completely different, other times she blurts about sex or some crude body part. Once she gave a speech at Pecha Kucha Night (http://www.pecha-kucha.org/presentations/44) about her photography, which is now notorious and probably the funniest/most interesting one ever done in the event’s history. On stage, she was so nervous that she could no longer read from her notes, so she just did her speech freestyle instead, which was when all hell broke loose and her speech wandered in and out about her photography as well as about the state of her vagina.
Although Mari hasn’t been diagnosed by a doctor yet, I can safely say that she has a severe case of ADD, which I guess explains her technique and style, but actually when I look at her photos- even the most vulgar ones- they strangely leave me feeling calm as well especially the ones taken outside of the city.
“Where is your ideal place to shoot?” I ask her.
“My hometown or the beach,” she replies, “because I am so used to them. I know how they work – time-wise like spring, summer, fall, winter; I know when they are most beautiful. For example, when I was little, I would wake up on Sunday morning during spring – maybe it was May or April- and the light was spreading out; and all the leaves were shiny with dew, reflecting the light… it was around 8am… this timing was so fucking beautiful… I know this time…. Also the time when the beach gets calm… I know how it works because I grew up with it. I can pull the best moment from nature and people that I am close to like my family. I know the moment before they are mad or when they smile.”
I have been to Mari’s hometown and have also met her family who are some of the kindest and most supportive people that I have ever met. Her dad who recently had stomach cancer, was super skinny and frail while her mom, in contrast, was rather plump. While sitting at their dining room table waiting to be served breakfast every morning, I couldn’t help but worry whether or not Mari would look like her mom in 20 years…
This is when I stopped writing the article in order to do my diary. Now that my diary is finished, and I am coming back to this interview, I find it hard to continue. Actually I had already written the ending in advance, but the climax I was planning on using about Mari’s answer to the question, “What does art matter at a time like this?” was already used in my diary, so now I am stuck. I’ve actually been sitting here for the past three days and haven’t written a thing.
Although last night when I was walking to the station to meet Mari, I remembered that Madi, my girlfriend before Mari, and I experienced a major earthquake as well in China in 2009. We broke up that day actually. I was in the basement of a building taking out some business clients to buy bootlegs DVDs when Madi called me crying and hysterical that the building that she was in was shaking (she worked on the 11th floor), and that she wanted to know if we were going to stay together or not before she died since our relationship was already crumbling. Since the building I was in wasn’t shaking at all, I thought it was all in her mind…Unfortunately I was wrong, and was a dick to her then, and when things settled down later that night, we broke up anyways.
What does this have to do with Mari Kojima? Nothing really…
But there was an earthquake.
After the interview, we pay our bill then walk to my house to see what’s up on the news. Mari goes online and disappears into the abyss of disaster images while I begin to write this piece. After an hour, I stand up to stretch and take a break. I walk over to my living room where she is asleep with the news on, streaming live on her computer. She wakes up, apologizes for falling asleep, and I proudly tell her I have finished the introduction to our interview, and have the title already thought up.
“What is it?” she asks groggily.
“It’s called ‘Earthquakes and Ex-Girlfriends,” I boast.
She erupts like a volcano and begins yelling at me for being so inconsiderate. And we then we begin fighting like always…
Mari’s Website: http://www.marikojima.com/