【Column】“Snow” and Photography / Ryo Ohwada

2024.01.26 BLOG

In a sub-zero blizzard, with a strong wind blowing, I focus on the vague silhouettes of trees on the LCD screen and release the shutter. When finished, I put the GR back in the breast pocket of my snow jacket. Visiting the snowy mountains is one of my winter hobbies. If you were to associate it with my profession as a photographer, you'd think it's for the sake of taking pictures, but I don't necessarily have that intention. Just trekking and skiing through the snowy mountain scenery is enough for me. Consequently, I always carry a camera with me for I have the same urge to take pictures as I do when I walk the streets.

Thinking about it, my childhood memories often involve snowy landscapes. I remember throwing snowballs at each other in preschool, or sliding down the stairs of a nearby apartment building on a sled and falling. Or days spent in the snowy mountains with friends.

More recently, I remember sweating as I taught my daughters how to turn a snowplow, and holding hands as we waited for our visibility to return to normal in a whiteout. Snowy landscapes set the stage for many of my memories.

Perhaps it is this accumulation of memories that makes me see snowy landscapes as very rich, deep, and three-dimensional. In contrast to the oddly fake feeling I get when I look at the glittering skyscrapers of Tokyo in the middle of summer, I find them realistic and comforting. Not only when I see them with my own eyes, but also in creative works that are set in snowy landscapes, such as the movie “The Revenant” and the novel “Making Fire” by Jack London.

On second thought, with this passion for snow, I could probably sublimate it into photographic works, but strangely, that never happens. I've been photographing snowy landscapes for decades, and I've taken countless photographs, but they just don't seem to click. It's the same as taking snapshots on the street in the sense that I take them intuitively on the spot, but I have no particular intention or goal when it comes to photographing snow. I just shoot what I want to shoot. I guess I take pictures because I fall in love with the landscape in front of me.

I have become more and more aware of this over the past few years, and as I look back over the images, I somehow manage to put them together and present them in essay opportunities like this one.

However, my approach to photographing snow has not changed. When I take pictures, whether of snowy landscapes, streets, or people, I follow my instincts of the moment and let my immediate reactions take over at the moment of taking the picture. All I do is take pictures of snow because I fall in love with the landscape.

I usually work on different subjects in parallel on a daily basis, but snow is the only one that has not changed at all from its unorganized state. I am not pessimistic about it, and I keep going to the snowy mountains, thinking that eventually a flash of inspiration will come to me and I will be able to bring them together, so I keep going to Yuzawa, Hakuba, or Urabandai, maybe next week.

Ryo Ohwada
Born 1978 in Sendai, Japan. Graduated from Tokyo Polytechnic University, Department of Photography, and completed the Graduate Course in Media Art at the same university. In 2005, he was selected as one of the "ReGeneration.50 Photographers of Tomorrow" by the Kunstmuseum Elysee, Switzerland. In 2011, he received the New Photographer Award from the Photographic Society of Japan. He is the author of "prism" (2007, Seigensha), "Gohyaku rakan (Five Hundred Arhats)" (2020, Ten'onzan Gohyaku Rakanji Temple), "Journal during COVID-19 State of Emergency" (2021, kesa publishing), "Shashin seisakusha no tame no shashingijutsu no kiso to jissen (The Basics and Practice of Photography Technology for Photographers)" (2022, Impress), and with poet Chris Mozdel, "Behind the Mask" (2023/Slogan), etc. Associate Professor at the Faculty of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University.

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