Shimpei Takeda is an artist from Brooklyn, NY working primarily with analog photographic techniques. His body of work consists of extreme closeup macro shots of water, dust and crystallized rock. He also works without the use of a camera, creating photograms with materials like salt and water, through the interaction of photo-sensitive material and light. This cameraless process results in abstract surreal still images. Born in Sukagawa-city, Fukushima-pref, Japan, the recent Nuclear fallout has prompted Shimpei to continue his abstract photography work, this time to record traces of radioactive contamination on photographic materials, cameralessly. Shimpei and I got together at SuperCore, a Japanese dining cafÃ© in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to talk about TRACE.
Photo (above): Keita Sone
eepmon: Great to have you here, Shimpei.
Shimpei: Always nice to chat with you Eric!
eepmon: Ok, just so that our readers know, please tell me about TRACE.
Shimpei: As the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster occurred close to where my family resides, within 40 miles, I have been working on an on-going project, “Trace – cameraless records of radioactive contamination”. Radiation in the contaminated soil exposes photographic materials as direct and physical documentation of the disaster.
eepmon: What is your process? How does it work?
Shimpei: Basically, silver halide gets darkened by light, as a chemical reaction. That’s how the information is captured on light sensitive materials, such as films and enlarging papers. Both radiation and visible light are the electromagnetic radiation. They just travel in different wavelengths.
eepmon: TRACE started as a Kickstarter project. You went to Japan to collect 8×10 inch soil samples around Fukushima prefecture where the nuclear fall out had occurred.
Photo: Keisuke Hiei
Shimpei: Yes. It was quite a project because I had no idea what the soil samples would yield. I don’t know what will come out of it.
eepmon: But it is that isn’t it? The fact that WE just don’t know. We can’t see the radiation. I think that is what makes TRACE conceptually valid and in some sense does an amazing yet eerily visual representation of it.
Shimpei: While I was developing the TRACE project last year, Shing02 and I were discussing and wondering how they would actually turn out. We originally thought it would be less sharp… and therefore more abstract, less focus. We didn’t think that it would be that sharp!
eepmon: It’s a lot of work!
Shimpei: … It makes me puke to just to think about it… collecting so much soil!
eepmon: Now jump back to today, you recently did a collaboration with Aya Nishina and Ryuichi Sakamoto at the Stone in Manhattan.
Shimpei: Yes it is an Experimental Music venue.
eepmon: It must have been quite something to have this opportunity to collaborate with him. How did this come about?
Shimpei: It all started with my friend Aya. We have been in previous discussions to collaborate on a visual/sound piece. The Stone hosted a week of Sakamoto-san’s curating improvisational performances. Aya was chosen for one of the artists, then she asked me to join as video projection. It was a special performance.
It also turned out to be a good opportunity to share the TRACE project with Sakamoto-san. He has been active in environmental issues and anti-war efforts over the years, so certainly he was interested in this.
Next month in August I am planning to go to Japan again, to collect more soil to create the mural-size TRACE. They are going to be 4×8 feet! That’s 1 to 2.5 meters.
eepmon: Are these going to be projected or actual TRACE work?
Shimpei: Yea it’s going to be TRACE itself and are thinking about the best way to present it. I’m hoping that I can get as much support as I can when I am there in Japan. Sakamoto-san is helping the production for exhibiting. A lot of things coming up.
eepmon: So your time in Japan this coming August. TRACE part 2? Collecting bigger soil samples and…
Shimpei: Eric…4 feet by 8 feet is 50 times bigger than 8×10 inches. Just imagine how many huge bags I have to fill with contaminated soil! It’s not going to be easy.
eepmon: How are you going to do this?
Shimpei: I want everything to be seamless. I will probably get a large bag, get the same amount of contaminated soil. As much as I want to go to Japan next month… sometimes I have second guesses because there isn’t much time! Not only that, I need to find out where I can put this stuff. I could put it in my grandpa’s garage…
eepmon: Here is a question. This poses a lot of technical challenges because of the scale. Is there any way to work at a 10% level and then photographically enlarge it? What do you feel about that?
Shimpei: I actually enlarged an 8×10 negative to 40×50 and I just didn’t like it… the idea of enlarging… As a physical documentation of the nuclear disaster, it should be 1:1 real size. It’s the conceptual thing. Though it will make my life much harder! haha
eepmon: Totally for sure.
Shimpei: Sakamoto-san encouraged me and it’s a big deal for me. I have do it as humanly as possible! I think 4×8 feet is still a manageable size.
eepmon: You have to expose it onto photo material of that size. Can you find photo material that’s 4×8 feet?
Shimpei: I’m using 5 rolls of 100 foot photo papers with a 42 inch width, which creates 60 of 4×8 feet TRACE.
eepmon: That means because this is sensitive to light you have to unroll this in the dark.
Shimpei: Enlarging paper I can work in safe light. Much easier than film. With film I have to do it in complete darkness wearing my infrared goggles. That was very uncomfortable… especially in the winter because my body was warmer than room temperature, it kept fogging my goggles… it was one of the worst times of my life…
eepmon: This was in February…
Shimpei: Yea… that really was not fun at all so I’m excited that I can work with photo paper working under the safe light you know? That was just awful.
eepmon: So you have an online store? Can you tell me about that?
Shimpei:It is a publishing company / online store. It’s still in the progress to shape the company, but at least right now It’s basically TRACE’s fundraising store.
eepmon: I got one!
Shimpei: Yea! I already made these prints so I felt it was fitting to continue to fund raise and sell these prints. So Aya encouraged me to come up with the idea of creating the online store. The store is called SHIKA.
eepmon: What does SHIKA mean?
Shimpei: Shika represents poem, song? A sort of haiku of poet writing.
eepmon: hmm I’m going to tackle this tofu right here… Ok… so you have to start promoting the store and your work in the store too.
Shimpei: So now I’m writing my TRACE page of the site and a write up of the proposal. So Sakamoto-san agreed to drop his name as a production support which is so great. This will be connected to the SHIKA store and 100% of the funds will go towards the TRACE project.
eepmon: When will this be live?
Shimpei: As soon as I finish the writing and the website which I’ll need your help on! Hopefully this week.
eepmon: Happy to help! Well Shimpei, I wish you well on your upcoming project with TRACE. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for you. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Shimpei: Thank you Eric!
*eepmon’s note: On August 8th, 2012, Shimpei Takeda returned to Japan to collect more soil samples for his second iteration of TRACE.