You may not know Isamu Sawa, but it’s likely you’ve seen his work. Sawa is one of Australia’s most in-demand commercial photographers – specialising in highly technical campaigns for major car brands (see his ‘making of’), along with shooting high-profile portraits including Jean Paul Gaultier, Geoffrey Rush and Kevin Rudd. His first solo exhibition, Without Water, is a long way from prime ministers and polished cars on rooftops.
Broadsheet: What is the concept behind Without Water?
Isamu Sawa: Without Water is a series of macro images that preserves brief moments in the slow decomposition and death of profound beauty.
The dried and wilting flowers photographed were all ‘rescued’ from my wife Basia Puchalski’s studio. She’s a bridal florist.
I have walked through my wife's studio every day (set up in our garage at home) for almost the past 10 years and in that time I have never thought about photographing beautiful fresh flowers because I always thought that the subject matter was very clichéd, until I discovered the dried-up ones. I found them intriguing; almost alien and beautiful in its own unique way.
BS: What is a ‘macro’ image?
IS: A macro image is extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects, for which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than its life-size image.
BS: What did you hope to capture in your series?
IS: I wanted the large-scale images to invite the viewer to look at these discarded flowers again; to freshly examine their exquisite texture and declining corporal existence; and to reflect on beauty, death and renewal. Without Water is a chance to ponder and celebrate the shared cycle of human and botanical life.
BS: What was challenging, interesting or unexpected about the process?
IS: Depth-of-field, which is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image, is extremely small when focusing on close objects.
I wanted to ensure maximum sharpness is retained throughout the whole image; which was almost technically impossible back in the analogue film era. Utilising a digital ‘focus stacking’ technique, I captured multiple macro images with sequential focus points and combined them within specialised software in order to artificially maximise the depth of field of my subjects.
BS: Your past mentor John Gollings is formally opening the show. What influence has he had on you as a photographer?
IS: John is one of Australia’s most renowned architectural photographers. He hired me as his full-time assistant over 20 years ago. It’s ironic that my first solo show is of still-life subjects. I hated still-life photography at uni and I nearly failed the subject. Working with John we were often shooting products in the studio and he taught me all about lighting and the technical challenges involved in capturing inanimate objects. Eventually I became really good at it to a point where I now specialise in the genre.
BS: Why do you think, over history, so many photographers and artists have been drawn to flowers as a subject?
IS: Flowers are quite symbolic and have a lot of meaning in Western culture. I think artists are drawn to their delicate natural forms and beautiful colours; which are often quite feminine.
BS: What are you working on next?
IS: Having a break and spending time with my wife Basia and nine-month-old daughter, Hannah Rose.
Isamu's Without Water launches at 9 Glasshouse Road, Collingwood on Thursday August 20 at 6pm. The exhibition runs from August 21 to 29, open Mon to Sat 10am–5pm. By appointment only from August 31 to September 5.