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From architect Kengo Kuma’s recent Ace Hotel Kyoto project to the Chandigarh Capitol Complex in India, Los Angeles-based photographer Yoshihiro Makino, 44, travels the world to capture spaces that we can now only dream of visiting due to pandemic-era restrictions.

The art of spaces: Photographer Yoshihiro Makino photographs a lot of interiors and says Japanese architecture can teach us about the way we use space. | COURTESY OF YOSHIHIRO MAKINO
The art of spaces: Photographer Yoshihiro Makino photographs a lot of interiors and says Japanese architecture can teach us about the way we use space. | COURTESY OF YOSHIHIRO MAKINO

1. What’s your earliest memory? Watching 8-mm projection images against the fusuma (sliding door) wall in my home with my family. My grandfather was an amateur photographer, and I remember watching vacation photos and the clicking projector.

2. How did you get interested in photography? I used to take snaps of Tokyo’s street and club scenes with disposable cameras, but one early morning I realized that a sunrise is more beautiful than a sunset on my way home. I asked my grandfather for a camera that can capture the sunlight in the morning fog and inherited his Minolta 35-mm set.

3. Were you inspired by anyone in particular? I collected many mid-century French films when I was young and I’m still influenced by the images of (filmmaker) Jean-Luc Godard.

4. What are some of the perks of being a photographer? It’s a privilege to be able to witness the key moments of a special event, or visit places with limited access, but it always comes with a responsibility to capture things in their best light.

5. What made you move to Los Angeles? When I worked in Tokyo, I felt that foreign photographers were allowed much more freedom in their expression. It was as if the Japanese photographers were held to a stricter standard.

6. How does LA compare to Tokyo? Los Angeles is definitely more relaxed in terms of the lifestyle, but work is not. I find people here are much more driven due to the competition in the creative industry.

7. Is there a common theme to your work? I’m drawn to the cultural co-influences in design between Japan and other countries these days. For example, Japanese culture influenced early-20th-century architects like Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, which led me to do a project on Antonin Raymond, who spent most of his life in Japan.

8. What’s the difference in your approach to shooting portraits over architecture? The definition of a beautiful outcome is quite different. In portraits, the beauty comes when their most natural self is depicted. And I prefer to capture someone in their domain whether it’s their home or studio.

9. What are your favorite buildings in Tokyo and LA? In Tokyo, it’s the Hotel Okura by Yoshiro Taniguchi. Despite the partial demolition, it’s a great example of classical Japanese aesthetic and mid-century modernism coming together. For Los Angeles, it’s Ray Kappe’s house in Santa Monica. I haven’t had the chance to visit it, but it’s my dream home.

10. From a photographer’s perspective, what makes Japanese architecture unique? The traditional features used to divide spaces like shoji paper walls or fusuma say a lot about our culture and lifestyle. While it lacks privacy, it transmits warmth and lightness. Engawa verandas are another feature blending the exterior and the interior.

11. What are some of the key concepts you focus on when photographing a space? My responsibility is to read the essence of a space, but it’s important to have the discipline to avoid exaggerating a particular feature — no matter how photogenic something might be. I want to convey the light and emotion of being in the space. It’s not a traditional approach, but I started as a fashion and documentary photographer so I still carry that habit of working in momentums.

12. What motivated you to write your book, “The Open Hand”? Chandigarh is an Indian city planned by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret — and they designed everything, from the streets to the buildings to the furniture. I wanted to share its tucked-away buildings, like Panjab University, or the original furniture used by the locals.

13. Modern Japanese architecture was also influenced by Le Corbusier. Which site do you think best displays this? Kunio Maekawa built Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno in 1961 as an homage to Le Corbusier’s legacy. It’s located next to Le Corbusier’s only structure in East Asia, The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.

14. Before the pandemic, how often did you travel? Usually five to seven times per year. In the past five years, I visited Peru, India, Bolivia, China, Mexico, Canada, Europe as well as different regions of Japan.

15. What was your favorite place? Iceland, where I did landscape shots as well as the Silica Hotel, and India. Iceland is the only place I can appreciate the constant drizzles as the moss looks best amid the light rain during a softly lit cloudy day.

16. How do you plan your itineraries? I often find subjects or locations first then try to create jobs around that. Or, I’ll get commissioned to travel to an unexpected destination, which is always interesting.

17. Window seat or aisle seat? Window seat when it’s an overnight flight, to see the sunrise.

18. What have you been doing while in lockdown? I fixed my house and learned new things like yoga and motion filmmaking. I’ve been a freelancer my entire life, so the lockdown didn’t bother me much.

19. What would be your ideal quarantine setup? I would have my laptop, Master & Dynamic earphones and a swimsuit while staying at the Silica Hotel.

20. Do you think the pandemic will influence architectural preferences? Even after the pandemic, remote working will call for blurred boundaries between exteriors and interiors. The partitions between rooms will disappear for better flexibility. And accessory dwelling units are already trending in Los Angeles as people try to make the most of their home and space.

 

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