Swiss-Japanese photographer David Favrod draws his inspiration from his bi-cultural upbringing as well as from his dreams and the stories he reads. In his work, he explores the notion of identity and belonging. In this interview, he talks more about his photographic approach and the series Gaijin for which he was awarded the Aperture Portfolio Prize 2010.
Gesche Würfel: The majority of your photographic series explore the notion of identity. How does photography help you explore and communicate identity issues?
David Favrod: I’m 29, but I still have many parts of myself to be illuminated. There is still misunderstanding. For this research (my photographic series), I am trying to reduce them. I’m making some efforts on my way. I try to understand my motivations, what bothers me or on the contrary makes me dream. So I ask you this question: What do we really know of ourselves? I usually find it hard to speak about myself. I always stumble upon the paradoxes of who am I. The notion of identity occurred to me when Japan refused to give me dual citizenship. It is from this feeling of rejection and also from a desire to prove that I am as Japanese as Swiss that this work Gaijin was created. I think that photography came to me naturally. It allows me to shape my own reality.
GW: Where do you draw your inspiration for your work from? How does your bi-cultural upbringing influence the subject matter of your work?
DF: The majority of my inspiration comes from around and within me. My bi-cultural education is the essence of my inspiration.
GW: Please tell us more about the series Gaijin. What is the project about? What made you create it? Please talk a bit more about the visual language that you have chosen.
DF: Gaijin is a project that I began in 2009. I started it as my bachelor degree’s project at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne and afterward extended the series. This first approach has brought together various topics that are important to me, for example the war stories of my grandparents, the correlation between Switzerland and Japan, the family archives, the stories that my mother told me when I was little, or the mountains. Gaijin is a fictional recital, a tool for my quest for identity, where auto-portraits imply an intimate and solitary relationship that I have with myself. The mirror image is frozen in a figurative alter ego that serves as an anchor point.
The image of the window with the paper birds is about the woman Sadako who at her home close to Ground Zero when the atom bomb was dropped in Hiroshima in 1945. Years later, she developed leukemia and was hospitalized in 1955 and given a year to live. She died in 1955 aged 12. During a hospital visit Sadako’s best friend folds an origami crane as an old Japanese story says that who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. As Sadako didn’t manage to fold all 1,000 cranes, her friends folded the remaining ones and buried them with her. With this image I want to speak about the war and the atomic bomb but in a more lyrical way.
After Gaijin, in 2010, I produced the work Omoide Poroporo, which was published at Kodoji Press. It is a mix of my pictures and archives of and from my family, and now I am producing a series with Yokais as the main subject. Yokais are supernatural creatures that shift shapes and are very common in Japanese folklore. They can look almost like humans, often they have animal features, but they can also have no recognizable features at all.
GW: Where does your interest in constructing fictional stories derive? What are you trying to achieve? And what responses are you trying to evoke from the viewer?
DF: My interest in the construction of fictional stories comes from my dreams and my readings. A natural need. A need to escape. I do not think I can provide answers to the audience. My work is a proposal, an invitation.
GW: What are your artistic concerns and how do they translate into your work? My artistic concerns?
DF: I do not think that there are artistic concerns, but rather a need. The Gaijin project came to me naturally.