Arata Isozaki: 2019 Pritzker Prize Recipient
Hold on to your space suits!
Have you ever felt the full force of tiny asteroids the size of diamonds ﬂying with full force pelting your face into full shock...somewhere between a stoned death and/or a cryogenic freeze?
In 2003 After ﬂying 15 hours from New York to Tokyo I was all jacked up to have an amazing photography experience shooting some of the most exciting voices in the architectural world?
Aside: A scary fun thought, all of them have been awarded the Pritzker Prize!
Ok back to my nightmare! I have arrived in Japan to photograph Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, SANAA, (Kazuyo Sejima,and Ryue Nishizawa) Shigeru Ban and Arata Isozaki. I was in Tokyo to shoot for my book, “Portraits of the New Architecture”.
What a trip I imagined!!!!!!!!! Portraits of these great faces, and an imaginary escape ala Ian Fleming’s “Thrilling Cities” through the brightest and darkest spots of Tokyo. I wanted to ﬁnd the aforementioned architects best examples of architectural design in Tokyo. Yes I could have traveled the earth claiming their most famous most known works, but making this about one trip one city one moment is truly better for me than following the myth of Ando or Brancusi; walking the land across nations to learn about Architecture or Sculpture.
I wanted immersion.
A funny thing happens to me when I travel for work,there is an electric gene that goes oﬀ and ﬂips me a visual thought about photography. Nothing is oﬀ limits; lying on my back, camera dangling out of taxis, trains, planes and beyond to experience a new perspective.
For those who travel and those who don’t, there is the notion that we need to walk the streets endlessly to discover, ergo to know how a city breathes.
So, I begin racing through the streets to capture Tokyo with whatever my camera will allow.
I arrive at my hotel, a non distinctive place to rest my head.
Before I can breathe a note of joy, I call my ﬁrst subject, SANAA.
“Sorry they are not available”. Hold on, what the &%$#@ eﬃng are you talking about? I ﬂew here just for them a (mini lie) and their schedule has suddenly changed?
Ok so now I hang up and dial one through six.
Looking back it is like being in a cloud of some drug induced confusion. Everyone of the architects changed their schedules at the same time?????.
So I played Sun Tzu in my mind.
I had a plan, I wasn’t going to allow for a mental breakdown to diﬀuse the larger plan.
Jet lag gripped me ...if I change time zones by an hour my body my mind becomes dis- functional by minutes, hours and years.
So after a delightful tasty collection of a sushi, sashimi tasty delight I went to sleep with a new attitude.
I awoke to an everything mattered mantra, every waking moment was a “visual feast”...my wife’s line!
I walked, rode the train, walked and rode the train some more.
At the end of the ﬁrst day, I collected my inner Caesar., ”Veni,Vidi,Vici…”.
I telephoned each of my portrait moments.
“Hey I am here for just you...give me 10 minutes...in and out of your lives...and in my book!
Soulful responses poured out, a thousand apologies!
Everyone gave me the time that is emblematic of Japanese courtesy.
But why I am writing this blog, is because I felt I needed to share one of the more embraceable days as a photographer…photographing (iso), Arata Isozaki.
My last day, my last session made me think about something larger than my mere images.
A photographer’s life is deﬁned by the experience at hand.
I arrived at “Iso’s studio.
Arriving in the Roppongi District of Tokyo was pretty electric. It was a bit like Times Square with a phallic Mori Tower ﬂailing in the center.
But Iso’s studio is calm and discreet.
Warmly greeted, we began our sparring as almost all portrait sessions have a bit of a dance in them. I could write/speak for hours about the dance of a photographer’s session!
We spoke about many things...everything from the perception of light by a Japanese Architect and how that diﬀers from a Western Architect. We playfully critiqued famous architects in general...some great zingers but also so many shares about architects revered. It was an exchange of casual intellectualism.
A short while in, he gets a call, he must speak to a client.
He apologizes, but then hands me a monograph on Herbert Bayer. it is a terriﬁc edition that fortunately or not, I had to read for over an hour. To keep me occupied while I was reading Iso also shared a delicacy from where he was raised. It was some awful barely edible type of sweet potato.
But I survived and he returned and our dance card wasn’t up.
I proceeded to attempt to make a portrait that pushed the boundaries of light and camera. I wanted to explore what color and light could look light in a 10’x12’ office space.
Yes you will have to go to my website to see what I achieved. For me, it was a moment. For photography? It is what it is!
The whole experience lasted about 4 hours. It was much longer than the original 10 minute intended program.
But what separates this moment from the other 5000 portraits, is that Isozaki generously invited me to dinner at a British private club.
We with 2 of his assistants arrived at the club. He pulled me aside and told me that traveling alone can be trying and lonely, so he wanted to share a couple of things.
First: he wanted me to experience an exhibition of Corbusier paintings, drawings and sculpture. It was a mini retrospective. We collected a glass of wine and I listened to him share his thoughts on Corbusier, and the art itself. If you like or even appreciate architecture, you can bet that the time walking through the gallery was simply stunning and amazingly stimulating. The fact that it was a sharing experience is such a rare treat. Needless to say it was great!
Then he topped this generosity oﬀ when we sat down to dinner. We were on about the 20 something ﬂoor...he said, “I didn’t want you to be homesick for New York. I wanted you to have a New York experience in Tokyo in case you were homesick”. So there we were gazing over the city lights as I do in New York City.
Most of you might know that I am older than Methuselah...but it was truly a tender moment.
After a great meal, and more conversation we said our goodbyes. His assistants took me to some club which was for anyone younger than I was.
After awaking the next day I thought how I have traveled more than half the world, yet every once in awhile a true spirit makes one day out of a million a bit of heaven.