Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Conversation with Hidemi Takagi

Hidemi Takagi is one of the brightest and colorful personalities that I know and her work is a reflection of her optimism. Her Blender project takes a closer look at the products available in different ethnic neighborhoods across New York City.

Nigeria from "blender" © Hidemi Takagi
Product: Biscuits, Product of Nigeria
Store: the African Market, 494 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Neighborhood: Bed Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (C/S train Franklin Ave stop)
Ethnic Group in Bed Stuyvesant,: African, Caribbean and African American

"Nowhere is there such an intersection of cultures as in New York City. As an immigrant who has lived in New York for over 10 years, traveling among the five boroughs using public transportation is still fascinating and exciting; being in this city can feel like visiting another country. People celebrate the customs and holidays of their country by wearing folk costumes on the street. Awnings with messages in entirely unfamiliar alphabets are completely common. Many of them advertise goods catering to specific nationalities and cultures, especially foods that were brought here or requested by immigrants living in neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Jackson Heights, or Flushing. The packaging of these products is a form of art that tells stories and helps remind people that their culture is alive. In this way, immigrants in New York City can prevent the fading of identification with their native culture.

Poland from "blender" © Hidemi Takagi
Product: Baby Food/ juice, Product of Poland
Store: Jantar Deli: 66-66 Fresh Pond Rd Ridgewood NY
Neighborhood: Ridgewood, Queens (M train Fresh pond Rd stop)
Ethnic Group in Ridgewood: Romanian, People from Former Yugoslavia, Polish, Latino and German (former)

Blender is my ongoing project in which I investigate the diverse immigrant cultures in New York City. The project includes photos of the packaging of food products from various neighborhoods with a large immigrant influence accompanied by texts (short stories as well as notes on the history, culture, and trivia relating to immigrant-heavy areas), maps, and a website. I'm showing photos and presenting short texts on the New York City neighborhoods where the photographed food products can be found.The look of these food packages often has an old-fashioned feel: bright, saturated colors and outmoded designs that are rare in both Japan, where I'm from, and America, where I now live. Through this project I hope to show that art can transcend time and language even through the simplest imagery found on a candy wrapper. Blender is a lens into New York's immigrant communities and cultures."

Italy from "blender" © Hidemi Takagi
Product: Chamomile Tea, Product of Italy
Store: Mount Carmel Gourmet Food @ The Arthur Avenue Retail Market: 2344 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
Neighborhood: Belmont, Bronx (4/D train to Fordham Road then #12 bus heading east OR 2/5 train to Pelham Parkway then #12 bus heading west)
Ethnic Group in Belmont: Italian American, Albanian and Mexican

Russia from "blender" © Hidemi Takagi
Product: Milk Chocolate bar, Product of Russia
Store: Gourmet Russian Market: 1911 Ave M, Brooklyn, NY
Neighborhood: Midwood, Brooklyn(Q train Avenue M stop)
Ethnic Group in Midwood: People from the Soviet Union (the largest group), Chinese, Eastern European, Estonian, Haitian, Israeli, Pakistani, Guyanese, Jamaican, Irish, Italian, Iranian, Greek, Korean, Turkish, Polish, Latvian; Lithuanian, Mexican, South American, Syrian, and Indian

Germany from "blender" © Hidemi Takagi
Product: Rusks Product of Germany
Store: Schaller & Weber: 1654 Second Avenue New York, NY
Neighborhood: Yorkville, NY (4/5/6 Train 86th st)
Ethnic Group in Yorkville, Manhattan: Former Czech,Irish, Hungarian, German, Polish and Slovak

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Hidemi Takagi: I was born in Kyoto, Japan. I moved to the United States in 1997. I am currently living in Brooklyn with my husband and our one year old daughter.

NP: How did you discover photography?

HT: After high school, I moved to Osaka to attend the Fashion Institute but dropped out. At the time I didn't know what I wanted to do. I held several jobs. I worked a vintage clothing store, the Think Tank Company , and then by accident I got a job as a manager of a commercial photo studio. My job encompassed all aspects of the studio. I was the studio assistant, stylist (fashion and prop), and occasionally the model for those clients with smaller budgets (laugh). My boss taught me a great deal about photography. That was the beginning of my photography career.

I liked photography but didn't know much about it. I had never thought about becoming a photographer or an artist. In general, the Japanese don't think of an artistic career as something serious or realistic.

After I moved to NY, I tried to take basic photography classes at ICP (International Center of Photography). There was only one class available, "a roll a day" with Susan Kleckner. Susan was great and I ended up loving the class. I liked the fact that she was not only a photographer but also a film/video maker and a performance artist. I was completely inspired by her. I took another class with Susan but otherwise have not had any photo school experience. At the same time, I was working for Mikael Levin (he had solo exhibition "War Story" at ICP in 1997). He had a studio near my apt. and I worked in his darkroom. One day he told me to bring my work. He picked out twenty pictures and told me to send them to "White Columns". So I did. Within a month, I received a call for a group exhibition there. That was my first exhibition in NY.

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

HT: In nature- trees, oceans, blue skies, colorful things and 50's culture. Everything that surrounds me.

NP: How did this project come about?

HT: Since coming to New York, I have used public transportation to travel to different neighborhoods. For some reason, I have never been scared. Sometimes, I just take a bus and start looking at the changing scenery, not knowing where the bus is going to take me. I started to discover immigrant-heavy areas this way. At local markets, I saw many unfamiliar imports from various countries. Some of the packaging is cute, fun, and occasionally old-fashioned. I started collecting and reading the packages. I researched the country of origin to find interesting things about each place. I'm very interested in the "blending" of cultures here in New York. People from every single country in the world meet here. My family is an example- my husband is from Haiti and I am from Japan. Now we have a daughter who is a real "blender" baby.

NP: What's next?

HT: I just started a project about "old signs" in New York. There isn't a title for the project yet. I've been in New York for eleven years. In the beginning, I was amazed that New York was the New York that I saw in photography books or movies when I was in Japan. I love what remains of old fashioned stores such as delis. They are colorful, and sometimes still have their old neon signs. Within the last couple of years, New York City has started to develop quickly with many older building being torn down to make way for modern, more boring architecture. One day when I was sitting outside a bakery in my neighborhood, I realized the deli across the street had changed their sign. It became ugly. I have decided to record these signs before they disappear.

Thank you Hidemi! Check out new additions to Blender on Hidemi's flickr page.


nina corvallo said...

love your work and world view!

Anonymous said...

Ridgewood is a great neighborhood to find ethnic food. Also German (former) is not completely true. There are still about 10% German in the neighborhood with third and fourth generation Germans and some more recent immigrants. There are German stores with German products (Karl Ehmer's , Morscher Pork Store and others). Also the Asian population is around 9%. The Polish are the biggest new group coming into the neighborhood. The neighborhood is 43% Hispanic.

Anonymous said...

hidemi, i love your work, very inspiring. She mentioned German folks on flickr.

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