Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Plus One is Three

The Snappp Gang (Tom, Ryan, Ariko, & the author)

This past March, my partner, Ariko Inaoka, and I had the honor of returning to Taiwan for a major exhibition of our work. It was held on the top floor of the Shin-kong Mitsukoshi department store in Downtown Taipei, near the famously tall 101 Building. We were the special guests in what might be the largest exhibition in Taiwan annually. The curators at Mitsukoshi liked our photography, as well as our concept, enigmatically coined by Ariko as "One Plus One Is Three." It was left up to me to describe what exactly that meant:

"Reality is not always what we believe it to be. Most of us tend to think that the world can be understood logically through science and mathematics, and it is true that these disciplines have done their part in civilizing man. However, it’s just as true that even the simplest questions don’t always add up properly. Life is a mystery, now and forever, for no matter how much planning we’ve put into them, our present circumstances are as much a result of accidents as they are choices. Between free will and serendipity is some mysterious element, an invisible hand, guiding our fate.
       It is in this spirit we wish to present our photography in this collection. The pictures are a consequence of our going out with our cameras, though none of the photos herein came out exactly as intended. They are the total of an illogical sum. One plus one is three."

The invitation itself, however, was no mystery. In 2011, we had collaborated with Snappp-- a photo magazine outfit based in Taiwan-- on an exhibition to highlight our collaboration on a photo book called “Wanderlust.” We’d gotten on very well with Ryan, the chief editor, and Tom, the art director, who have a passion for quality photography (as well as analog cameras), and whose agenda for showcasing emerging talent led us to stay in touch. I am lucky to count among my friends many talented people, whom I later referred to Ryan and Tom. We’ve known them since nearly the founding of their magazine (my work was featured in their second issue) and it’s nice to see how far they’ve come along. It doesn’t hurt either that Ryan and Tom, as well as their editors and volunteers, are immensely likeable. They presented our work to Mituskoshi, who selected us to be their show’s guest artists.

Taipei, especially around the Downtown City Hall area, has a prosperous atmosphere. Amid the towering hotels, office towers and high-end boutiques, is the sound of construction teams expanding Taipei’s skyline. While Japan is suffering a demographic crisis, Taiwan seems like a young country, and I gathered that the Taiwanese are optimistic, rather than moribund, about personal as well as national prospects. They seem to be moving forward, rather than simply moving.

We were notified of developments in January. When things come together, they usually do so quickly. Because I was scheduled to spend most of February in India, within a ten-day period, we put together the show’s concept, selected photographs to be featured, made darkroom C-prints, and scanned them at high-resolution. There were forty prints in all, twenty from each of us, the exhibition prints produced by Epson and framed by Mitsukoshi (who also sponsored our flights between Taiwan and Japan). A catalog was published and some of our photos were printed on notebook covers, film rolls, and handbags.

For a photographer, it is exhilarating to see your work on the wall. Besides publishing in books or magazines, this is the occupational point of our endeavor. What is so gratifying is knowing that others believe in your vision. It’s not just the financial investment, but the man-hours, legwork, and various considerations that make such an event possible.

One half of our space

On the day of the opening, I donned a rare necktie and put a boutonniere in my suit’s lapel. Ariko and I made a welcoming speech for the press, sponsors, and special guests. There were at least a dozen journalists and a TV crew. Along with the Taiwan CEOs of Mitsukoshi, Pentax, and Epson, we cut the tape with large scissors, officially opening the exhibition. Later on, we did a seminar (on the conception and execution of long-term photo projects).

The seminar with our interpreter and Ryan

Ryan and Tom are gracious hosts. We dined often and thoroughly, and were often sharing drinks. In our prior visit, our big night was karaoke, but this time out we went bowling. I don’t suppose it’s necessary to befriend your collaborators, but it’s all the more worthwhile when camaraderie does indeed develop.

Knocking down literal pins is not a natural talent

Daily feasting

Plenty of toasting

Needless to say, such time spent passes all too quickly and within a week we returned to our “normal” lives in Kyoto. That I would have an audience for my work in Taiwan was not something I expected while developing my aesthetic. That my photographs should be celebrated along with my partner's compounds the pleasure. It’s important to appreciate the strange, unexpected course in which life occasionally moves us.


  1. Congrats Sean! Glad to see things are going well

  2. Never thought I'd see you in a suit...