By Yoshi Kametani
Born in New York in 1980, Yoshi Kametani went to Edinburgh to visit a girl he met while traveling in Asia. He applied to and was accepted at a Scottish university. Over the following four years, Yoshi photographed and filmed in one of the most deprived council housing communities in the UK where Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh spent his formative years.
Unlike many photos depicting “socially alienated groups of people,” Yoshi’s work is in no way condescending – his subjects were clearly also his friends and welcoming of his presence. Yoshi was kind enough to share his book dummy, a clip from his film and some insightful words.
Plastic Spoon has evolved from 4 years of interacting and building relationships with the residents of Muirhouse, one of the most deprived council schemes in the UK. The scheme, which is located on the outskirts of a city that – conversely – has the most millionaires per capita in the country, is known for its high unemployment rates and issues with drugs and violence.
This project intertwines through an array of individuals, landscapes, objects, and domestic settings that communicate the feeling of isolation, alienation, and the eccentricity that is specific to Muirhouse. This landscape provided me with a boundary where I could freely explore my curiosity. Spending a substantial amount of time with my subjects has inevitably affected the photographs, which have placed the representation of my relationship with the subjects at the focus of the composition.
The influence for Plastic Spoon came from a novel I read before moving from New York City to Edinburgh, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I was fascinated by the stories in the book, which made me want to see the type of environment that had cultivated these tales in Welshe’s imagination. I found out that Welsh was raised in Muirhouse and some of the stories were set in this scheme.
The title Plastic Spoon has multiple layers of meaning. The name came about one night when I was eating dinner with one of my friends from Muirhouse. I was watching my friend’s son eating his fried rice across from me. He was eating with a plastic spoon. I noticed that the majority of the time I ate with my friends from Muirhouse, we would be eating take out that came with plastic cutlery. Another layer that the plastic spoon signifies is the heroin culture. The most commonly used cutlery to prepare heroin is a spoon. And lastly to me the plastic spoon represents the working class. The way I see it, is that the plastic spoon is the opposite of the silver spoon, which represents the upper class. There is a saying “you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth” which means, you are born into a rich family.
Even though my intention and what I’m trying to communicate is not directly political, it would be silly of me to say that the work is not political. I believe that politics and photography go hand in hand and it’s very difficult to separate the two when you work with reality as your subject matter. In the project the images dealt with a few aspects of society that surrounded my subjects such as crime, drug abuse, poverty, class, discrimination, masculinity and education. Working in an environment immersed in these issues it is near impossible to avoid them, thus making the work political.
The obvious and most apparent characteristic of the subject matter in “Plastic Spoon” is not original in any way. The documentation of the working class, the poor, the socially alienated groups of people follows in the tradition of photographers such as Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers.
Although the project may initially look like a social documentary, the point of the project is not only the social situation of the people in the photographs. The conceptual approach and intention for ”Plastic Spoon” harnesses the ideology found in the work of Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander who used a subjective approach that was based on personal experience. The “Plastic Spoon” project is as much about my relationship to the selected group of people who reside in Muirhouse as it is about their individual lives. I was not capable of being a passive observer. I spent a lot of time down in Muirhoue, which inevitably cultivated friendships between the subjects and myself.
I will give you a few examples of the strengths and the weaknesses of both mediums to explain the decision to incorporate both the film documentary and the book in the “Plastic Spoon” project.
What video supplies us with is information, which shows things happening in real time. We hear sound and see movement experienced in time. Video technology allows you to speed up, slow down and play in reveres your footage. It can even freeze the footage to mimic some of the characteristics of a photograph. As a tool for collecting visual and audio information, the video camera is a far more advanced and efficient tool than a photographic camera.
I believe that one of the main strengths in photography lays in the silence and stillness of the photograph. The stillness of a photograph automatically gives the image a surreal quality. You can study and scrutinize that split second for as long or as short as you would like. This time gives you a space to think about the subject in the photograph. With film (in the traditional way of watching a film) you are at the mercy of the time line. You are given information rapidly one after the other, which leads you to analyze in hindsight the film you are watching.
Another difference that could be seen as a strength is in the process of making the photograph. The experience of making photographs, being the subject of photographs and viewing photographs differs completely from the experience working with video. Depending on which medium you decide to use will determine the relationship and the type of information that would be exchanged between you and the subject. For instance generally when I am collecting information with video I am talking to the subject through the camera, which could make the situations feels more awkward and tense. But when I am photographing I can create more of a comfortable environment in which a natural interaction can take place.
There are obvious similarities in both medium such as lighting, composition, and so on. But I look at the differences in order to utilize the strengths of each medium and try to compensate for each medium’s weakness. The reason for using both mediums is so that the viewers will get a better understanding of the project when they experience the book and the video opposed to just one or the other.
The approach to my work at the moment is based around the techniques and theories implemented by visual anthropologists. The information I gather comes in the form of video, audio recordings, photographs, writings and artifacts. I believe that the more types of visual information I have to learn form and organize the better I will be able to communicate my experience.