Interviewsand Articles


Jerry Takigawa Interview: Grace In Uncertainty

by Richard Whittaker, Aug 18, 2014



I met Jerry Takigawa thanks to an unusual art exhibit in an unusual place—Sand City, California. Sand City is in the Monterey Bay area. His photography is elegant and beautiful, and it came as no surprise that these qualities are true of his work as a designer, as well. These things are easy to see, but the depth underlying his work unfolds more slowly. One has to look and begin asking, what is this saying?
     I wanted to interview Jerry because of the deeper aspects I sensed in his work. Just about the time of this interview, Takigawa had been made Board President of the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California. He was excited. He envisioned an approach to creative work through a program he called PIE Labs: photography+ideas+experience.
     About this he writes, “The creative process often includes learning about ourselves. How we place limitations on our thinking and our seeing. How we stand in our own way. So how do you find your authentic voice in art making? If you want your art to develop, CPA believes you actually want your self to evolve. Personal growth means movement closer to who you really are. PIE Labs will be this inventive, artistic-soul-seeking space. PIE Labs will be a facilitated, exploratory, experiential discovery platform designed to pollinate creative spirits and cement the bonds of camaraderie among those who share in these inward journeys.”
     About a year earlier, Takigawa sent me a copy of a little book he designed and published: Grace In Uncertainty. At the beginning, he quotes Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” Then he lays out the book’s structure. Part one, Premise: Recognize that consciousness is the foundation of everything.
Part two, Practice: Think outside of the box in order to see there is no box. Part three, Purpose: Make hope a part of everyone’s life.
     Maybe one senses why I wanted to learn more about Jerry Takigawa. We met at his office in Monterey, California to talk.

[the photos included are from Takigawa's series "False Food." The plastic fragments in the photos were retrieved from seabirds who died from mistaking them for food. These deaths are one of the scourges of the vast gyres of plastic waste in the ocean]

Richard Whittaker:  You’re a designer and you’re a photographer, and I’m interested in both. So I’m wondering where’s a good place to start?

Jerry Takigawa:  Yes. I’ll be talking to a photography group at De Anza next month. I’ll probably say that I’m a photographer whose profession is graphic design.

RW:  Which came first?

JT:  Well, design, actually, if you go back to high school or even junior high school, when I was drawing and making little graphic things just for fun like little magazines or like the miniature book I gave you. I hand-drew them, and drew the illustrations. I just made up stories and articles.

RW:  So as far back as junior high.

JT:  Yes. And in high school I worked on putting together the literary magazine. So that was actually a design project with cover designs and layouts of poems and such.

RW:  Looking back—I guess I would be around 10 years old—I started to notice some design things with cars. Did you have any similar memories from around that age, or earlier, where you would look at something and think, “I really like the look of that.”

JT:  I remember being able to name every possible car that ever came out, on a road trip I could identify all the cars that were around. I was aware of them and then certain elements in the 50s—I mean there were iconic elements for the time with American cars.

RW:  I don’t know if everyone has this, but it seems to me this has to do with a kind of design sensibility.

JT:  I suppose. I just figured it was just something that boys did. You know? Because they liked cars or something, but maybe it was taking it a little further.

RW:  Which cars did you like the most?

JT:  I was more aware of Chevrolets, ’57 and ’58. They had very iconic looks to them.

RW:  Was there a specific model you particularly liked?

JT:  What I liked then I would be embarrassed about now. I think it was a ’58 or ’59 Chevrolet with the cat eye taillights.

RW:  Oh, yeah. For me, to pick one, I think it was the ’53 Lincoln. It just seemed immensely superior to the ’52 because of the way the taillights were designed.

JT:  Right, right, right. It seems that the backside of a car, typically, was the weak point for most cars—and even today. People can’t seem to finish the back in a way that’s pleasing.

RW:  Yes. The reason I bring this up is because it wasn’t so long ago I realized that early scrutiny of such things represented a design sensibility. I mean, looking back it was a pretty careful scrutiny of things. Does that…?

JT:  I think there’s something there. I was also aware of how people dressed and that sort of thing. Not everybody is paying attention to the visual cues out there. Some people don’t even notice those things. Certain things are preferred over other things, because they look a certain way, or they resonate with something inside you.

RW:  Right. So I’m hypothesizing this is a pre-design sensibility or something.

JT:  I think there’s some of that. There also may be some Japanese heritage in there about the way things are arranged. Being raised Japanese-American, there was a bit of attention put on how things looked. I don’t know that I was forced into being design-oriented, but appearances are important in being accepted into a larger community.

RW:  Well, that’s an area I’m really curious about. I have the impression that in Japan there are certain cultural sensibilities in terms of appearance. Not just the way things look, but something about the philosophy underneath that.

JT:  There’s a much deeper subtext and vocabulary around visual things in Japan than there even begins to be in the United States. We’re such a young country, a little over 200 years old. Japan is such an old culture. There’s a lot of symbolism with specific meanings. I mean their images look so out there sometimes compared to what we do—especially in the design arena. When you look at modern design in Japan and modern design here, we’re still kind of learning to read certain things, and they’re way out there. 

RW:  How did that come into your life? I mean, did your parents have some particular interest in that? Do you think you just absorbed it in a broad way?

JT:  I grew up in this country so I don’t have that same deep symbolism that I would if I’d grown up in Japan. But I’m more aware of it because of having experiences at home. I’m just so aware of what’s going on in different parts of the world. And then you compare it to what’s acceptable here when you work with clients and design. When you’re dealing with that, you start to realize you can only take things so far before people get uncomfortable. They don’t understand it, or it’s too outside of the box. It’s a rare client that pushes me beyond where my comfort zone is. There have been one or two, which is pretty unusual. But then you have to bring them back, because they’re going too far for this culture.

RW:  What would it be to go too far?

JT:  Well, there was a real estate client who wanted to start with the idea of fractals and the visual quality of fractals as part of their visual identity. That was an invitation to do something different, obviously. Ultimately, they wanted to use some existing black-and-white photography that I’d done personally for myself and use that as a visual introduction to their story. That obviously said, “we’re not your ordinary real estate agents.” So it did set the tone. They really are a very design-conscious group and that’s unusual in clients. There have been some other clients, artists, who are very visually conscious. But when you get into an industry like real estate, you don’t expect it.

RW:  Right. So there’s photography and design. You do both things.

JT:  Yes. My schooling was primarily in the arts, in painting and drawing, although I had a Brownie camera when I was 10 or 11. So I did take pictures, but drawing and painting were stronger for me in the early ages. I was a painting major all the way through college. I got a degree in painting, but I ended up doing paintings that were kind of photo-real. I learned photography so I could do the paintings and after I graduated, I kept going with photography.

RW:  You were in art school?

JT:  I went to State College at San Francisco in ’66-’68, right in the middle of the Haight-Ashbury. So I don’t know how much school I really went to. I learned photography as a tool, and then ended up liking making art out there in the world with my camera versus being isolated in a studio.
     My brother was into photography at the same time. He’s younger than I am, so he was just at the end of high school. He was making pictures and I think that influenced me. I just liked the idea of being able to go out into the world. It’s funny, now in photography I’m going out into the world and collecting images that become part of things I use in the studio. So it comes back around, I guess. 

RW:  Yes. So earlier you were involved in a magazine, you said.

JT:  Yes. In junior college I did literary magazines. By the time I graduated from college I knew how to do paste-up. That’s what it was called. After a year or two I ended up joining VISTA (the domestic Peace Corps) I ended up being stationed in Oakland doing some university and community organization work.

RW:  Organizing what?

JT:  Well it was about organizing the resources from the university to somehow benefit the poor communities.

RW:  I see. So what sent you in that direction?

JT:  Partly the Vietnam War.

RW:  I see. It was kind of an alternative.

JT:  It was the last thing. I had filed as a conscientious objector and that failed. So I decided to do this partly just because it was a deferment, but I ended up having to refuse induction anyway, because the war still wasn’t over.

RW:  What happened when you refused?

JT:  Nothing, really. I’d gone through every channel necessary to document the fact that I objected to the war. And then when I just refused, I was classified 1H or “not currently available.”

RW:  So in other words they didn’t…

JT:  They didn’t prosecute, because I think there were so many people refusing it just wasn’t practical to prosecute all those cases.

RW:  Well sticking with some of the early stuff, high school and including college, what were you finding most meaningful in terms of design and/or art-making?

JT:  I wouldn’t have been able to answer that then the way I might now. It probably had so much to do with tapping into right brain territory where you’ve got to trust your intuition to do some kind of visual expression.
     In high school I could go into sciences, into biology. I was interested in that. I think the one thing that got me going more into art was that I was able to write my own truths, in a way. The other was just observing what truths were already there. You could create your own look for things that already exist. Today I think they’re merging in a lot of ways.

RW:  Can you say more about what it is that’s appealing about getting into right brain thinking?

JT:  I think we just live so much in the left brain all the time that it’s a relief to do something purely from another place. And it’s something I’m really comfortable with, I guess.

RW:  So what’s that relief about?

JT:  It’s a relief to actually bring in something that’s non-linear, something that’s a little bit more random…

RW:  I’m curious about your word “relief.” Let’s say that “relief” is like a space you enter. Can you say anything about what’s that space is like?

JT:  Well, it’s being at ease or being comfortable in a space where you’re not going to have a ready answer, or an easy answer—or you don’t know how you’re going to solve something. You just know that you will. That little bit of space, that little bit of confidence—whatever that is—is the part about being comfortable in not knowing.

RW:  Yes. It’s interesting, this word “comfortable.”

JT:  It’s also called “tolerate.”

RW:  You can tolerate the not knowing. But maybe there’s also something else and the word comfortable actually is a good description for that. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

JT:  I mean “comfortable” could be going a little too far. I mean, you’re just at ease being in this space of uncertainty. If you’re nervous about it, then you’re cutting off the access to those things you’re trying to get to: the possibilities.

RW:  Yes. So with left-brain, technical courses—science courses, math and so on—I’m in my head, concentrating; there’s a mental kind of focus. Now all of a sudden if I shift into drawing and just looking, something shifts. That kind of head concentration thing just relaxes and opens up. I can say this from my own experience. Does that resonate for you?

JT:  Yes. It’s an enjoyable space for me. I’m okay with it whether it’s a design, visual problem or a photography problem, or painting or drawing—whatever I’m doing. I guess I really love being in that space, because anything can happen.

RW:  That’s it. I mean, if you go out into the world as a photographer, it’s a very different space, isn’t it?

JT:  Yes. And you need to be in a very open space to do that well, to be out in the world simply responding to the things you see. It’s a very open thing. You need to be able to trust and follow a nudge, a little nudge or instinct to just take a picture of something, whatever it happens to be. And today it’s much easier because of digital; it’s almost free to take a picture of something. But even when it was film you needed to trust that.

RW:  That’s a really important point, to be able to follow a little nudge.

JT:  It’s everything. It’s being sensitive to something that’s pretty much deep-down inside buried in your DNA that you’re responding to. I don’t know that everybody knows how to do that. I’ve always known how to do that, so I don’t doubt it. But I think there are probably a lot of people who don’t know what that is.

RW:  I suspect that’s true. I think it’s a blessing to be able to listen to a nudge; then this complex organism becomes a very sensitive instrument. And you’re saying there’s something even buried in our DNA at work.

JT:  Well, cell biology right now will say that these cells all have little antennae on them, essentially. Our different organs are made up of cells are all intelligent unto themselves. The little antennae, I mean they’re receiving from the universe, from the quantum field, as it were. Intelligence, intuition—I mean if you live in a field of all possibilities, if you have your little antennae up, you’re going to channel that stuff pretty well. You’re going to bring things in that other people don’t see. 

RW:  This would be a much more real way of living having that kind of openness.

JT:  I mean, your mind really isn’t in your brain. It doesn’t live there. It’s pretty much out in the universe. So when you’re open, you get those little flashes of inspiration that come in from a huge source of possibilities.

RW:  I just had an unexpected conversation with a friend. He happens to be a psychiatrist. He said when you look at a two or three-year-old kid you see that they’re alive in every part. They’re whole. And by the time we’re in our 20s, the part that’s alive is mostly just our heads. If you look at people who are 50 and older, he says, even this much is no longer alive. The face has gotten fixed into some habitual expression. The only part that’s still alive are the eyes. He’s saying this is a general tendency in our culture. Of course there are exceptions.

JT:  Yes. Maybe it’s the left-brain-dominate culture we live in that’s going to be driving that kind of reality where playing or dancing is not rewarded, for instance.

RW:  We’re in an answer-dominated, result-dominated culture, and what the photographer is doing—what the artist is doing, as you’ve described it—is trying to be open and to be able to receive. It tends toward an opposite, really.

JT:  Well, I think the Internet is actually helping to shift some of that purely text-driven, linear kind of information. We’re moving to visual information, which eventually may help to balance the dominance of the left-brain thinking.
     It seems like the value of right-brain thinking is starting to mix in a little bit. When you see a design class in a MBA program, you know they’re saying there’s something there that we need. We have to invent new things and we can’t get them just doing case studies. We have to make new things.

RW:  Yes. Going back to junior high, to high school with art and design, would it be fair to say that all of the years you’ve followed something? Maybe not quite knowing it, but that you’ve followed something?

JT:  I think anybody who does art, in the beginning they will imitate things that they like. That’s just normal. You’re learning your chops and trying to get the skills down. And in college I got a lot of skills down. Then a period came where I felt like I needed to say something with what I’d learned. I mean, I could say things with design, but I mean with art per se. In this case, it eventually became photography.
     I was always questioning: what did I have to say with this work? I could rationalize that I was saying things with it. There was no question I could do that. But I know that most of the things I was doing for a long time were really aesthetically, form-driven things. They were beautiful to look at and interesting and innovative and different, but still maybe not holding that deeper something that I was really passionate about.
     Maybe I wasn’t clear about what I was passionate about. But not too long ago, when we first met at the Transcendental Vision show, Gail [Enns] asked me to write a statement for that show: what was Japan’s cultural influence on American contemplative art? And what was my experience of that?
     I started writing about being raised Japanese-American. I realized that the two cultures, Japanese and American, are kind of going in opposite directions. Americans are for rugged individualism and trying to do something to stand out. The Japanese say the group is more important, and you want to bring harmony to the group. You’re not trying to stand out. If you stand out, they’ll hammer you down.
     Anyway, I realized that a lot of my artwork was trying to make these two things work together. In design it’s called integrative thinking; you’re bringing two things together that seem to be opposites and making them better than they could have been separately.
     I was also trying to do this in my design work, and I didn’t know about either. It’s like that DNA thing, where you’re compelled to do something. I wasn’t aware of this until I wrote that statement for Gail, and I thought, “Oh my god! I’ve been doing this my whole life!” I was trying to do something the American way which was innovate, unique and different, but the purpose of it was to bring people together in some way in harmony. It was like this light bulb went off, and it was great.

RW:  That’s wonderful. I mean, to have an insight like that.

JT:  I know. It only took 60 years—you know what I mean? [laughs] I think back to all those times I was sitting there designing something on the screen—or something with another designer, or on paper—and knowing when something was right. That knowing had so much to do with that framework of “okay, this is unique and it’s also bringing things together.” In the old paradigm you would have to choose one or the other. But now you can say both, and you can have both—and it’s even better.

RW:  Right, right.

JT:  Both/and is really the paradigm I think business and design, and a lot of things are going to move to. It means we’ll have to look at some things that maybe we didn’t want to look, but it’s actually better. I think the either/or thing is holding us back in a lot of ways.

RW:  This is all really interesting. I don’t know about Japanese culture. But I think the extreme focus on ‘individuality’ in the U.S. is problematic. First of all, I think we’re “dividuals”—that is, we’re quite divided. The culture puts us in our heads. So we’re divided from our bodies and often divided from our feelings. So in general, we’re not really whole people. To become a real individual would mean not to be divided. I think it would also mean we would be more able to connect with others. But with this other idea of individuality, it’s always me against you. I’ve got to get mine, and the hell with you.

JT:  Right.

RW:  As I become more whole, automatically it makes me open more to you. That’s how it seems to me. And maybe I begin to understand that you and I are even metaphysically connected.

JT:  Well, I mean for all the people around the world there is just more likeness than difference. But we seem to focus on those differences and blow them way out of proportion.

RW:  We do.

JT:  It’s an old way of being, I think. We’re going to need to see that, in a sense, this whole thing about being separate is really illusory. We just are not separate. I mean take the case of our use of plastic. That plastic isn’t just “out there.” It’s gotten into our bodies, too.

RW:  That gets right to it. We are profoundly connected, and dependent on each other, in ways we don’t understand. That issue of “I’ll throw my garbage out.” Well, where’s “out”?

JT:  Yes. You can’t see it, but…

RW:  It’s coming back to me.

JT:  It’s coming back, yes. In my slide shows I say everything you throw away, literally you end up consuming, either in the air, the water or your food. It comes back.

RW:  And apparently this needs to be experienced in ways that are powerful enough, damaging enough, that we start to get it. Which is pretty alarming…

JT:  It’s human nature to not change anything until it’s a crisis.

RW:  You were speaking about an insight that happened around the time of the Transcendental Vision exhibit. Trying to be original and also to bring harmony. What’s happened since then for you?

JT:  I’ve spent some time observing how it worked, because it seemed like such a big idea for me to realize. And being third generation Japanese here in America I also realized that the generation after me may not have that experience.

RW:  Because the Japanese part will be disappearing, right?

JT:  Right. I mean they may not feel the need to try and balance those things, or it might have been just my own family—I mean the way my family reacted to the internment. So you needed to be American, but at the same time we need to be Japanese. You know?

RW:  Your parents were interned?

JT:  Yes. All the Japanese-Americans were sent off during the war. So the next generation is going to feel those emotions a lot differently. There will be more assimilation. I guess I was observing that being driven to do that both/and philosophy seemed stronger than maybe it is to the next generation. I don’t know. All I knew is that I needed to do a project that looked at that for myself, which is still being formed right now. I wanted to do a project in which I looked at my own little history and see what kind of images come out of that, and where that leads me. I want to say that the both/and way of looking—the integrative-thinking way of looking at thing—is a good way to survive. Because the Japanese culture by itself, or the American culture by itself, isn’t necessarily the best thing. There are things in both of them that are really good. So why are we keeping them apart? Why don’t we bring things together and use the best of everything?

RW:  Right.

JT:  We think our way is the best, but it’s just the way we’ve always done it. Somebody else may have better ways of doing some things. Bring them together. I feel like I need to make that statement. Then I can see where it goes from there and move on. Then I can see who else feels the same way about that. I mean, do other people feel that way?
     But in any case, like I said, design is being re-introduced into the business world, and that’s a big deal. It’s integrating something. Before only bought it when we needed it, but now we realize it’s a way of thinking that’s good for everything in the world of business.

RW:  I’ve heard architects speak about how design can help shape the life inside a building. Do you feel there’s anything similar in the design you do?

JT:  I think it relates. I guess I just try to bring things together to make design work for that particular assignment. Most things that are design-oriented have a component of needing to stand out, or needing to be different in some way.

RW:  Right.

JT:  You can be different just in the way you look, but you also have to be different in the inner workings of the organization, or the product—or whatever it is that you’re creating. It needs to have a purpose that’s different. You start with something deep inside that’s really important, something unique and different. Then you bring it to the outside and start expressing it, and that expression has to back up what you’re feeling inside.

RW:  So this is a principle that should apply in design, you’re saying?

JT:  Oh, yeah.

RW:  And in your own photography you have a free hand.

JT:  Free hand. Yes.

RW:  So what’s going on with you and your photography nowadays?

JT:  Well there’s the False Food project. The Monterey Aquarium is providing me the plastic for the project. They asked me if I wanted some crushed ivory, because they’ll be getting some. They will crush something like six tons of ivory in Denver this year. It’s going to be sent to zoos and aquariums for educational and artistic purposes. So they asked, if I wanted some crushed ivory to do an art project. I said, “Sure.”
     Obviously this is to bring awareness around the demise of the elephants. Then I realized this is sort of a cousin to the False Food Project, because plastics were actually invented to save the elephants in the beginning.  

RW:  Really?

JT:  Yes. Because there were some things that were really popular like billiards for one thing—and piano keys and various things that used ivory, literally. So they came up with a synthetic version to help save that source. And we just got carried away with plastic because it was fast, cheap and easy. But it’s just an interesting connection. Everything is connected.

RW:  Tell me what are your thoughts and aims behind your False Food project.

JT:  It’s a huge problem. I mean there are five gyres on the planet. We don’t know how big they are.

RW:  You mean these gyres of plastic debris in the oceans?

JT:  Yes. They say they’re at least as big as Texas. You can’t see a lot of it because the as the plastic degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. But it doesn’t go away like other decomposing things. It just gets smaller, and then it gets in the food chain and you eat it, basically.

RW:  Yes.

JT:  So we’re eating molecules of plastic all the time. The five gyres are a huge problem and it’s really, really hard to imagine what we can do about it. It’s like, “I can’t deal with it.” It’s that kind of thing.
     The way I ended up dealing with it came from when I saw the actual pieces of plastic that were consumed by an albatross. And the albatrosses die from eating this plastic. So the aquarium loans me those pieces.
     The fact that something had to give up its life to give me this plastic back had an impact on me. I felt I needed to do something respectful with it. I wanted to keep that story alive and I didn’t think showing the horror of it was a good to do that. I know, from being in design and advertising, that when you scare people in order to get them to do something, you don’t get the behavior you want. If you scare somebody, you push them into their reptilian brain, so to speak. That’s survival mode. In survival mode you’re not thinking about effects; you’re not thinking about the good of all. You just want to survive. So you just run the other way, basically.  

RW:  That’s a really compelling thought.

JT:  You know the smoking commercials where somebody is smoking from their throat? I mean those things pretty much didn’t affect the population they wanted to reach at all.

RW:  I can’t help but be reminded of the Dada movement. The beginnings of Dada were around the end of World War I, I think. There was a big shock from the horrors of WWI. So the Dadaist art reflected the absurdity of life; a lot of it was provocative and shocking. I guess the thought behind it was, let’s show how crazy things are. It will wake people up.

JT:  I don’t want to make people angry. I just want to make people aware that it’s happening. It’s a very large problem and we can do our part. It doesn’t have to be in big ways, but we can do our part.

RW:  I think it’s from Gandhi, this beautiful quote something like this: “Whatever you do to help may seem very small, but it’s very important that you do it.”

JT:  Yes. You don’t want to keep people from doing what they actually can do. And collectively, if everybody did what they could do, that would change everything.

RW:  It would.

JT:  It really would, because there are so many people in the world. You vote with your dollars, and manufacturers respond to that. They do.
     When Whole Foods said they were going to ban trans-fats from their store, everybody manufacturing with trans-fats said, “Oh, we can change that.” They didn’t want to lose that business and they just changed it. There was enough pressure to do that.
     I think the whole thing about plastics, anyway, is that it’s a very valuable material when used in the proper way. You don’t need to make a plastic straw that gets used for five minutes, because it’s going to last 5,000 years or something. Do something different, you know? Convenience and cheapness, and that kind of thing, has gotten away with us. We just need to reassess the right material for the right job.

RW:  Yes. You said that at a certain point in your own art-making you began to ask yourself, do I have something to say? And what might it be?

JT:  That started happening in probably the late 70s. I guess what I was trying to do for a long time was to assign an intellectual meaning to the work I was producing.

RW:  There’s a lot of pressure to do that from art schools.

JT:  Well, writing an artist’s statement, which is what you do today no matter what, wasn’t quite as required in the early days. People just looked at the work. They either liked it or they didn’t. And that was life. But yes, I started to assign meanings to my work, because I thought I needed to have an answer for that question. Personally, I felt like I needed to have an answer to that question. I think that in the end, I wasn’t going to find it out there in the world. It was something that was already inside of me and I needed to uncover it from inside. I think meaning comes from who you are more than what you’re thinking about.

RW:  That’s a major thing you’re saying.

JT:  It is, and it didn’t happen overnight. Part of the thing I’m trying to institute at the Center for Photographic Art I’m calling the PIE Program (Photography, Ideas and Experience). I'm trying to get people to become aware of the fact that they could create something with their own authentic voices if they want to look inside. It isn’t something you’re going to find out there in the world. I mean, you take pictures and all those pictures are trying to tell you something, because you’re gravitating to those things. Each one is trying to say, “I hold a secret that you don’t know about yourself.”

RW:  In a sense, the practice of art could be a way of coming to know myself more truly.

JT:  Oh, yes! It’s holy. That’s what I believe that art, actually making art, is really all about. It’s about self-discovery and looking for yourself. The biology of that is essentially that your emotions, things that hold meaning, are actually part of your decision-making process and your behavior. It all comes from the limbic brain, which is a non-verbal part of the brain. So it doesn’t know how to say all those things that it’s feeling.

RW:  And yet it’s operating.

JT:  It’s operating. In fact, it’s probably more powerful than the intellectual, thinking part that’s verbal. In the brand world that I work in you can try to sell something by saying, “Here are features and benefits. Look how good this thing is!” But if you don’t understand on a deeper level why you should even care about this, you’re not going to even read that stuff. So if you’re trying to connect with somebody in that way, you would have to start with why you really think you should pay attention to this first, and then talk about features and benefits.

RW:  Right. Now you took some time and trouble to write and design a beautiful little book Grace in Uncertainty. Would you tell me again, what are the main points?

JT:  One of the things is the viewpoint of modern science today is pretty much changing everything that we knew about the way it worked. We’re not really keeping up with that.

RW:  What do you mean by that that we’re not keeping up with it?

JT:  If you look at quantum physics, which has been around for over 100 years, everyday people haven’t really bought into that. I mean it’s talking about observer-created realities. In other words, what you think is what’s going to appear in reality. It’s not that you’re walking into it and you’ve got nothing to do with it. You do have something to do with it.

RW:  There are some very mysterious things that quantum physics is showing us.

JT:  Yes. And we’re still living in the industrial age, which is based on the Newtonian physics of things—everything is material. In quantum theory everything is energy.

RW:  There’s something in quantum theory about connections that exist where communication takes place instantly between particles, no matter how far apart they are. That communication transgresses the speed of light, apparently.

JT:  It’s called entanglement, I think. We think we’re all separate, but we’re not. So that’s the other thing. Not only is science changing the whole world in terms of beliefs, but the other thing is it shows that we’re all connected in ways that we can never even imagine.

RW:  That seems to be something we desperately need to absorb today.

JT:  Yes, to know you can’t do something here and not expect it to affect the whole big universe, somehow. It’s sort of like the Indians did a good job saying think about your actions because they will affect seven generations, or something. You know? What does that look like?

RW:  To hold that attitude would be a very precious thing.

JT:  We’re just looking at next month or something. It’s just third-quarter profits instead of long range thinking.

RW:  Indeed. Now you have this new position at the Center for Photographic Art. You mentioned the PIE program. So would you say something more about what you want to bring in your new role?

JT:  We kind of tweaked the mission statement and said that we wanted to nurture the personal growth that’s inherent in making art and also celebrate the artist’s role in the community, and what that can be. We’re looking at the fact that if you want to grow your art, you will want to look at yourself, too. And that will help your art. I mean the two things are just in conversation; they’re connected. They’re inseparable. I mean every photograph is a self-portrait, in a sense.

RW:  Do you feel that you’re part of the Monterey photographic tradition going back to Edward Weston and Minor White, Wynn Bullock—people like that?

JT:  Maybe not literally, but even when I was cleaning my basement the other day I found a folder that had some workshop information from the 80s. Dick Eric was doing the workshop and I was amazed at how close some of the things were to things I’m talking about today. They kind of surface and then they get buried, and then they surface again.
     But any time you get a group of photographers together your conversation can go into technology so quickly. It’s sort of like all we talk about is software programs and new cameras and histograms and Photoshop.

RW:  That’s kind of the default setting. Right?

JT:  Right, right. You can hardly believe how fast that can happen. It has something to do with making art, but there’s a huge area that’s not being talked about. So we wanted to change that conversation.

RW:  I wish you well on that.

JT:  We’ll make a dent for a while, hopefully, and long enough to get people to make some new art. I think that if you’re speaking from your own authentic voice, if you’re telling your own story, you don’t have to worry about competing with other artists. I mean, it’s not about that. You have your own story to tell. And you need to find out what that is. That doesn’t happen always. It happens partly by looking out, but it also by looking in. It takes more energy, I think, to look in than it does to look out. We spend most of our lives looking out. We need to spend a little time looking in. <>

(I took this photo at an exhibit of Jerry's work at Green Chalk Contemporary in Monterey, CA—rw) 

You can participate in the Center for Photographic Art’s PIE Labs this fall at the Sunset Center in Carmel.

Jerry Takigawa has a photo website and one for his design work.


About the Author

Richard Whiittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine. 


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