Monday, January 7, 2008
Shiho Fukada - A Different Kind Of Briefcase
Shiho Fukada's ability to immerse herself in the stories she photographs is launching her career. It's a far cry from the Tokyo businesswoman her father thought she would become.
Although at 26 years old she was living her father's dream, her departure to New York was a little surprising for Fukada's family. Her father, ever optimistic that she'll return to live in Japan again, vigilantly looks for corporate jobs in Tokyo on her behalf. Understandably, he worries when she's on assignment. He calls her often, occasionally in a state of “freaking out,” as she puts it. Whenever she has a phone conversation with her father when she's safely back at home, he dutifully maintains his campaign to get her back to Japan by alerting her to the job opportunities he has discovered.
“He has a picture of me in his head as a businesswoman with a briefcase,” Fukada laughs.
For many, especially those living in New York, the shock of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center was a catalyst for change. For Fukada, it was the event that caused her to accept the fact that “I didn't feel like I belonged [in her job] because I couldn't find a purpose with my life.”
The glamour of her fashion job was nice, but Fukada constantly found herself getting lost in the far-off destinations she found in her photography books. A profound sense of “not knowing when you're going to die” was instilled in her on September 11th. This motivated her to make a radical leap into a new life.
Initially attracted to shooting video, Fukada quickly found that the price of video production was more than her budget could handle. So she looked at her resources and found a 35mm SLR at her company that they gladly let her borrow. The first project assigned to her from the evening photography class in which she enrolled yielded a roll of film so grossly overexposed that it came back from the lab translucent.
“It's funny,” recalls Fukada. “The first thing I remember about my photography is a mistake.”
Today, Fukada is trying to sell Life In A Brothel, a photographic project about the sex trade in Bangladesh. Her story depicts a family of three generations of sex workers, all of whom work in one of the state-licensed brothels. The youngest, Munnie, started taking clients eight months prior to Fukada's arrival. Munnie's entry into the sex trade has spawned a rivalry with her mother, who competes for the same clientele. Munnie is 15 years old. Fukada describes the response from the American magazines to whom she has pitched the project: “Third-world brothels have been done to death. What else do you have?”
Fukada is remarkably stoic about the rejection. She chose the project for the same reason she chooses all of her assignments; they're stories that she cares about and wants to communicate to the world. The commercial viability is a distant afterthought.
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