Interview: Photographer Spends 15 Years Capturing Images of People Surrounded by Their Belongings

New Reading Portrait Mami Kiyoshi

Mr. & Mrs. Ochiai. Ibaraki, Japan, 2005. They married in 2005. This portrait was a souvenir of their wedding ceremony. The bride is an illustrator and the groom is a private school teacher.

For the past 15 years, Japanese artist Mami Kiyoshi has been carrying out her unique project New Reading Portraits. By asking people to pose with their belongings, she creates an intimate view into their world. As her models expose themselves to the camera through their physical possessions, they also open themselves emotionally through this artistic show and tell.

Kiyoshi began her journey into fine art photography when she was still a student at the Musashino Art University. As she journeyed from self-portraiture to taking her family's photos, her interest then turned toward others. Working as a curious detective to discover other people's lives, she slowed down her process and began New Reading Portraits.

We had the opportunity to ask Kiyoshi a few questions about the ongoing project and her process, as well as asking her to share stories behind some of the images.

Mami Kiyoshi fine art photography

Sakura and Kazuhiro. Tokyo, Japan, 2015. She is a photographer and he is a tattoo artist. Both love to cook and live with two cats and a dog. As an alliance, they have a tattoo of their wedding date on their ring fingers.

What is your process for New Reading Portraits?

Since the invention of photography, taking a photo has become easier through the development of technology. It is very easy for everyone today. But I wanted to do it in the opposite way. I tried to find the way of making photography that takes time. I take at least two days on a shoot for New Reading Portraits.

The first day, I interview the model. And based on the interview, I prepare carefully for the another day of shooting. It is very important to spend time with the models to find my point of view. To press the shutter of a camera is only a moment, but for that moment, it is necessary to use a long time to know the model and her or his life.

That session is as crucial as the result of the work. I enjoy this process and finally crystallizing those experiences. Flemish paintings in the Middle Ages have had an influence on me. Those portrait paintings, which were the privilege of the upper class, are filled with details drawn by the painters. Those details say a lot about the history of the model. Sometimes, those are more eloquent than the models themselves.

Mami Kiyoshi fine art photography

Cathy, Luna, Thierry. Paris, France, 2014.
The parents acted at the theater and their daughter likes to dress up. It's a theatrical family.

You've been working on the series over the course of 15 years. How do you keep it new and fresh for yourself? And do you ever envision it coming to an end?

It's still fresh because I always meet people who I don't know. This project brings me a lot of surprises. It is also this project that drove me to Paris from Tokyo. I hope to develop this series all over the world. That experience will be a journey of discovery and it will probably force me to accept the differences in this world.

I do not choose a model for this series by my preference, and this is a very important point for this project. Because if I choose the models arbitrarily, the precious diversity of this world will be lost in my series. So if someone comes to me to participate in this project, I always will accept her or him. I hope to continue this project as long as possible, maybe until the end of my life. New Reading Portraits is obviously a big part of my life. Through the photos, I record people's lives, but at the same time, it is a trace of my life.

New Reading Portrait Mami Kiyoshi

Ms. Kaneko. Saitama, Japan, 2008. She is a student at a university of fine art. The photo was taken in a shinto shrine that she frequently visits. One of her paintings in this photo was painted during her childhood.

Over the years, what have you learned that people's possessions say about them?

The possessions are related to each one's personal history. I select those objects based on the interview and put them in the frame of the photo to make them tell the life story of the model. I hope that the people who see my work will read those details like they read a book about the model's life story.

Mami Kiyoshi Photography

Biagio. Sicily, Italy, 2011. He loves cycling, and his dogs. His family had arranged with great care their souvenirs and old family portraits.

Mami Kiyoshi is always looking for new models to participate in New Reading Portraits. Contact her if you are interested in participating. An exhibition of New Reading Photos Fotofever is currently part of in Arles, France until September 24, 2017.

For 15 years Mami Kiyoshi has artfully photographed models in front of their possessions for her ongoing photography series New Reading Portraits.

Mami Kiyoshi Photography

The Simon Family. Nancy, France, 2012. A Christian family in Nancy. The parents met for the first time in a church. The mother is a piano teacher. The father is an architect. He drew the plans for their house which has this beautiful view.

Mami Kiyoshi Photography

The Kibo Family. Saitama, Japan, 2010. A mother and her daughter. This picture was taken among the souvenirs of her husband and of their dog. When the mother saw this finished portrait for the first time, she told me that she felt as if her husband was there with them in the photo.

Mami Kiyoshi fine art photography

Filip. Mons, Belgium 2015. Filip is a guide and receptionist at Grand-Hornu, an historic industrial site. He speaks more than five languages. He is passionate about Van Gogh, and participated in the restoration of the artist's house. Filip suffers from a rare visual impairment, which I tried to evoke in my photography.

Mami Kiyoshi fine art photography

Kumi. Paris, France, 2016. A Japanese woman living in Paris. She loves wine!

New Reading Portrait Mami Kiyoshi

The Maeda Family. Tokyo, Japan, 2009. Besides working in a web design enterprise on weekdays, Mr. Maeda works on his own art projects in his spare time. In this photo, the family work on their imaginary company. Mrs. Maeda is a secretary and their little daughter is the president of the company.

Mami Kiyoshi: Website | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Mami Kiyoshi.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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