Eyes On China: An interview with Go Takayama (1)

China Normal                                                                               photo by Go Takayama

Go pursues towards his own ethnic passion and lifetime goal of promoting the understanding of issues challenging Asian countries, by creating a Pan-Asian bridge between them and the U.S., and developing relationships among the people of China, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. His feeling is that we can achieve greater progress by tackling this as a multinational concern, or more effectively as “one nation.”

He possesses dual bachelor’s degrees in photojournalism and political science from Ohio University (2008).

  • Why you choose photography as your language. You study visual communication at Ohio University, what does it mean to be a professional storyteller.

The first camera I picked up was a 35mm film camera (bought $200 at Walmart) while I was in Community College of Philadelphia, Pennsilvenia. There, I had my first b&w photography class. It was straightforward fine art photography, in which we were exploring our pure curiosity with an unknown little light box, photographed anything stood out to satisfy our newborn passion. It was also my first time to experiment in a darkroom. We learned a joy of raw processing of films. At the end, when I held a print in my hands, it was like a precious gift, and was nothing compare with editing on a digital screen with Photoshop nowadays.

The words, photojournalism and storytelling photography, which has became my life-long career, were taught and colored during my education in Visual Communication at Ohio University. The idea was quite fresh, and when I begun to learn, it felt like a light shined upon you to brighten your way for the future. When I started to explore seriously the subject of photojournalism, I was already deep into it. My undergraduate photojournalism program taught me pretty much everything I need for that time, from basic photography technique to the cutting-edge visual storytelling using mix multimedia of still photography, audio, and video. It’s been almost a year and few months after my graduation and two six-months internships at local newspapers in the United States. (I don’t think I can call myself as a professional photographer because I’m not a self sufficient photographer.) But, all these time, my very core value of “storytelling” has stayed with me at the bottom of my heart. To pursue my career as a visual storyteller, there are many challenges that didn’t find in the college. One of the most struggling experience is how to financially sustain my passion of photography. For this, I do a lot of passionless minor works just to keep my practical passion for any longer. Meanwhile, there is one thing I’ve kept it in my mind is that I would never sell the core value of what I learned for an exchange of what I earn. I will continue to be truthful to myself as search for a meaningful story. I will take very objective approach to a subjective finding.

  • How is your personal project: Asia Youth Culture came into being? The topic is huge, how you get start and why you choose china as your base?

It’s coming slowly but with certain progress and understanding. For now and next some years, I would focus in China and Chinese youth culture. Moving in China last January (2010) was bigger than what my mindless brain could imagine of, and that led me to face more obstacle than probably needed. But, that was how I begun. I just flew to Beijing, followed my heart. Coming back to Far East region after spent a decade in the U.S. was something different, but I had this in my mind for long time. I knew I wanted to pursue my goal and ethnic passion, but wasn’t sure how to accomplish effectively and wisely.
I flew to China passed over Japan and Korean because of the significant phase of the country, where transformation of cultural, social and political dynamics occur. Being outside with limited resources of the information about Chinese domestic change, I needed to see with my eyes, and learned on my feet. As the importance of China’s political and economic role skyrockets, my curiosity to understand the country concurrently increases. Being on my late twenties, I decided to explore other youth and their culture, which is why brought me here.

China Normal                                                                       photo by Go Takayama

  • Compared to the Lauren Greenfield who do the story about America youth culture, what kind of story of china youth or Asia youth you want to tell us?

First of all, my work is neither on the level to compare nor on the level to be mentioned along with Lauren Greenfield’s project. It’s true that her work has inspired me in some ways.
In the long run, my big picture is to take same documentary approach in Japan and Korea. Currently working, I document a Beijing local freestyle rap artist. My photos and interview capture his daily struggle that challenges him in between pursing his dream and living. It’s a sort of the same struggle that I’m facing (haha). Regardless of the nationality or the social structure we live in, I believe all youths face some common issues. That’s something I intend to capture.

  • how the research team (youthology) find you?  And how you collaborate with them?

Well, I actually found China Youthology on its website. I literally typed these vocabulary in an internet search engine – ‘China & Youth & Culture,’ or ‘Chinese Youth Culture.’ Without speaking the local language, that was at least I could do from a tiny room of a youth hostel near Beijing Railway station. Then, after read through their bilingual website, I emailed to arrange a meeting.
A purpose of my visit to China, which is to explore and learn youth culture, is meant to parallel with the company’s work. They introduced me many creative youths whom they have been in contact for years. China Youtholgy, a Beijing-based marketing research company, attracted me with their face-to-face approach and their great depth of understanding of youths and their emerging culture. China Youthology’s active connection and reliable youth network have helped me to bridge my purpose to practice. They opened a door for me, so that I could take off from there on my own.

  • Do you agree with the conclusion of the paper, which try to profile the youth of small city in china? Tell us your own feeling.

I believe that my insufficient verbal ability in Chinese language had influence significantly on my understanding of this whole project. Fortunately, all my intended questions were answered with abundant translation offered by members from China Youthlogy. However, I was sure that I was missing out big chunk of information. What I felt the biggest difference between youth of tier first and smaller cities was a gap in their life vision and value. The youth from smaller regions expressed their high social pressure, family responsibility, and local tradition, which I thought these could be a cause of their restrained aspiration and motivation. In Beijing, I met more ambitious and motivated youth. Those migrated from outside cities with holding a dream and hope for their future.
Nevertheless, I do agree with what China Youthology mentioned in its conclusion in the magazine that youth in smaller regions don’t necessary want a kind of life in the big city. In spite of my prediction, many from small cities showed their generous acceptance of what were given from their family or the tradition, and they developed their satisfaction accordingly. At the end, all said that want to have “nice family” and “a house.”
My conclusion is that China is transforming faster than ever, and still hard to foresee a path they chose where to bring the country. This has major affect on the perception of youth, causing many feel uncertain and less secured. For some youth in this time of vast transition, holding big ambition and dream, they struggle with the gap between pursing an ideal life and earning every penny. Many others got confused and lost, searching a starting point where they left out. The rest takes up family expectation and follows local tradition to be responsible for what they own. However, in some years, all these observations will probably differ as the county evolves rapidly. I believe that neither a single definition will be able to generalize current whole Chinese youth nor one will be proper for no longer than a couple years. I would love to visit the same cities to do the same sort of observation in next 5 or 10 years.

China Normal                                                                                    photo by Go Takayama

(to be continued)

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