A Typological Study of Japanese Cacti

In his series, Qusamura-Honzo, Ryo Ohwada uses tintype photography to explore the unique and subtle beauty of cacti plants from Hiroshima, Japan.

© Ryo Ohwada, from the series, Qusamura-Honzo

Ryo Ohwada has long been working with typologies and plants. Qusamura-Honzo is his latest work-in-progress; a series that explores, through the use of wet collodion plates, the mysterious harmony between people and Japanese cacti. Each photographic representation feels delicate, precious and unique, while the quality of the tintype adds its own signature to the narrative.

Can you talk about what the title of your project, Qusamura-Honzo stands for?

Qusamura is the name of the shop dealing the succulent plants that form my subject. Yamato-Honzo is a book that summarises Japanese phytology. Published by Kaoru Kaibara in 1709, it is known for being the first publication to examine Japanese biology and natural science. Honzo (phytology) comes from this book, while Qusamura refers to the plexus. It is a word that expresses the owner's philosophy of finding unique beauty from simple clusters of grass. I titled the series, Qusamura-Honzo to represent observing Qusamura plants through photographs.

How did your interest in the plant shop first arise?

I used to document Japanese bonsai trees, and it is since then that I have been interested in plants. Succulent plants of Qusamura show unique shapes to me. The fusion of technology through the representation of the plants and the human hand for me is a motif to observe.

© Ryo Ohwada, from the series, Qusamura-Honzo

The selection of plants you have photographed so far all come from the Cactaceae family. Why is that so? Do these plants have any special connection to Hiroshima itself where you found the shop?

I have often photographed tree species such as pine and plum, yet succulent plants are a new motif. Cacti plants are very loved by some people - I wanted to know the charm of a cactus and the feeling of a person fascinated by them. In many cases, people who like these plants are drawn to them because they have a longer life expectancy, as opposed to flowers and other greenery. Moreover, another reason why cacti are loved is because the growth is gentle and subtle.

Based on your previous projects and Qusamura-Honzo, it seems like you are deeply interested in typological studies. Can you elaborate on that?

My aim is to find reasons why people become fascinated with something through a subject. The goal of this project goes far, because there are still many things I could study. For example, other plants and animals, cars and watches, traditional culture, contemporary culture, and social problems, among others. I hope that people from different backgrounds will have an interest in this biological theme, but also in the execution of my work. I like to think about the attractiveness of the subject and I believe my work looks to highlight its beauty. In this case: the cacti. I find that by having all these purposes together, it is necessary to observe the subject side by side using a typological approach.

© Ryo Ohwada, from the series, Qusamura-Honzo

How would you say this project differs from your previous typological series? What are you looking to achieve with this new project?

The previous works and Qusamura-Honzo have in common that they are searching for the motivations behind certain fascinations with something. The difference is the subject.

You approached this project by using the collodion wet plate method. How was this experience and why did you use this technique?.

I thought that the look of the collodion wet plate method could emphasise ambiguity. I thought that cacti could be represented as a more anonymous existence by making them ambiguous. Yet, the collodion wet plate technique used this time is called tintype. I made a film with collodion on a metal plate and applied light-sensitive material. These pictures cannot be copied, so the original becomes only one plate. However, it can be applied to a platinum print or gelatine silver print by converting the original into digital data by scanning it.

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Ryo Ohwada lives and works in Tokyo, Japan. He is a graduate of Tokyo Polytechnic University, Graduate School of Arts.

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the work of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers.

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