Borrowing Memories of World War Two

Using his grandparents’ stories of the war as a source of inspiration, David Favrod reconstitutes memories, not experienced personally, but which had an unconscious influence on his upbringing.

© David Favrod, from the series, Hikari

I was born in Kobe, Japan, to a Swiss father and Japanese mother. We moved to Switzerland when I was a baby. My father was often away travelling so my mother brought me up and passed many Japanese influences down to me.

When I turned eighteen, I applied for dual nationality status, but the Japanese embassy refused; only Japanese women who want to take their husband’s nationality are eligible. The refusal felt like a rejection from my own country, so, in 2009, I decided to create a project - Gaijin (from the Japanese word meaning ‘the foreigner’) - as a way to create my ‘own Japan’ in Switzerland. The project was part of my quest for identity. I drew on memories of journeys I had made to Japan when I was small, my mother's stories, tales from popular and traditional Japanese culture, and my grandparents’ memories.

Gaijin comprises three series, the most recent being Hikari - Japanese for ‘the light’. This image is from Hikari, which I shot between 2012 and 2015. In the series I use my grandparents’ stories from World War Two as inspiration for my own testimony of something I never experienced but that influenced me subconsciously.

I took this image, Mishiko, 2012, in Switzerland. Mishiko was my grandfather’s sister. During the war she fell ill. The doctor diagnosed her as being dehydrated so her family gave her watermelon to eat, but the diagnosis was wrong – she in fact had a salt deficiency – and died shortly afterwards. That’s why there is a watermelon on the girl’s head and her face is painted red like the inside of the fruit.

When I start a series, I draw each image in my sketchbook to work out the elements I want to include. Once I have this information, I search for a suitable person, props and clothes. I’ll go to the place where I want to shoot in advance to work out how I want to take the shot.

The girl in this image is my sister’s goddaughter who was eight or nine years old at the time. Making the picture was straightforward; I didn’t direct her too much. I always photograph when there is a lot of cloud in the sky, so the light is soft.

My images tend to have a similar aesthetic, but for me, it’s more about the stories and memories. I’m inspired by literature and I read a lot. My favourite writers include: Kōbō Abe and Yōko Ogawa whose work is situated between fiction and reality. I work in a similar area, and I don’t like my images to be too obvious; I prefer to create a bit of magic and suggestion.

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David Favrod is a Swiss-Japanese photographer currently living in Switzerland. Learn more about Hikari on his PHmuseum profile.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.

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