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  • October 4, 2013

Artifacts: Photographer Ikuru Kuwajima

Artifacts is a series about physical items that have meaning to photographers in the field. The items are styled, shot, and described by the photographers themselves.

After studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Ikuru Kuwajima lived and photographed in several postcommunist states, including Romania, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. For the past three years, Kuwajima has traveled and covered Central Asia extensively and continues to photograph in the post-Soviet states. He’s currently based in Kazan, Russia, and is working on documentary projects around the region.

Ikuru’s Artifacts

“These are things that I have collected and kept despite moving a number of times in the past six years. I don’t know exactly why I keep them—except, of course, the passport, panoramic camera, and the cigarettes, which are the most essential belongings for me.”—Ikuru Kuwajima

1. Fuji TX-1. This panoramic camera is the one I often carry to shoot for myself.

2. One Tajikistan bill. It’s about $0.20.

3. Japanese ear pick. I can’t find Japanese ones here, so I keep this. You can get chopsticks everywhere, but not ear picks.

4. Japanese mother-and-baby notebook provided by the city of Kyoto. I keep a bunch of old documents just in case.

5. DVD of Russian popular serial Interny. Someone in Kazakhstan gave this to me. I’ve never watched it. Sometimes you end up keeping stuff that is not so important for reasons you don’t know …

6. Pouch and coins. The metro tokens are from Kiev and St. Petersburg. The coins are: a rare old one from Kazakhstan, a Swiss one, and a Tunisian one that someone gave to me in exchange for a Japanese coin. The pouch was a gift from a passenger on Air Astana. I use it as a wallet or passport case.

7. Hermann Hesse postcard. I got this at a museum near Lugano, Switzerland. Hesse was one of my favorite authors as a teenager.

8. SIM cards from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I store them in SD card or lens filter cases.

9. Psoy Korolenko album called Ruskoe Bogastvo Volume II (Russian Treasure, or Russian Wealth, Volume II).

10. Two magnets from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Sometimes I buy too many souvenirs, so some of them become my own.

11. German tablets that work well for hangovers.

12. Cigarettes called Russian Style. These are cheaper than Kent and better than Winston, I think. (They cost about $2.)

13. A roll of Kodak Film ISO 200. I’ve never used this but I carry it around. This must have been x-rayed a lot.

14. An old German camera that was modified by a photographer in Kazakhstan.

15. A Japanese talisman. This is called omamori in Japanese and it’s supposed to keep you out of trouble. I’m not superstitious but my mother gave it to me so I have to keep it. I got into trouble a lot anyway, but maybe it helped keep me out of the worst times.

16. Bukhara Jewish cap. When I was in the synagogue in Bukhara, this cap reminded me of a friend. So I bought him one as a souvenir. I don’t get out of Eastern Europe/Central Asia much and shipping is expensive and unreliable. So I still keep it.

17. Ricoh GR1v that I bought in Japan for a photographer friend but which he sold back to me later.

18. Three mini-books of Lenin, Basho, and Pushikin that I carry sometimes but hardly read.

19. Expired Romanian presscard and a Lenin pin

20. Orthodox icon

Ikuru’s Work

picture of people trying to fix an old soviet car in a steppe
Tanya Sokolov and her friends try to fix an old Soviet car on the steppe about 20 km away from the city of Priozersk in the Sary-Shagan Polygon. September 2011. Tanya lives in an abandoned military barrack about 30 km away from the city with her family.
picture of An abandoned plane lies on a long rugged road on a plateau in Kazakhstan, 2013.
An abandoned plane lies on a long rugged road on a plateau a few hundred kilometers away from Turkmenbashi, near the border with Kazakhstan, 2013.
 picture of people in Almaty, Kazakhstan, celebrating the Epiphany. January 2013.
Residents of Almaty, Kazakhstan, celebrate the Epiphany. January 2013.

Find more of Ikuru Kuwajima’s work on his website.

Follow Kate LaRue and Jody Sugrue on Instagram.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Kate B.
    October 18, 2013

    I’m a big fan of behind the scenes type stuff and learning about the people that make art not just the art itself. Very Cool.

  2. Bryan Derballa
    October 14, 2013

    Great stuff, Ikuru. I’ve been wondering what you’ve been up to.

  3. sarah
    October 10, 2013

    like the work of photographer

  4. Kirils
    October 9, 2013

    Beautiful shots indeed. Photography is best at NG. Interny, item 5, is a witty TV comedy. Russian humor doesn’t translate into other cultures though, pity. Note also that Ikuru has placed a badge with Lenin profile over his own face on the press card, item 19. Shy master of panoramas.

  5. Mandy
    October 7, 2013

    This is fantastic! I love Nat Geo stories, but it’s a great to have have a bit of insight to the individuals behind the brand. I’m always more engaged with the story when I can connect with the people who tell it. Excited to see the next posting in the series!

  6. Elena Wells
    October 7, 2013

    You had me at “Nat Geo”. I love viewing other photographer’s stuff. And their photo’s, too.

  7. Vkf
    October 6, 2013

    Beautiful in its starkness.
    Mimiyaka an essential ear pick tool indeed!

  8. Molly
    October 6, 2013

    The photograph of Kuwajima’s artifacts looks like art. Makes one want to peak into the bags of other National Geographic photographers.

  9. Fernand Giguere
    October 6, 2013

    Very interesting

  10. Abby
    October 5, 2013

    So interesting to peak behind the curtain of the lives of Nat Geo photogs. Knowing his backstory also made his photos more interesting.

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