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Artist Confronts Mortality With Elderly Alter Ego

With I Used To Be You, photographer Kyoko Hamada explores the joy, humor, and subtle indignaties of growing older.


What if you could spend a day with an older, wiser version of yourself? Would you be happy with the choices you’d made? Do you consider yours a life well-lived, and could you be content in a relaxed routine of elderly domesticity? These are exactly the questions 42-year-old NYC-based photographer Kyoko Hamada, who has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, T, and many others, sought to answer with her photo series I Used To Be You, a mock-doc fine art photo collection in which the artist embodies an elderly alter-ego, maneuvering the modern world as well as the limitations of her own body. “Since 2012, I have been photographing myself as the fictional character ‘Kikuchiyo-san’, an elderly woman living a delicate and fragile existence,” explains Hamada on her Kickstarter page. “Kikuchiyo-san represents those who are often left behind and neglected in the race to live, those who have to find ways to navigate through the obstacles and struggles within the modern world, and those brave enough to face its challenges.” Hamada hopes to turn the series of 99 photographs into a bound book with Pocko Editions, one that fuses “humor, metaphors and storytelling to represent the process of living and aging.” The series, as it stands now, is a powerful attempt to confront viewers with the sad, and often overlooked fact, that life is short, painful, sometimes lonely, and forever beautiful—simultaneously.

Hamada, a native of Japan until her family’s relocation to America at age 15, has spent much of her adult life grappling with her own mortality. The artist has received praise for her photo essay charting the Fukushima explosion for The New Yorker in 2011, a series that brought a more human aspect to the mass devastation. In her private life, Hamada has grappled with these issues through both the death of her father, and the birth of her first child this year. But she has also been touched by the quieter, more mundane aspects of aging, like “finding a few strands of grey in my hair to the changing landscape of my neighborhood.”

Ultimately, Hamada says to think about mortality is really to hold a mirror to one’s own legacy. “It'll be amazing,” explains the artist, “on our death bed, if we could feel content and our last thought to be – ‘I had a good life.’”

If she reaches her Kickstarter goal, the series will become a limited-edition hardback, created with a Japanese typographer in the traditional style. The project will be launched in conjunction with a series of images on exhibition at MOPLA - The Lucie Foundation's month-long celebration of photography in Los Angeles.

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