Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

The experience reminded me of how we exist. For some unknown reason, we always sense a slight amount of pain.

by Lieko Shiga (志賀理江子)

It was the summer of 2009 and I was conducting research in Bangkok prior to joining a residency program and exhibition in the city. Visiting Thailand for the first time, I needed to create and present a new body of work. I had two weeks to conduct my research. Trying to figure out what to do, I decided to take a bike taxi and explore the city. Along the way, I noticed that I would often encounter the gaze of people who, like myself, were sitting idly on the back seat of a bike taxi. The streets were filled with motorbikes running at slightly different speeds. Just like the Doppler effect, the motorbikes would come close and then drift away.

In Japan, where I live, it’s rare to catch the eye of a passerby; yet in this city I exchanged glances with hundreds and thousands of people. I wondered why I had caught their attention, figuring that it was probably because I looked like a typical tourist. I gradually started to think about collecting images of those glances. My camera seemed to be the ideal tool for getting closer to that strange feeling of receiving glances without physically connecting with them. I returned to Bangkok several months later and started shooting. A Thai girl named Kate, who was introduced to me through a mutual friend, and her Indian boyfriend supported me as guides. They both knew the streets of Bangkok, had lots of friends and were reliable and confident about their knowledge of the city. We chased after couples on motorbikes and would shout: Excuse me! Many of them were curious about my request and would pull over to listen to what I had to say. Maybe it was because Kate was such a good translator, but nobody refused to be photographed. They all agreed without even asking my name. We would line up with their motorbike and then signal for them to start moving alongside our car. I asked the passenger on the back seat to look directly at my camera as they moved forward. I also asked him/her not to smile. Smiles often conceal the real face. We started in the afternoon of the day I arrived in Bangkok and photographed more than 10 couples.

志賀理江子,Blind Date

Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

Kate had a good sense of where we’d find couples who would be willing to be photographed. We continued for a week and managed to photograph around 100 couples. Continuing to exchange glances with unknown strangers had an effect on me and I felt as though I was rediscovering the sense of wildness that resided in the depths of my heart. It was a rich experience, as if I was touching something very sensual. Some of the couples were very friendly and supportive, so I would ask them to have a cup of tea so that I could hear their stories.

I asked many questions. I wanted to know about them even though we had just met and they were total strangers. How did you meet? How do you spend time together? What do you think of one another? When was your first kiss? Sex? Are you students? What do you do for work? Family? How did you grow up? I asked one question after another, and also told them about myself. The questions became bolder. What do you think happens when we die? Do you have any fears? The conversations occasionally led to such questions. I was probably influenced by what Kate had told me as we searched for couples on motorbikes. As we drove past a temple she told me that some people perform a ritual in order to die and be reborn again. While looking for another couple, a thought – possibly a fantasy – suddenly took hold of me. I wondered if there had been an incident, some kind of love suicide, in which the passenger on the motorbike had blindfolded the driver as they travelled at full speed. I mentioned this to Kate and so we headed to the police station and the library to sift through news articles and information about fatal traffic accidents. We couldn’t find any records of such a tragedy, nor could anyone recall such an incident. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fantasy scene. I couldn’t give up, so I decided to experience it photographically. I asked a couple, who we found on the street, to perform the scene for me. They initially showed suspicion, but after understanding my intentions the girl agreed to cover her boyfriend’s eyes with her fingers slightly open so that he could see the road in front of him. Despite nearly bursting into laughter, they held on long enough to look at me with serious faces. At one moment the boy shouted, “Hey, I cannot see! It’s dangerous!” The motorbike swayed but he managed to regain balance. After a few minutes, they asked if they’d done enough. I let them go and they waved before disappearing into the city.

Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

Lieko Shiga, Blind Date, 2009 ©Lieko Shiga

The experience reminded me of how we exist. For some unknown reason, we always sense a slight amount of pain. In today’s society, the eye is unreasonably connected with desire and can become a curse for the other. The sun and the light provide us with sight. Most deep sea organisms are said to have the ability to illuminate their bodies. Maybe there is no such thing as complete darkness in this world. Light and darkness must have resided together since the beginning. If not, how can I explain the complex way in which life burns inside me? I remembered the sensitive question that had stayed with me since childhood and never been answered; I wanted to know how the world looked to those who could not rely on sight, those who had been blind since birth. I needed them to teach me. How much does the eye control me? What are the differences between you and I?

Kate called me back immediately. “Lieko, two people, Thayvaphong and Patikan, will come to see you. They have both been completely blind since birth.” A few days later, they walked hand in hand to our hotel, which was also our temporary lab. When I introduced myself as a photographer, the lady said that she also photographs herself. The man was a quiet type, but he responded and laughed whenever she talked, nodding here and there. She then said:

I was told that I cannot see.
Does the reason for this relate to a previous life that I can no longer recall?
I wanted to know the truth, so I attended university and learned about many religions around the world.
Many, many things were said about life and death, but I felt uncomfortable about all of them.
They didn’t quite match how I am.

 


  • Lieko Shiga (志賀理江子), born in 1980 in Aichi prefecture, Japan. Now lives and works in Miyagi. She’s intimate portraits, set amidst mystical landscapes and interiors, integrate her personal experiences and grander mythologies into surreal and fantastic scenarios. Shiga published two books, Canary and Lilly, in 2008 and received the prestigious Ihee Kimura Photography Award. Her personal, dreamlike work was also recognized by an ICP Infinity Award.

You can buy Lieko Shiga’s Blind Date at VOP BOOKSHOP.
歡迎在VOP BOOKSHOP購買志賀理江子《Blind Date》