We had the good fortune of connecting with Kay Matsuyama and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kay, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I am from a little city in Georgia called Marietta. It is just thirty minutes northwest of Atlanta and it rests amongst droves of sleepy oak, vibrant maple, and fragrant pine. Marietta has always felt like a small town but it is actually one of largest suburbs in Atlanta. It is the home of TV personality Alton Brown, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, and the 56-foot-tall KFC behemoth that we call The Big Chicken. Embedded within the unrivaled southern hospitality and the warm feeling you get when a stranger calls you “honey” is the deeply tumultuous history of the Antebellum South, too. There is quite a lot for an impressionable little Japanese boy to learn. After living there with my family for eighteen years I moved to southern California for college in 2011.

Both my mother and father are from Japan and they moved to Atlanta in 1990 when my father was offered a position there. They raised a total of four smart daughters before having their fifth and final child, me. My mother is originally from Hiroshima and my father is from Osaka. Both cities have equally notable histories and cultures. My parents’ beautiful personalities, sensibilities, and quick wit reflect their rich backgrounds. Living in Marietta as essentially the only Japanese family from pre-school to high school presented all sorts of interesting experiences.

Sometimes I felt as though I was living two different lives simultaneously. At home, a healthy onslaught of Japanese variety shows illuminated our TV. My parents blessed our dinner table every evening with a seemingly endless number of unique and delicious meals, too. I dreaded Japanese school every Saturday morning and we mutually parted ways in first grade. Those teachers abhorred my existence. I could not blame them because I did not know where to even put my name on a test. When I hung out with my friends, I would enjoy about 50 pizza rolls after school and play outside or try my best to understand why a particular football rivalry was so important. Culturally and structurally, everything was simply different. Things at home were orderly and I did not want to betray the trust of my parents. This was my innate Japanese coding. However, as my friends and I got older we began to rebel more and more which was both terrifying and exhilarating. Terrifying for the imaginable punishment I could receive if my parents found out. Exhilarating because I felt like I was assimilating adequately and earning my stripes of adolescent acceptance.

In any case, one precious ability that I took from the experience of living this dual life was performance. How well it can protect, propel, exhaust, diminish, and evolve oneself. Performance, for better or worse, for me or for you. It was not until I moved to California that I realized how unique and privileged of an experience it was to be raised in the South as a Japanese person. Of course, the explicit and implicit bullying, emasculation, and racism I received for being different is not lost on me. However, those very obstacles were the fuel to learning and exploring my performance. My parents worked relentlessly to ensure that we were capable, creative, and compassionate human beings despite any difficulties we faced. I think if you asked any of my sisters, they would agree that we quickly learned how to weave in and out of social settings, to blend in as much as possible. However, I think that ability to perform and blend in with the majority to avoid scrutiny or otherness is innately unique. It is an ironic superpower.

When I came to college and had some distance from my home and could formulate a broader perspective on my own American experience, I only had gratitude. The cadence of a Southerner with the sensibilities of an old Japanese soul. Finally, it was less about blending in and more about formulating my own blend. A blend of all that I have learned and to be able to convey it through art. All those seemingly turbulent times growing up are often overshadowed by the incredibly open and loving people that cared for me and my family. Performance can have the negative connotation of a type of masked expression of yourself but I understand it rather as the mental and physical dance that exudes from one’s life condition and art after all they have been through. Maybe more like kabuki theater. Meet people where they are. Wherever they are, listen to them first. Who knows they might have a great performance waiting for you.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The large part of my creative endeavors have actually been in music early on. However, I have always loved visual art and storytelling. My first love was black and white film photography. I was fortunate enough to learn how to process film and develop my own prints in college. My photography professor, Mark Kirchner, was incredibly skilled and patient with the entire process. I learned a tremendous amount about light values and the mechanics of film. I believe Mark’s class is where I sincerely developed and refined my eye for composition and a sensitivity to contrast. There are few things that give me more peace than the serenity of the darkroom. A protected space insulated from the ordinary noise and rumblings of a world that is expanding far faster than much of us would like.

Many times I do not have a clue about how a shoot will unravel, if it will flourish at all. However, I think there is an excitement and beauty with exploring a space and an idea with a model. It is jazz in motion! A deep trust between the recorder and the musician. The photographer and subject. I do my best to compose and expose my sensor appropriately but I do believe the magic really happens in editing. The digital darkroom. There you can alter and enhance as you wish, even if it is so incremental. I gravitate towards a natural look. A restful mood. A sentimental one if jazz would allow.

I began my committed journey into photography by asking friends if I could take their portraits. I think the joy I experience from the impact of showing a friend a completed image of themselves is tremendous. To show someone what you see in them. An elevation of their everyday perception. An affirmation of their deeper being and higher soul that they may have not been able to materialize until now. This is my goal. I want to help my subjects realize a higher potential that already exists within their universal existence.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
How about a day with me? In the morning, we would go to Pop’s Café for breakfast. Once we have a delicious omelet and French toast we would head to the dispensary. We’ll pick up some 5mg gummies and cruise to a couple record stores in downtown Santa Ana. After we do a little thrifting and crate digging we’ll have to crab some tacos dorados with consomé for lunch. If that is too heavy for your liking we can grab vegan yummies at Native Foods before we head to the beach. Table Rock in Laguna or Huntington Beach, your pick. We’ll spend several hours basking in the beautiful California sun trying to body surf. We’ll have to go home once to rinse off and clean up for dinner. Brussels Bistro in Laguna has delicious mussels and cocktails. After that we can stay for their nightclub setup after they close the restaurant or we can go to a warehouse party in LA. Come home and do it all over again!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My lovely parents. For your patience and unconditional support. Mark Kirchner, my photography professor in college. For showing me good things take time.

Website: kjm-art.com

Instagram: kjm.iso

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