MFA Photography student heads to Philadelphia to claim grand prize

Jason Hersey/Sun Star Reporter
April 16, 2013

Ryota "Kaji" Kajita is an MFA Photography student under Journalism Department Chair Charles Mason.  Kajita teaches Beginning Digital Photography at UAF as part of the graduate program requirements.  Photo provided by Ryota Kajita.

Ryota “Kaji” Kajita is an MFA Photography student under Journalism Department Chair Charles Mason. Kajita teaches Beginning Digital Photography at UAF as part of the graduate program requirements. Photo provided by Ryota Kajita.

MFA Photography student Ryota “Kaji” Kajita traveled to Philadelphia for the annual international photo competition for emerging photographers, ONWARD Compé. Ryota received one of two grand prize juror awards from a pool of over 2,100 images submitted in February for the competition.

Kajita was invited to attend the OWWARD Summit festival April 13 in Philadelphia and present his work before the public and event organizers as part of the prize. Kajita originally submitted five images from the “Ice Formations” series, which were exhibited at UAF’s Art Gallery in February.

The first round of judging by author and photographer, Juror Mark Steinmetz, put Kajita and 56 other finalists into ONWARD’s annual exhibition. The competition guidelines then required each finalist to submit a print rather than an electronic submission for final judging. Then, to be considered for the juror award, Kajita had to submit 20 images of a cohesive body of work for final considerations.

The two juror award winners get $500, some camera equipment swag, free accounts to online galleries, and will be given the chance for a joint show at Project Basho Gallery in Philadelphia.

Every autumn Kajita searches for more icy patterns for the “Ice Formations” series before the snow cover comes. “The window to find ice patterns is short,” Kajita said.

The frozen bubbles that Kajita captures trapped beneath the ice in the photos are gas pockets of methane or carbon dioxide. According to Kajita, similar gas pockets are what researchers in Alaska are studying in relation to global climate change.

Kajita plans to continue shooting ice subjects and the “Snow Gardens” series, which features trees or branches poking out of snowy landscapes. “I like walking, hiking and cross-country skiing with my medium format film camera,” Kajita said. “Technically I have no theme. I just stop and respond to the beauty.”

Kajita’s newest project draws inspiration from the artist’s Japanese roots and attempts to recreate the vertical formatted style images common to Japanese “ink wash painting.” Kajita has been hiking the snowy Chena river capturing vertical coastline landscapes with a panorama film camera, a project Kajita calls “challenging.”

“I am applying the methodology of my ‘Ice Formations’ but also of other past work to expand my horizons and develop a theme using the vertical panoramic shape,” Kajita said.

Also this year, London magazine Aesthetica Art Prize featured work from Kajita’s “Gateway” series, while 10 prints from “Ice Formations” are in the Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers in Portland, Ore.

In 2002, Kajita spent time in the Alaskan village Shismaref where he documented the eroding shores of the Northwestern village due to melting permafrost. Fairbanks Film Festival featured the documentary in 2007.

Since Kajita’s relocation from Mizunami City, Japan to Fairbanks in 2005, he has traveled to more than 50 remote Alaska villages for scientific research. Kajita takes part documenting and setting up research stations for the Permafrost Outreach Project, which documents climate change effects on ice cellars, or Native traditional food storage areas. Northern Engineering Professor and lead researcher for the Permafrost Outreach Project, Kenji Yoshikawa, heads the project.

Kajita is halfway through the MFA program under Journalism Department chair and photographer Charles Mason. He teaches Beginning Digital Photography as part of the graduate program requirements.

Kajita recalled growing up with his father’s photographs on the wall, and a trip motorcycling around Japan at 20 years old with his father’s borrowed 35mm camera. “I loved the click of the shutter release,” Kajita said.

Today, Kajita passes down his families’ photographic inspirations to his newborn daughter, Amane Iris Aoki. “Iris” is another word for the aperture of a camera.

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2 Responses

  1. Nice work Kaji. Would love to have a link to some photos.

  2. Would love to have a link to his work.

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