Earthly Freedom Yasuhisa Ishii discovers Iceland with the Leica M Monochrom

Most urbanites will agree that in our day-to-day life, we feel completely out of touch with nature. The same can be said for Japanese photographer Yasuhisa Ishii, except that he decided to go out and change that. In 2015 the doctor-turned-photographer packed his Leica M Monochrom and set off to photograph the primordial landscape of Iceland. The influence of the metropolis is visible in Yasuhisa’s work, he appreciates the vastness and serenity of Iceland’s nature as well as its inhabitants. The photographer manages to extract a sense of peace from a landscape that still remains incredible wild. Below, Yasuhisa Ishii talks about his love for Iceland’s horses, how he strongly believes in everyone’s unique eye, and his balance between science and the senses.

Discover more about the Leica M Monochrom

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? How did you first get into photography? And who or what has influenced you the most?

I am a medical doctor and a photographic artist. I started with photography in 2009 with a Leica M8. The 75-year old Japanese photographer Tomio Seike, who I adore because of his beautiful monochrome images, uses Leica. And another one of my heroes, the famous Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, does as well. Hiroshi works with the Leica M8, which inspired me to start with photography, using Leica.

You first began your professional life in medicine, how did the move to photography come about? 

Working in medicine not only requires intelligence, but also a flexible, broad point of view and an appreciation for humanity. Photography also needs this, meaning the transition between medicine and photographs was almost inevitable for me. Both professions balance each other out nicely. Inside my brain, science and art are closely tied. It makes for a unique combination.

When did you first visit Iceland? How did you decide on shooting your “Iceland” series, and when? 

I first visited Iceland in 2015. Back then I felt a strong urge to visit the primordial earth because the city noise made me feel fatigued. I wanted to truly feel mother earth. I’ve always felt a special affinity to Northern Europe. All of these combined into the decision to shoot the series.

Can you tell us a little about your process? How do you go about capturing your images?

When a landscape makes me feel something, I’m immediately picturing a final image. Then I make an image. My feelings about this are based on my thoughts, what is my main element of thought? I’m not sure, but I do know it’s based on science and medicine.

Your images allow for a sense of vastness, of grandeur – specifically related to the earth. Can you explain how the earth, and nature, relate to your work?

I was born in Tokyo and I live in Tokyo, I’ve always been so far away from nature. In my day-to-day life, I can’t feel the earth and our great nature, something that I miss very much. Because I live in a metropolis, once I get out, I am very attuned to nature. Of course, my training as a doctor also influences my emotions. The human body is a mystery, I am continuously aware of that. Personally, I consider micro and macro to be the same and I believe that’s visible in my photography.

You’ve said that the horse symbolizes freedom. Can you further elaborate on its significance in your photography?

As we are all well aware, technology is rapidly advancing. But our world is becoming smaller with these advances. We can reach and see pretty much everything within moments, but it also means that we lost a sense of freedom as well as empathy for one other. There’s no way to get that back unless you give up the device that you’re gripping in your hand. The horses in Iceland are almost indescribably lovely, they are these petite creatures with such gentle personalities. They have an aura of loneliness about them. Iceland, this primordial earth does still exist. Nature there might be ruthless but these horses managed to live naked in the environment. I recognize that the reason they are able to live in this environment is because of their true, gentle nature. Freedom lies in gentleness, it releases you from every limitation.

The Iceland series feels like a very emotional, very personal piece of work. Do you plan on continuing this series?

Yes, I will continue this series. If possible I would like to shoot in Iceland in winter, but that requires help from someone who knows the landscape better than I do. 

You shot this selection of photos with the Leica M Monochrom. What is it about the camera, which you appreciate the most?

The Leica M system aligns with my vision of photography, I can see the inside of my brain through it. It is mysterious but true and the image quality is amazing. The Leica M is simply a legendary camera and I will forever trust it. 

You are currently working on a book with a famous Japanese bookmaker, can you tell us more about that? 

I am producing a book with MATCH and Company, who have also published work by Daidō Moriyama. I think it will be a unique piece of publishing. It will come out at the end of 2018. I will also be exhibiting my work at the gallery of the Leica Store GINZA SIX in Tokyo from June 21st 2018 – February 10th 2019.

Do you have any advice for those looking to improve their nature photography?

Take images that are unique to you, your brain, and your view on life. Emotions, feelings, an artistic eye — these are all strong characteristics of human nature. Artificial intelligence is on its way, AI knows everything. How then, do we survive in that new world and continue to strengthen the uniqueness of humanity?

Find more of Yasuhisa Ishii’s compelling work via his website and his Instagram account. 

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