Isamu Sawa
Heritage Red

Isamu Sawa, Heritage Red

My dad was a photographer and he gave me my first camera when I was nine years old, just after we moved to Australia from Japan. I spent a lot of time with him, just watching. It was fascinating for a young boy watching this magic happen – of throwing this white piece of paper under a light and then putting in a special chemical and seeing the image emerge.

Colour Heritage Red
Isamu Sawa, Heritage Red

I guess I saw my dad as a bit of a hero. When you’re that young, you don’t understand the whole chemistry of it, you just see a bit of magic.

When my five-year-old daughter Hannah asked me recently what my favourite colour was, I had to think about it, and I realised I’ve got accents of red everywhere. Whether it be a red stripe on a sports shoe, the red stitching on my leather jacket, the red second hand on my vintage watch, red in small doses seems to work with anything.

In all my fine art works, I use a little red stamp, a ‘hanko’, as my signature. At primary school in Japan, you're given a hanko with your name on it. My mum gave me my stamp back when I turned 30 and I started using it to sign all my fine art prints, initially because I thought it looked cool, but now I think it’s my connection back to Japan and my culture.

I don't see myself as deeply Japanese anymore, but I've held onto that colour. And as I get older, I think I'm starting to appreciate that subconscious connection. There's always that little red accent, a nod back to my heritage. That’s how I make my mark.

Isamu Sawa, Heritage Red

It’s ironic that my first solo show was a still life exhibition, because I nearly failed still life at university. My wife, Basia, is a florist and it's only been in the last few years that I’ve begun to appreciate the colours and textures that surround me every day at home. When you look at nature up close, there are amazing textures and shapes and colours that the naked eye can't see. And by capturing that in the studio, you realise the wonders of the world.

I'm glad that my dad got to see my transition from being a black and white photographer before he passed. I was nervous about what he would think of my still life work, because he helped me start out with black and white documentary photographs. But just before he passed away, he kept saying that I've gone further than what he ever could have. He was always proud, which meant so much.

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Heritage Red

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