Isamu Sawa: Without Water

Words by
Georgina Reid
| November 4, 2016

It’s a far cry from photographing cars to dead flowers but for acclaimed Melbourne photographer Isamu Sawa it’s all in a day’s work. Issey took his first photo (of a duck!) as a 10-year-old and he’s been unstoppable since then.  After studying photography at RMIT, he began his professional career in 1996, and soon found himself specialising in cars. About a year ago whilst in search of a creative side-project Issey started snapping left over flowers from his wife’s floristry studio. The resulting series, called Without Water, is spectacular. I recently caught up with Issey to find out more.

'Anthurium' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.

What inspired the Without Water series?
It actually started out as a technical exercise – I wanted to experiment with a process called ‘focus stacking’ and needed something small with a lot of texture and detail to photograph. I came across some discarded flowers in my florist wife’s studio and found them intriguing; somewhat alien but beautiful in their own unique way.

I was inspired to ‘rescue’ these withering flowers and give them another life even though they’d passed their traditional use-by date…

The images are incredibly detailed – I understand you used focus stacking to achieve this. Can you please tell us a little bit about how that works?
‘Focus stacking’ is a digital photographic process used to increase depth of field using powerful software. It is capable of combining multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with greater depth of field than can be achieved with one single shot – this technique is particularly useful when it comes to macro-photography. I used a high-resolution 80-megapixel medium format camera made by Phase One and utilised the ‘focus stacking’ technique to capture the incredible texture and detail of the flowers. Some of the images for ‘Without Water’ were made up of over 25 shots and were displayed at over 2000% their original scale.

I understand Without Water is a side project of sorts? How do creative projects like it feed your commercial work?
‘Without Water’ started out as a personal project, which culminated into my first solo exhibition with the support of over a dozen amazing sponsors. The show was a resounding success for me personally, with tremendous media coverage both here and abroad including reviews in the UK and USA. With numerous Limited Edition print sales to date, it has certainly elevated my reputation as a photographic artist with a real flow-on effect to my commercial work due to the publicity. Since the show, I have secured several new commissions to create floral and plant art for new property development projects. I have also shot various advertising campaigns requiring the use of the ‘focus stacking’ technique.

Has the project changed the way you look at plants and flowers? If so, how?
It’s really interesting – for as long as I can remember I’ve never really been into plants and flowers that much, but now I have a renewed appreciation for their organic form and structure. It’s the macro detail that fascinates and intrigues me most; providing a view of nature that is dazzling for its intricate, sometimes strangely alien-like detail.

'Rose #5' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #5' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #3' and 'Bouvardia' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #3' and 'Bouvardia' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
It really depends on each individual project but obviously I need to be inspired – with personal projects and art commissions I need to be in the right headspace to potter and experiment. The subject matter usually leads me in a certain technical direction, which is a standout trait in my work. I am often told that my work has a level of precision and polish – I guess this aesthetic was instilled in me from a very young age due to my Japanese heritage and upbringing.

What is one lesson you have learnt from the natural world?
How calm and peaceful a natural world can be away from all the hustle and bustle…

What are you passionate about?
Outside of photography I have a passion for cooking, cars and an obsession for collecting vintage wristwatches.

What other artists/creatives do you admire?
Photographers Irving Penn, Albert Watson and Nick Knight.

What is your dream project?
My wife Basia and I would love to collaborate on a book one day.

What are you looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to increasing my profile as a photographic artist in the future. I have a few new projects on the go collaborating with other creatives with an aim for another exhibition or two in 2017. Watch this space…

If you were a plant, what would you be?
‘Bamboo’ – according to Wikipedia it represents ‘longevity, strength and grace’.

Limited edition prints are available to purchase via the WITHOUT WATER WEBSITE .

Check out Issey’s WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM

'Hydrangea' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Tulip' and 'Rose #2' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Tulip' and 'Rose #2' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #1' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #1' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #4' and 'Lisianthus' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.
'Rose #4' and 'Lisianthus' from Without Water series by Isamu Sawa.

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