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Photographer's Showcase: Los Restos de la Revolución by Kevin Kunishi

Adilio, Jinotega, 2010 (FSLN) -- Kevin Kunishi

In recent years portfolio reviews have become a great way for emerging photographers to share their work with gallerists, curators, publishers and other professionals. Not everyone can expect to walk away from a portfolio review with an exhibit or book deal, but if you go in with the right attitude you will walk away with great advice, which may lead to more down the road. Kevin Kunishi is a photographer who has had great success at portfolio reviews. It was at PhotoAlliance’s Our World Portfolio Review in 2011 that I first met Kunishi. After looking at just a few prints from his Los Restos de la Revolución portfolio that investigates the lasting impact of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, I could tell that there was something really special about the work. Taj Forer of Daylight Publishing met Kunishi at the same review and felt the same way – I am pleased to announce that Daylight has just published his first book Los Restos de la Revolución and that images from the project can be viewed on the Photographers Showcase. I have asked Kunishi to tell us a little more about his new book and his experience in book publishing. - Anne Kelly
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cover of Los Restos de la Revolución
Anne Kelly:     Tell us a little bit about your new book?

Kevin Kunishi:     The book Los Restos de la Revolución was recently released by Daylight Publishing. It explores the remaining physical and psychological landscape of the U.S. backed civil war that occurred in Nicaragua during the 1980s.

In 1979, after over a decade of struggle, the socialist Sandinista movement in Nicaragua overthrew the dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The Sandinistas, Sandinista National Liberation Front or FSLN, quickly began the work of applying their social and ideological values in the hopes of creating a better Nicaragua.

Unfortunately, the United States government had other plans. In the cold war environment of the 1980s, the prospect of a socialist government gaining a foothold in Central America was deemed unacceptable. The CIA began financing, arming and training a clandestine rebel insurgency to destabilize the government. These anti-Sandinista counter-revolutionaries, became known as Contras. Between 1980 and 1990, Nicaragua became the battleground of conflicting political ideologies; the nation descended into civil war.

Twenty years later, between 2009 and 2010, I traveled throughout Nicaragua to consider the legacy left behind.

from Los Restos de la Revolución

I focused primarily on Northern Nicaragua where much of the heaviest fighting had occurred. I traveled mostly by bus or hitchhiked around the states of Jinotega, Matagalpa and Nuevo Segovia. I spent months in numerous Sandinista and Contra communities dotting the main roads through those rural areas. Slowly after my arrival in these communities, word began to spread of my intention and things naturally grew from there. I began conducting interviews with individuals who fought in the war or experienced those volatile times. The stories were repeatedly quite similar on both sides, tales of rape, the loss of loved ones, fear of being killed and the horror of taking of another's life. Following the interview we would create a portrait, always being conscious of what transpired between us and whatever ambient energy was created as a result.

I additionally amassed other images responding to what I was experiencing, what I had read, and what I had been told. In some cases creating photographs of discarded ordnance, helicopter crash sites, places of torture and other items and areas significant to the war.

Sandinista MI-24 Crash Site, Between Pantasma and Quilalí, 2010
Kevin Kunishi
AK:     Tell us a little bit about the process of making the book.

KK:     I met Taj Forer of Daylight Publishing at the Photoalliance Portfolio Review in San Francisco a few years ago and we started working on the book shortly thereafter. Everything at Daylight Publishing is very intimate and collaborative. We worked with a fantastic designer named Ursula Damm of New York based dammsavage. She really listened to our ideas and quickly executed designs based around our concepts.

During my first trip to the highlands of Nicaragua I was captivated by the thick mists that float among the peaks and descend upon the cobblestone streets at night. I had been warned that a turbulent past and a pensive future lurked behind that ethereal haze.

I wanted to incorporate that feeling and vision into the book.

We wanted the initial interaction with the photographs to be quite nebulous. We didn't want text next to the images, we wanted it in the back of the book to reveal a deeper understanding after the initial viewing. With this additional information not only providing additional context to the photographs it also potentially eliminated or validated the viewers assumptions of what these photographs were about.

I had a general edit before we began the process of sequencing, a loose path to follow that I felt was true to my experience in Nicaragua and to those who shared time with me. Working with Mike Itkoff and Taj Forer of Daylight was a great experience. We met on numerous occasions, first in New York, then here in Bay Area and finally in Palm Springs. Packages containing various versions of edits were going back and forth in between those meetings. Although intense at times, it kept evolving, growing, becoming something really solid.

I really felt a connection with Taj and Mike the first time we met a few years ago. They are very well informed, every discussion and idea was thoroughly considered, vetted and expanded upon. It has been a real pleasure collaborating with them. I respect them so much and all the amazing work they are doing at Daylight.

Keepsakes, Pantasma, 2010 and Charillo #025, Jinotega, 2010 (FSLN) -- Kevin Kunishi



AK:
     How does it feel to have a book of your photographs published?


KK:     It feels great! For me, engaging with a book is a very intimate experience. It's a wonderful opportunity to have viewers to connect and respond to the work outside of the gallery experience.

AK:     Do you have any advice for photographers who would like to have a book of their work published?

KK:     Be patient. Pay attention to everything. The devil REALLY is in the details. Ask yourself and others the tough questions.

from Los Restos de la Revolución

AK:     What are you working on now?

KK:     I’m hard at work on three different projects right now. My wife and I live in a pretty small place up in the hills above Oakland, CA. Our family room floor is constantly covered with photographs day and night. I’ll admit it, that’s how I edit. I lay it all out on the floor and there it stays for weeks. We literally live with the photographs. I obsessively switch things up every few days, adding new images, re-sequencing, and removing photographs.

Nelita, Jinotega, 2010 -- Kevin Kunishi
At this moment, my current project in Hawaii seems to occupy my mind the most. I’ve been researching as much as I can this last year, trying to absorb as much information as possible as I move forward. The work is rooted in aftermath, touching on issues of cultural identity and the resulting assimilation and appropriation of certain aspects within that culture. I’ll be moving over to Hawaii at some point this coming year to focus intensely on the project. I am itching to get back out on the road for a while.
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