24th 3 月 2010
photo+text ©A.K. Kimoto
I walk through a low entrance, stepping over a large puddle while crouching to avoid the wooden beam of the doorframe. It’s dark. As my eyes adjust, I see a figure sitting in a corner as gentle wisps of smoke slowly dance across the room. I see that it is a woman, so I greet her and find a place to sit on the hard, mud packed floor. I’ve come to these remote settlements in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, to find out why so many of the inhabitants have become addicted to opium.
There is a small bundle just to my side. Occasionally it moves, until suddenly, a tiny skeletal hand breaks free and I hear the muffled cries of a child. I move closer to take a photograph, and his mother comes to comfort him. He is slowly unwrapped of the layers that protect him from the biting cold of the mountains and I am shocked by his condition. He is severely malnourished, and his skin hangs loosely from his bones. Qurban is 7 months old, and in desperate need of medical help. He was born addicted to opium and he receives a regular dose of the drug through his mother’s breast milk.
Back outside, my mind races as I talk to the village elders, and explain that a car will pick me up late in the afternoon, a 6-hour walk from the village. I offer to transport the mother and child to a clinic. One of the elders cuts me off before I can finish my thought. He smiles gently as he tells me that the child would never survive such a journey in the cold rain, and anyway, this way of life and death have been repeated for centuries in these mountains.
A.K. Kimoto was a Japanese photographer based out of Bangkok, Thailand. After a successful career in the I.T. sector, A.K. decided to pursue his passion for travel and photography by moving to South-East Asia. He first travelled to Indonesia and shortly after his arrival, a strong earthquake and tsunami devastated the Sumatran coastline around Aceh. A few days later he accepted his first assignment to cover this tragic story. Over the following years, A.K. worked with various international NGOs to document the recovery efforts in Aceh, and on many social issues in the region.
Although he was based in Bangkok for the last few years, he travelled throughout the Asian region, with a particular interest in Afghanistan. In what was to be his final work, he focused on photographing the lives of ordinary Afghans who were struggling to lead a normal existence, while conflict and violence threatened their survival.
**Received A.K. Kimoto's material for I WAS THERE from Kosuke Okahara As of March 12th 2010.
Paying a tribute to the memory of A.K. Kimoto by Kosuke Okahara
I met him A.K. Kimoto for the first time in 2007. He was a calm, and gentle man.
We became good friends, moreover, he became like my older brother.
He always told me about the people in the pictures, and never about recognition or awards.
A.K. Kimoto was a true photographer who really cared about people. He also helped me and others about editing, ideas etc.
He was such a generous and talented photographer whom we all adored. I just talked to him 2 weeks ago on the phone, about his next project, about my project. I could not imagine that those 20 minutes were the last time I would talk with him....it was a precious moment as always, I enjoyed talking with him.
I received an email from James Whitlow Delano, a fellow photographer and a good friend of AK about the last message he received from him. This really showed his personality, and his attitude towards the people in the photographs. I would like to quote here because I feel, as a photographer, that it is really important.
“I don't care about being recognized, and I don't care if I go through life with no fame to show for my efforts. What bothers me is that people do not take my latest work seriously. Not for my sake, but for the sake of the people who allowed me to photograph their lives. When was the last time you saw a 4 year old suckling heroin? Is it not a tragedy? If I can't do anything to bring attention to their plight, and if nobody cared, then what am I doing with my time and in fact, my life? It was never about awards or anything like that. I thought it was about being out in the world, witnessing things that others do not see, and sharing these stories with a larger audience. I always said that I do what I do because I only have 2 hands.”
I still cannot believe he is gone. I still don't want to say that I miss him.... I still hope it is just a nightmare and the next day when I wake up he will talk to me on the phone.....
Paying a tribute to the memory of A.K. Kimoto by James Whitlow Delano
Sometimes life tests us by taking away people we care about but it is always hardest when this happens without warning. This is rather a selfish statement because it implies a self-centered attitude. I met A.K. Kimoto by chance in Kabul, Afghanistan. There was no period of getting to know one another, we just slipped into each others lives like a pair of old, comfortable shoes. It was that easy.
There was something about him that instilled immediate trust. I remember the morning I wrapped a turban around my head and traveled down a dangerous Afghan highway by local group taxi to complete a story and there was never any question who I would call. It was AK who I asked to check that I made it back that night, but that makes him sound serious and stoic. AK was deep but with humility and a childlike sense of humor. We both loved to share videos that showed the folly of ordinary life. He had no ego that I could discern. There was no self-importance. None. He walked into life centered and inquisitive but really didn’t care what people thought of him.
If there was anything with which he seemed to struggle it had to have been a perfectionist streak or a niggling self-doubt when photographing. He would ruminate on how best to present his brilliant work from Badakhshan, Afghanistan, where he spent weeks photographing families struggling with hunger and heroin addiction, easing pangs of their children’s hunger by blowing heroin smoke into their noses until they slept, ensuring another generation of heroin addiction. This work was intimate, raw, sensitive, and tragic. The weight of responsibility he assumed seeped deep into his mind as he worried about exploiting these forgotten mountain dwellers. He did not.
The last communiqué I got from AK was just one short week ago. These were his final sage-like words to me:
I don't care about being recognized, and I don't care if I go through life with no fame to show for my efforts. What bothers me is if people don't take my latest work seriously. Not for my sake, but for the sake of the people who allowed me to photograph their lives. When was the last time you saw a 4 year old sucking down heroin? Is it not a tragedy? If I can't do anything to bring attention to their plight, and if nobody cares, then what am I doing with my time and in fact, my life? It was never about awards or anything like that. I thought it was about being out in the world, witnessing things that others don't see, and sharing these stories with a larger audience. I always said that I do what I do because I only have 2 hands.
AK never forgot what was important in life and I will never, ever forget AK Kimoto. I will miss him for he deeply enriched my life. AK Kimoto was my friend. I was proud to be a friend of his.
James Whitlow Delano (left) and A.K. Kimoto (right) at Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia
©Dave Dare Parker
Paying a tribute to the memory of A.K. Kimoto by David Høgsholt
beautiful - thanks so much for the words.
I can not do much but agree with everything. When AK let you in, it was as if you had always been there - it was that easy, It was that comfortable being his friend.
For the few years, I knew him, AK was a constant force of stability in my life. And his importance to me only grew bigger each time we saw each other.
AK was quiet, but strong. He was, in lack of a better word, an idealist - and a beautiful one at it. He asked a lot of himself but much less of his friends, instead he offered unflinching support as well as loving and harsh criticism when needed.
Besides that, he was funny as hell. Witty and edgy in the most clever way.
I thought we had a tiny fall-out once, and it hurt like hell. Next day I saw him, I told him it hurt and he just said something like: "C’mon bro, we didn't fight, we just disagreed. Let's have coffee!"
Coffee... he he, most often the only thing that could get him across the river and into the best ”expat mall” in town was exactly that – his quest for good coffee. It was a hit and run kinda operation. Coffee, and back to his apartment and his girlfriend Toon.
I always saw AK as a guy who was comfortable in his own life. He didn’t need tons of action or people around him – on the contrary. Lots of us has seen him head home early from a party. It was not that he was a loner, more that when alone or alone with Toon, he didn’t need much else. At the same time, he was great with people. Before he would have left that party, he would have blessed some with great company and talks. All of you who have met him around the world knows that. I always suspected a simple explanation – that he just liked people. That was the beauty of it.
So much is so unfair about him being gone. Professionally, I think he found himself completely on his last story. He always felt exactly like in that great quote above, but in Badakshan he found the story where it all came together, where he hoped to make a difference. He knocked on office doors in Kabul, showed the work to the right people in the hopes that someone would go up there and try to help him change things. He was deeply moved and involved and wanted others to be the same. And he was going back soon.
I wrote this a few hours ago:
”I walk into the street. Busy as always. Traffic, heat, people. I don’t understand why it hasn’t stopped. Don’t they know? Don’t they care?
I walk to the cafe where we always met. I know he wont be there and still it is so hard to really believe that he just wont walk off the boat and greet me from the other side. Of the river.
I get angry at all the living around me. Why doesn’t it stop for a sec to remember. No, not to remember, to keep him. I cry. I realize that it is not up to them, they don’t know and they’ll go on. They have to, that’s how it is. It is not out there that he will live on, it is inside me. Inside us.”
I have been afraid that I will lose the memory of him. I do forget things all the time, but now I feel like my brain and heart has already set aside room for him. Like a vault that can’t be broken into. Go ahead, build a distracting world on top of it - it will still be down there, close to the center of it all.
Love you and miss you bro.
Paying a tribute to the memory of A.K. Kimoto by Ying Ang
Have to say goodbye to a friend… who passed away before his time. I’m swimming in conversations we’ve had and thinking about the amazing person who I wanted to have the chance to spend a lot more time with in the undefinable and always uncertain future. He always makes me laugh. Tells me to follow my dreams. He likes my blurry pictures more than my sharp ones. He always took my side. He rescued a puppy from the mean streets of Bangkok and would smuggle her in and out of his apartment in his backpack to go for walks. The number of photographs I have of his dog on my hard drive outnumber the photographs that I have of him by about 10:1... A single conversation would range from him giving his dog half his breakfast to warning me about not letting the establishment corrupt the way I shoot and how cool the ninja emoticon on skype is. In fact, AK's last communication to me a few weeks ago was "ninjas are rad".
Nearly a week on since learning of his passing and I still haven't gotten used to the fact that I can't quickly email him some silliness/seriousness and get a response. I have barely gotten used to the fact that the measly few photographs I have of him are the only photographs of him I will ever take. The good news is that I always told him what I thought of him and I have no regrets about leaving any words unsaid. AK always knew how much I respected him and how much I valued his friendship and support. The bad news is that when you find such a person in your life, enough is never enough. The loss of AK to the people in his life is devastating. The loss of people that were yet to meet him is a damn shame... And on one hand the sadness that sits like a stone in my heart, I wish would go away, but on the other hand I want to keep it close to ensure that my recollection of him remains sharp and true. So acute this fear of forgetting, I repeat the image of our friendship in my head every day... cementing, consolidating the old memories because there will be no new ones to take their place.
AK ~ Missing our conversations about everything and nothing and the laughter. Missing your single-minded determination to remain true to your work, your purity devoid of ego (a definite rarity in our world), your unflinching loyalty to your friends and subjects, your grumpliness (and I don’t care that no one else understands this word)… your knife-sharp humour and the span of ridiculous stories from Afghanistan to Thailand.
Wish we had more time.
A.K. Kimoto in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Paying a tribute to the memory of A.K. Kimoto by Patrick Brown
How does one put a life into words, especially A.K.’s? He was a very unique person with so many incredible qualities. AK was so many things to so many different people. For me, the one quality that keeps coming to the forefront is the way he loved life itself.
I’ve been trying to think of how I first met AK, I’ve been racking my brains for the precise moment and I simply can’t. It’s as if that moment has been locked away within time itself, similar to his untimely death. The form in which he was taken from this world, in an unexpected way, gave many people, myself included, a meaning and an understanding to his death. Like so many of us, I was simply stunned, disbelieving, it’s all a mistake.
I still see his name in my phone, I just simply want to call him, meet for our weekly coffee, talk shop, have a laugh - sadly this call will fall on deaf ears. I never once left AK’s company unhappy, he had a great sense of balance, between reflective thought and boyish humor, a great person to be around.
A.K. lived a full life, he saw a multitude of different worlds, some he visited, some he was an integral part of, some that were an integral part of who he was, such as the children affected by opium addiction
in Afghanistan. Also, at the Angkor Photo Festival, where he had strong convictions that photography
should be for everyone. This is where his personality as a photographer came to the forefront. In his nonjudgmental way and in his ability to see straight through disingenuous people. These qualities he had in an abundance, you can see it in his work and you can see it in the people who surrounded him. He had an ability to really touch peoples lives, mine included.
This world is going to be a little less happier place now the man with the hat is no longer with us. Unwittingly, AK described his life better than anyone: “I do what I can do because I only have 2 hands”.