According to photographer Forrest Aguar, “Ikigai” is a Japanese word that describes an individual’s “reason for being” and can only be found after a long journey of self-discovery. The photographs in Aguar’s series of this name represent the constant struggle for significance, while also speaking to the impossibility behind the pursuit.
Within the shots on display in “Ikigai,” there is an unwavering ambiguity. The photos are in black and white, instantly setting them in an aura of mystery. Similarly, each shot is veiled by blurring obstructions or motion, and as such, are placed into an immediate state of uncertainty. The ambiguity in these photographs, which Aguar describes as a representation of his own at the gravity of the task of finding his purpose in life, speaks on many levels; Images of both haunting stillness and confounding chaos manage to negate a clear meaning, reflecting the uncertainty of both life and artistic interpretation itself.
“Ikigai” is a series of images that take place in between moments, in between disconnected stories. They do not offer a coherent narrative, replacing this instead with fleeting vignettes which can not be bothered with the structure of a beginning, middle, and end. By capturing such moments, Aguar succeeds in creating works that are, to a certain sense, beyond artistic interpretation. This negation is well called for by the artists mission, as it mirrors the search for meaning in life. After all, the narrative structure of a beginning, middle, and end is one that can only be created by human beings to fulfill the wish that life itself can be worked out in such an ordered way, as in a literary work, a film, or another art form. The search for meaning in art is still the search for meaning in life, and in “Ikigai” this search is presented in all its ambiguity, mystery, chaos, and stasis.
Aguar’s photographs offer suggestions, but not certainties. They provide just enough information to spark the viewer’s search for meaning, but don’t offer the satisfaction of a definitive interpretation. In one shot, a dark silhouette stands still against an obstructive curtain, the lens sitting on the other side in the dark side of an unknowable room. We are confronted by the tension in the desire to know who this is on the other side, where they are, and what they are doing, and the inability to ever know. In this sense, Aguar’s photographs, through the lens of artistic interpretation, successfully reflect the tragically beautiful pursuit of a life’s meaning.