International Photography Awards 2013 - 1st Place in People - Other category


2013 International Photography Awards Announces Winners of the Competition

Toko Shiiki was Awarded: 1st place in People - Other category for the winning entry "Time Traveler"

About Work:
At the conclusion of psycho-therapy, I decided to travel to Japan, to visit several locations from my childhood. During therapy, I had visited these places, in my mind, in order to find my own lost little self. When I would find "her" there, I would hold her hand, to live every "now" together. This therapy was beneficial, but, I kept wondering: "Are these places actually the dark places I remember? Shouldn't I witness those places now, in order to confirm that these stories belong to my past?" I decided to photograph my self in these environments, as evidence of my process.

About Winner:
Born in Japan Lived, Learned, and experienced in Tokyo most of her life and moved to Michigan, USA 2005. I have a passion for photography that tell a story. Many of my images are inspired by my life experiences. Now, I have been working on the "inner-life documentary" project, to visualize what I've experienced at this present time... I find photography to be a most effective way to express my view of the world (inside and outside.) No matter what my subject is, I want to create images that tell a story. But it is my hope that every time people see my photographs, they will feel encouraged to interpret the images in their own way. Art is my life power, and I am still finding ways to let it speak through me...

About IPA:
The 2013 International Photography Awards received nearly 15,000 submissions from 103 countries across the globe. IPA is a sister-effort of the Lucie Foundation, where the top three winners are announced at the annual Lucie Awards gala ceremony. The Foundation's mission is to honor master photographers, to discover new and emerging talent and to promote the appreciation of photography. Since 2003, IPA has had the privilege and opportunity to acknowledge and recognize contemporary photographers' accomplishments in this specialized and highly visible competition. Visit www.photoawards.com for more details.
Toko Shiiki:

IPA Contact
Linda Dzhema
Director, International Photography Awards


 Thank you very very very much for everyone who really supported me to do this project, from heart..... Thank you....




Time Traveler - memoirs 6

One of my old hometowns, in Osaka. Neighborhood. I often walked these places alone, when I was little. Again, no happy memories. When I visited there, it almost started raining. Getting dark. Some of the houses and shrines seemed like almost exactly same as they were when I lived there.
Since I was wearing the bubble and holding camera, people in the town immediately figured out I was doing photo shooting and again, very kind. I sort of expected someone asked me to move or stop shooting. But actually I have never encountered such a situation. Hm? Everyone whom I met during this photo journey, was very supportive. I wondered why? Still I don't know. But... really felt warmth inside myself.

Here again, some outtakes...

... And I chose this one for the final cut.
The ditch, behind myself... I dropped several things - school stuff. These places were memory of loneliness. I walked through a lot, alone.
And finally it started raining, so stopped photographing. It was very gentle rain. Being purified.

... to be contined



Time Traveler - memoirs 5

More outtakes from the day of the visiting the school

And these are the two images I chose to add to the final cut. 

And one of my favorite of all (and last shot of the day) I felt, "Okay, I have done enough..." 
after I saw this image.

Many parts of the school have been changed but this view was almost exactly as it was when I was a student of this school. I felt some kind of... memory overlap (past and present time) It was kinda unreal moment.
When I was shooting these photos, since I already had done the lecture, I was very relaxed and felt something like... deep care and love from all the people around myself. It's because all the faculties in the school and my husband helped me to do the photo shooting and took really good care of me. Unbelievable and unforgettable. Really... thankful.......

...to be continued



Time Traveler - memoirs 4

The principal, Kamata sensei who has such a friendly smile asked me, "Please share your stories of experiences in this school and how to move forward after then, and how you are following your dream in US, with the students."

I needed to think about it for a while. "Is it really okay to talk about my experiences in the school? I don't have any happy memories..." I asked two of my trustworthy friends before I went to the school. Both said, "It might be not for everyone, but I believe that certainly some students really appreciate and need to hear the truth and how you could go through and became this present-you, Toko."

The principal said same sort of things. Top of that, she told me, "There have been two students stop coming to school for around 8 months or so. Today even they plan to come to listen to you." (Actually they could not. So, I gave the audio file of the lecture. I hope it somehow helps them...)
So... I decided to talk as honest as possible, and of course not only that but also, I wanted to share hopes for future with them, as much as I could.

Here is another outtake inside the school. Yes, I'm in the classroom. (!!!)
And here is one more. This is an image I shot when I was focusing.
It was unreal for me to witness that my life-partner was sitting at a desk in the classroom after many many years later... I NEVER expected that I could visit this place. Especially being there with my husband... No way... (AH! I wanted to tell the little one, "About 30 years later, I'll visit here with my best friend/life-partner. I know you feel so lonely right now but please keep going. You will be fine. Believe me, it'll be paid off many years later.")

Wow... The space was really changed. (Desks are new, color of walls are changed, there is a TV, and so on...) Actually it was nothing like I remembered (sure, lots of things have been really changed, including myself.) Much brighter... (I'd like to add, I could even eat lunch at school. - yes, I had "lunch-phobia" The principal didn't know such a thing and she thought it would be nice for me to eat it again, and her kindness completely changed my perception of "Lunch at school". It was really tasty, for sure... very thankful...)
The lunch I got

So, here is something about the lecture I did for the students (about 100 some kids) on the day.
My main theme was... "Find your 'No.1 thing': something you can be really good at or you truly love doing at most in your life. Because it'll keep helping you to move forward even if you have very difficult moments in life." I told them I didn't have friends until I became 9 years old. Because of the escalated bullied situations and my mental and health condition, when I was 8 - 9 years old, I stopped going to school for a while, but even if I could not do many other things, I never stopped drawing and making stories with them. It was a really significant thing that helped me in the darkness.
Until I entered my high school, I believed that I would go to one of the biggest art schools in Tokyo. But when I was a high school student, I changed my mind (Instead going to the art school, I decided to do completely new thing, which was acting. The story/the reason why I changed my mind would be too long to write here, so I won't write the details but simply because of the terrible art teacher, I lost interest to continue to study art. Rather, I just wanted to keep doing by myself.) And then, more than 10 years, I concentrated acting/tried to make a career out of it but it was not easy, and when I got my late twenties, simply I lost so many things what I had before (job, boyfriend, a family member, and my mind etc...) The biggest turning point which made me stop and think "what and where I am?" was a car crash. Even without the accident, sooner or later, I truly needed to face myself and think.. "Where am I? Where am I going really?" Anyway, because of the accident, no matter what I wanted or not, I needed to ask myself. For a while I could not do much (physically and mentally) and after the major depression time, I finally could talk to myself once again, "What do I really want to do, for myself? Is there anything? ...If so... Why don't I do that? Let's start again..." Then, long story short, I decided to learn photography (I chose photography instead of other kind of art, i.e., drawing or painting because it was something I really love but before I never had a chance to learn) In addition, I decided to move to other country to do that. It was one of the best decisions I made in my life.
...I didn't have any confidence about myself except for creating art since I was little. But, at least I have that in me, all the way to get there. I thought... "I must do this. I can do this. I want to change the way of living." And then I started studying English hard and saved money and moved to new place, for myself, finally...

One more outtake. This is the place I got the car accident. (Under the pedestrian bridge)

...I asked the students, "Could you tell me what your 'No.1'? What you guys are good at doing or love doing at most? Even if it's a little thing, it's perfectly fine. Even if others said, "You are not that good!" it's also okay. No matter what others are saying about it, it's your thing, so don't worry. I'm asking what YOU think you are doing good at or love doing. Something makes your feeling brighter. The important point is YOU love doing for yourself. Okay? So.... Could you tell me please?" The students hesitated for a while but gradually they started talking about what they love. Running, Doing baseball, Swimming, Making stamps by carving a piece of eraser, Painting... Some kids also said, "I still don't know what I really like or anything I'm good at." I asked those students, "So, please make some time to think what you love doing, from now on. If you can't find it right away, it's also okay but please remember the question and keep asking yourself, "What do I love doing at most in my life?" and also remember such things might help you to move forward in life when you encounter difficulties."

I noticed everyone of them were really listening to me, and some students were actually almost crying. I don't know the exact reasons why those kids looked like that but I strongly hope my stories somehow resonate well with them... Anyway I really hope someday they could find something they love doing at most in their life-flows.  

And then, they sang a song for my husband and me (it was a really truly beautiful, and so thoughtful...) and we sang the school song together. (This was also never never expected to be able to do such a thing when I was little!! wow....)

After the lecture time, several students visited at the principal's room to tell me...
"I could not say in front of everyone but this is something I love doing..."
They showed me some little things they made... and one of them gave me these origami works.
He quietly told me he loved to make origami art, and gave me these.
Amazing.... in many many many ways...

Here are some images I shot after I came back home.

The blue one is the standard shape of origami crane. And the peach one is connected 4 cranes.
These yellow and dark blue ones are connected cranes. Yellow one is 4 cranes and dark blue one is 9 cranes. (each one of them is made from a sheet of paper) I can't even guess how he could make these!
Japanese rhinoceros beetle says "hi!"

I guess... Many of the kids won't remember what I talked on the day, but if... If they remember the moment when they thought... "What do I love doing at most in my life?" and "That might help me to move forward." ... I'm really happy.  I believe if they can find that, they can somehow survive and they can find their own happiness.

The time I was at the school was hard but eventually, I could learn a lot, not only just each subject I studied but also much more important things for life. I am truly thankful that I could be at the space again and yes, could have this new experience and memory...
Really appreciate the warm kind acceptance of the principal (me to visit the school and do this project) It's not only for the photo project but also for my life. Arigatai...........

After the visit, I thought... I'm doing really right thing for my life.

I shot several more images at the school. I'll upload later.

to be continued...



Time Traveler - memoirs 3

A few days ago, I watched a documentary movie, "Bully" (2011 Directed by Lee Hirsch). In the movie, one of the kids quietly answered to his mom, "Gradually I don't feel anything." (His mom asked him why he didn't tell her about the bullied situation at all, and how he felt about being in the circumstance.)  The scene struck my heart. I totally understood what he meant. When I was around 8 years old, I was him.

Even if somebody in the school kicked, punched, or threw something on my face, I could not tell anyone about it. And gradually I could not feel anything. Numb. I was like as if a person just quietly waited until a storm has passed. When I found my belongings inside trash cans, I felt embarrassed and tried to hide about the incidents from others, especially my mom. I tried to hide everything. (I was thinking about the reason why I tried to hide, during the therapy. I think... I finally found my own reason why I did so. I won't write about it here.)
I knew it was not only me, there were several targets in the school but I felt completely alone in the space at that time. I gradually could not eat and my sight became so narrow (basically I was always facing down). If I smelled food, I felt nauseous so during lunch time, I always went to the school infirmary (I think this is a crazy situation. How could nobody in the school tell about it to my family? ...) I spent lunch time on the bed. I felt as if I was sucked into the white ceiling above myself. (After I threw up a few times at school, I became a "lunchtime-phobia".)

Here is one outtake photo. Yes, I shot this in the school infirmary. It was so much smaller than I remembered. And the sheets were pink. (pink!) The teacher/school nurse moved to other school in the same town. I asked the principal to tell "Thank you" for me since she knows her.

 Around that time, I was already so skinny but even more became looked like a wooden stick (somebody called me so. Or "Tori-gara" - means chicken bone for soup stock.) I gradually stopped going to the school. I stayed at my small room and I kept drawing many many "stories" on many pieces of paper.

If...... instead my father was shouting at my mom, "She is just lazy. You spoiled her." or called me ugly or disgusting child, if he had asked me "What's wrong with you?" or "Are you okay?" with love... it would have been different? Maybe so. When I saw the aforementioned documentary movie, "Bully", I thought so. There are so many kids in those kinds of situations in their schools. BUT, if their parents, teachers, or someone around him or her notice that and show care or love, he or she may be able to move forward. So... I appreciated my mom's support. She didn't ask me directly anything what was really going on but, at least she said to the father, "I think she has been sick. She is not just lazy."and took me to a hospital. When I talked with the psychiatrist, (I didn't know he was a psychiatrist at that time) I felt finally someone could listen to me and understand what I had been feeling and dealing with. I cried for the first time in front of someone. And I finally could talk with my mom a bit after the visit. I saw she cried. It was powerful for me to see she was crying for me. It was the first time and last time (at this point). I also heard my teacher was crying when she was visiting my mom. She apologized and said, "I didn't know anything." (...really? anyway...)  I decided to be strong after the hospital visit. (...and then ironically kinda created another types of problems later but anyway, really the little one was changed since then. No more shy. She could say what she thought or felt. She even fought against boys, etc etc...)

I needed to do this photo shooting in the school. I could not complete this project without visiting and shooting photos inside the space. So I wrote a letter to the principal to ask her whether I could visit there and do this photo session. She accepted me. (To be honest, I was surprised at first. Sort of expected they said no. I was so so so thankful, more than any words.) And also she asked me whether I could be a "one-day-teacher" for the 6th grade students of the school. That was............. amazing.............. Never never expected that I could do such a thing in the space. I'd love to write about it more.

...to be continued.



Time Traveler - memoirs 2

I could not write for a while. My mind went somewhere else. (Where?! Really... ughhhh)
Anyway... If I think too much, I can not write at all. So I decided to write whatever comes in my mind when I saw those images I shot in those places.

An outtake in the town where I was born. (click to larger view, if you like...)
I loved this pedestrian bridge (actually kinda higher than I expected. Of course, when I was little, it was really high for the girl, but it IS still high for adult myself too! wow) I never expected to be allowed to go on that and shoot this portrait, since it was inside my kindergarten. (the gate was locked) I didn't remember where the kindergarten was but once I got to the old house/dorm, my memory came back like waterfall and took me there. Great to see this bridge was not changed at all. I opened the gate (that was easy to unlock) of the kindergarten. I went inside. Why not, right? Well... I was kinda shaky, to be honest, and was thinking "how should I explain about myself and the reason why I am here now?" An old lady came out, with very calm smile... and also a question mark on her face. I explained to her who I was. (..."who was I"? ...really who was I? ...)  She accepted me.

Great thing was... She remembered me. !  I mean once I mentioned my name, she recalled her memories about the little one. (Yes, I have such an unusual name) She was the principal of the kindergarten.
"You were so quiet and continued to draw something on paper alone, all the time."
"This" was more than enough for me to visit there. To know the fact, somebody remembered the little one. (yaay) The invisible girl whose parents didn't even talk to her or notice her much.

My old teacher gave my husband and me two packs of cold fruit juice, after the shooting. Then she unobtrusively asked me, "...What did you wear during your photo shooting?" I told her, "It was a bubble. A capsule." She seemed to really want to ask me more about "that bubble thing" but didn't. Instead, she said, "I see..." and silence was surrounded us. A cat was sleeping behind me, so so peacefully. I was thankful that she stopped asking about it at that time.

One more outtake in the place.

They (me and the little one) were happy there, during this visit. It meant A LOT.

...to be continued 


Time Traveler - memoirs 1 - a bit more about the journey

"Time Traveler" is my newest personal photo project. (you can see the whole project on my website, http://tokoshiiki.com/time_traveler/index.html") This is the artist statement of the project:

"Time Traveler"
At the conclusion of psycho-therapy, in the 40th anniversary of my life, I decided to travel to Japan, to visit several locations from my childhood that had greatly influenced my personality.  During therapy, I had visited these difficult places, in my mind and heart, in order to find my own lost little self. When I would find the little one there, I would hold her hand, to live every "now" together. I told her, "You are safe now with me."  This therapy was very beneficial, but after the last session, I kept wondering: "Are these places actually the dark places I remember? Shouldn't I witness those places now, in person, as an adult, in order to confirm that these stories belong to my past, and I belong to now? Might visiting these places bring closure to my therapy?"

I asked my husband to be my witness on this journey.  I decided to photograph my self in these environments, as evidence of my process. With the help of warm, kind people, like my husband, friends, and teachers from my former schools, I was able to make an important inter-outer journey. The outcome was, is… so much more than this photographic evidence, it is a new beginning.


I chose 11 images for the final cut. Of course, I shot so much more. And there are lots of stories rather than these 11 images could tell. ...Maybe nobody cares these stories but for myself, I thought... why don't I write them? (It's basically for me, and also IF there is anyone who is interested to know about the journey a bit more than the photographic images. So, I decided to write here on my blog)  I plan to add several outtakes to this space too, which I've never done before (I mean I have never shown outtakes from my project publicly). Well I'm really not sure how it goes but anyway I'll keep going and hoping it keeps growing.

Okay, so here is the first image. And also, my day 1 of this project. (click to enlarge)
I really wanted to start this photographic journey in this location, which was in front of the house where I was born. It was not actually a regular house but a dorm for nurse students. I was born at the hospital which the nurses belonged to. My parents were really young and broke. They lived one room in the dorm by working as a caretaker. I won't write about the detail of my memories inside the room but that's the first place I visited with my therapist when I started the therapy...

I could not find the specific address of the dorm. (I didn't want to ask my mom about it. Without telling her, I wanted to do this.) But I thought... "If I go to the town, I would remember?"  However, it was difficult. I didn't quite get where I was right now when I got the train station. So, I needed to ask some people about it. Gradually I found out the place was no longer used as a dorm since several years ago. Finally a kind farmer who was at his small farmer's market called his friends and found out the information about the dorm (I bought 2 oranges from him.)
Interestingly, when I was walking down the hill close to the place, gradually I recalled something like... "I ran on this hill with my mom. Oh I found a broken door in the grass over there." Then, I finally found the house. I felt something like... "That's it? oh... sure..." Not really I was emotional or anything like that.

The actual place/ the house was not really good location to photograph, so I chose to shoot on the long stairs across the street. I thought visually so much intriguing, and also when I stood there, I could see the house.  ...Seriously, I NEVER noticed the actual house was in the round shape mirror which we see on the right side of this image, until I saw the photo on my computer, which was truly a great coincidence. I mean... I screamed when I saw it. I loved this image so much more when I noticed the fact.

I want to write about the day of wandering the town a bit more with outtakes, but long story short, those people whom I met in the town were all SO kind... I had such a great start. On the day, already I felt strongly, "I am doing a right thing." It's all for myself. ...Selfish? Maybe... I felt so too. But. Yes, I needed to do. And, oh yes, crazily thankful to receive the kindness and care, while doing this shooting... in those places.

...to be continued