By: Camila Álvarez
Yuri Tuma is known as a photographer, but he is really a graphic designer who uses photography as both inspiration and raw material to create kaleidoscopic designs with the patterns he obtains as the result of the deconstruction of his images.
“Part of my voice is designing through photos. I don’t close my eyes and just design something. The photo is the inspiration and path to my work,” he explains.
Yuri likes to bend and question reality. He is into the subliminal, the optical, the surreal. He admires M.C. Escher, Sol LeWitt, Dalí, and the father of op-art, Victor Vasarely. Yuri also likes the space between things. When observing the city, he likes looking at it in terms of positive and negative space, always looking for balance. He is also fascinated by the gap you get into through meditation, and by the one that exists between your eye and mind—that ephemeral state of confusion that makes you wonder what it is that you are looking at.
Yuri, whose name literally means lily in Japanese, started shooting with an old technology phone while he was spending some time in New York after he completed his Marketing Communications program at Emerson College in Boston. When he realized photography was his thing, he got a “nice camera” and started taking photos of everything. It wasn’t until he fell in love with the images he took of a synagogue that he started focusing merely on architecture.
Since then, Yuri has been shooting buildings all around the world, and then decomposing his images to create designs that look like futuristic spaceships, holographic portals, or complex quilts that sometimes remind us of Buddhist mandalas due to their design intricacy and their symmetrical balance.
Yuri moved from Sao Paulo, Brasil to Miami when he was 15 with his family. Besides dedicating his time to photography – his main practice – he has collaborated in video, sculpture, fashion and installation art. He has participated in group shows and art fairs in New York, Shanghai, and Miami. He is represented by Butter Gallery, where he’s had four solo exhibitions in the past 5 years, and where he is having his next one in November.
CA: You went to school for marketing…
YT: Yes, Emerson is known more for the creative side of studies, so in a way we did a lot of artistic direction and I was definitely using that part of the brain, but I wasn’t aware that photography was my thing. Photography was a gift; it literally fell in my hands.
How did that happen?
It all started with cellphone photography, but with a really old technology cellphone. I remember taking photos with this old phone and switching my wallpaper every day. I loved it so much.
Then I realized it was photography that I loved, not the wallpaper aspect and I decided to get a camera, a nice camera. And then I started shooting everything. One day after maybe like 8 months, I stumbled over this structure, this synagogue of sorts. That was the moment when architecture hit me in the face. I momentarily stopped shooting everything else. I still shoot nature photography in a more private manner, for it is through organic lines that I am able to listen to my heart without all the city noise.
It feels so good when you find your thing…
Yes, because it’s not even you. Something just happens. After that moment I started seeing everything symmetrically. The way I saw the world changed. Then my first exhibition happened. I explored and shot the architecture in Miami, New York, Paris, and Barcelona.
You would just crop the buildings?
You know, when I first started I didn’t like to touch the photo too much. The color, lighting, brightness, exposure, contrast are all how I took the picture. I would just literally mirror the image twice or four times, there was no cropping, no anything. I guess that was my first lesson. I was learning how to do these things, so they’re very minimal, very simple. That’s how I kept it for my first three exhibitions.
What happened when you started deconstructing the image?
It was an interesting realization to think of a puzzle or a photograph outside the rectangular/square format. Once I was able to leave the shape of the routine boundaries, my sense of infinity became more mindful and less structured. And when I say that is where I am now, I mean this mindset of seeking structural freedom.
Will we see more of these montages in your next show in November at Butter Gallery?
I’m not exhibiting montages in my next show, actually.
What are you working on?
An exploration of color, shapes, and lightness vs. heaviness. Everything will be photography, but you will not know. We’re calling it Departure because it’s something I haven’t done yet: making the photo become not a photo.
Wow, I’m excited to see that! Now, could you talk to me about the lightness vs. heaviness aspect of your show?
When I started dismounting the images and making them black and white, I started seeing the world in black and white shapes, in a very minimized way. But this is not the most fun way to see the world, so I also like exploring the other side — the mystique, and the lightness, and the spirit. I think is a little bit of the mental and logical vs. the spirit, reality vs. dream. I don’t really want to explain it; I want it to be felt.
What does black represent and what does white represent when you look at the world in these two colors?
I think it’s about the yin-yang concept, about things being in balance. At the end of the day, that’s how I think you create good photography, using the negative and positive in a very harmonious way.
And what keeps inspiring you to take pictures and do what you do with them?
I do this because it feeds my soul. Multiplying images and putting the pieces together in a geometrical way has some sort of soothing and calming effect on me. On a daily basis it becomes kind of like a savior even. A lot of times I sit down on the beach when I’m thinking about concepts or prepping images, the creation just starts happening organically, so it’s about this space for me—that place of complete emptiness.
Yes, and I get a lot of that. People tell me that when they look at my pieces they feel very calm. And I think that is why, because during the process, I feel it, and I think it just translates.
I think we should find a place of connectedness and we cannot achieve that if we don’t get away from information. I think that doing this awakens awareness, which awakens compassion, and makes us feel and realize we are really connected to everything. This is what drives me to do art. I have to start with myself first and hope that my work can serve as a path into our inner voice.
*This interview was originally pusblished on Culture Designers