The “selfie” revolution notwithstanding, a photographer is by definition an outsider. As an art photographer, my role, my pleasure, is to capture a subject, a scene, of which I am not a part.

This is a metaphor for my life. For most of my years, I understood family, culture and community only as an observer. Born in Japan and raised by French nuns, I initially studied to become a priest. But I became disillusioned and went to Canada to take up photography. I have always felt part of many cultures, but
at home in none.

Perhaps as a remedy, for more than five decades I have used my camera unflinchingly to explore the themes of my experience, among them the contradictions and limitations of Catholicism and the connections I’ve made with subjects that served as a substitute for family.

So there are refrains that echo throughout my work: religious zeal, sensuous forms, concealed identity, cultural dislocation and suffering and redemption through art. My images are black and white, devoid of colourful distractions. As such, they are a simple, unfettered way to convey what has made me.

The irony of photographer as outsider, of course, is that the resulting image transforms me to insider — the viewer can see what I chose to capture, and imagine what I did not. I’ve become intertwined with the subject. My art may not be a remedy, after all, but it has brought me closer to belonging than I ever thought imaginable.

— Shin Sugino