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Artist Spolight - Crystal Daniels

By Angelyn Labadan

1. First, give us a short introduction!

Hello! I’m Crystal-Natsuki Daniels. I was born in San Diego, California but at 3-months old my family moved to Japan. I was raised in Okinawa, and I am Okinawan-American. I went to public Japanese school for a few years, but mostly attended school on a US military base in Okinawa. In 2015, I moved to Tokyo to attend Temple University Japan (TUJ), and graduated Spring 2020.

2. Describe briefly the work that you do.

I am a photographer, creating both personal and commercial works. My commercial experience includes shooting for brands such as Off-White, Levi’s Strauss (Made & Crafted), as well as publications such as Speciwomen.

My personal works are often created in a more of a photo-diary approach. I have two series on my website, Diary and Tokyo Portraits, updating both series as often as I can. Diary is kind of like a photo dump of photographs, capturing my public and private matters of my life. I also love to take portraits of my close family and friends, and so I publish these under the title of Tokyo Portraits.

3. How did you get introduced to your craft?

Growing up, I wasn’t really surrounded by art. Of course there were traditional Okinawan arts like dancing, pottery, or Bingata crafts, but the vast history of fine art was completely new to me until only a few years ago. I was first introduced to film photography from my sister, who lended me her Contax t2.

I fell in love with the entire process of shooting + processing film, and film photography just became a part of my life. I branched off from 35mm to medium format, and through the years of trial and error, I started to view the idea of art and photography as a form of language and dialogue.

4. What themes do you pursue?

This is a really tough question, because I think I’m still in the process of figuring it out. My work deals with narratives of myself, or past experiences that hold great meaning to me personally.

Similar to journaling, photography was the best way for me to process things in my life, and to efficiently express myself. I’ve always been shy and socially anxious, therefore asking people to take their photographs or involving others in my work has been a struggle of mine. This naturally led me to photograph myself, which I feel allows for a safe place for experimentation, as well as documentation of my personal and artistic evolution over time.

5. How do you work/what is your process like?

I don’t often plan out projects beforehand, and kind of just shoot everything that happens to me or around me. Depending on my mood, I just choose whatever camera I feel like using (usually my Contax G1), but for portraiture I like to use my medium format Mamiya RZ67.

6. Do you have any long-standing influences?

Wolfgang Tillmans and Mao Ishikawa!

7. How do you want your work to affect your audience?

What really fascinates me about art and specifically exhibiting (whether it is online or at a gallery), is that each person views a photograph through a lens of their own past experiences and emotions. I hope that my work can allow the audience to take away something from it, whether it is an emotion or idea.

Emotions are so important in our lives, but in the Japanese culture we often are encouraged to suppress them. I hope that my work can somehow affect someone emotionally, and to provide a space to FEEL within my photographs.

8. Can you describe your idea of artistic success?

Nowadays, we are exposed to SO much information. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but I do believe there is a special kind of freedom that comes with being naive. However, growing up surrounded by social media, it was almost impossible to avoid any influence.

I’ve found this to be an endless battle as an artist - trying new things while also being authentic to myself. I think artistic success can be measured differently with the goal of each artist, but my idea of success for myself would be to reach a point where I can confidently find my own path amongst others and to be authentic as I can.

Most importantly, being able to accept failure and change so that I can grow as an artist.

9. What are your plans for the future?

Staying healthy, keep shooting, and save up money for graduate school!

10. Let’s talk about one of your most recent and favorite projects: JUST KIDS

How you came up with this idea?

Living in Tokyo, I didn’t feel like I necessarily fit in with the city itself, as well as the people I was constantly surrounded with. I was afraid of being stuck in Tokyo where I always just felt numb, and decided to travel alone to try out living in the U.S., a country that is half of my heritage yet I still had not experienced.

I took the opportunity of an internship at Paper Chase Press, an art-book publishing/bindery, and lived in Los Angeles for a few months over the summer of 2019. During this time, I experienced so much of what I had lacked in Tokyo - youth, independence, and love for others and myself. I photographed my entire experience, and left with 50+ rolls of film, and more inspiration than I’ve ever felt.

Why is this your favorite?

I think it’s my favorite because I sense a different energy from the works I’ve previously created. Within the 3 months in LA, I made many friends and was surrounded by beautiful people who I felt a genuine connection with.

They helped me realize that no matter where I go, I’m not alone in my situation. Everyone is dealing with similar situations as me, yet we find a way to balance jobs, school, and emotional hurdles, because in turn it is how we enjoy our youth. Looking at these photographs, I see my process of discovery and realization, as well a reflection of my longing for friendship, love, and youth.

Be sure to connect with Crystal on her instagram (@crystalshashin) as well as her website.


Thank you Crystal for taking the time to talk with us!

Artist Spotlight is a series hoping to promote local creatives from TUJ and beyond. We aim to cover a diverse range of artists from a variety of fields, so please follow us to find out about aspiring artists and more!

Contact us if you want your work to be featured or know an artist who’s a good fit to our mission and you think deserves more attention!

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