When Naohiro Maeda moved from Tokyo, Japan, to Massachusetts in 2016 to enroll in the New England School of Photography in Waltham, most of his photography focused on food — the 40-year-old Salem-based artist had, after all, worked a weekend job as a food stylist in Japan. But at NESOP, his teachers encouraged him to branch out; Maeda dabbled in portraiture and still lifes before realizing that landscape photography allowed him to best express his emotions.
Others, too, seem to connect with the vertical shots that capture sleek horizons in perfect symmetry and soft colors — a recent shot shared on his Instagram account (@naohiromaeda) went viral, garnering over 3,000 likes (the account itself has roughly 1,200 followers). Maeda spoke to the Globe about how he incorporates his emotions, identity, and experience into his art.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your post that went viral.
A. I was really surprised when it went viral. The image is a contact sheet of twenty images, and they are the exact photos of my portfolio, called “Passages.” It’s an exploration my mental process of mourning — two years ago, my close friend passed away, right before I moved to the United States.
Creating an image is almost like a healing process to me. Many things happen in our lives — for me, it was moving to a different country, and I felt really isolated, or lonely. I really wanted to show these emotions by making images, so I tried to make a color and composition which would really resonate with my emotions.
Q. You mentioned that a lot of that emotion comes from moving to the United States from another country. What role does your identity play in your work?
A. I really had to find out my identity as an artist in photography school. I do practice meditation almost every day, and I’m really into Buddhism, so this kind of spiritual identity really reflects through my image-making in the minimal aesthetics.
Also, during one class, I made folded-screen images and accordion books. These are like folded landscapes in the screen — and if you’re familiar with Asian interiors, maybe you’ve seen some folded screens, which divided the rooms. These things are really premier to me, from my experiences. To see landscapes in a folded way — these kind of things are really key to my identity, I think.
Q. The majority of your recent photos are shots of horizons, with one really smooth line dividing water or land and sky. Is that a primarily aesthetic decision?
A. Yes, it’s aesthetic. And also, I really want to make a set of limitations in my images, because when I started to make images of food, I tended to go back to kind of commercial aesthetics, and I really don’t want to go back into that phase. So I made a very limited composition — just a horizon line in the middle — and this limitation gave me the chance to make images with a more fine art component.
Q. What do you hope the viewers take away from your work when they look on your Instagram?
A. Tranquility, and some kind of calmness or peaceful mind. I want to give viewers the opportunity to get back into the peaceful mode, because every day that can be really busy and emotionally challenging sometimes, so I want to go back to our peaceful mind our peaceful, joyful mind.
Interview was edited and condensed.