Talking Tokyo photojournalist

Earlier this year I was interviewed by an organisation called The Shpilman Institute for Photography. To be quite honest, I don’t know much about them, but the questions were fun and I seem to be among in good company amongst the other interviewees on the blog. I’m re-posting the interview here with permission.

Just in case anyone wanted to know a little more about me and why I spend time on this job, hobby and obsession that is photography.



What was the first image you ever took?

About the age of seven or eight I was given a little plastic camera that took 110 film. I can’t remember the first photo I took, but it was probably of my younger brother. He got a camera too.

I can tell you of the first photos I sold – they were taken while walking a 750-mile  Buddhist pilgrimage on the Japanese island of Shikoku.

A Flood Prevention Civil Engineering Project, Tokyo

Why did you want to become a photographer?

I consider myself a photojournalist more than a photographer, and I started off as a reporter.

The fantastic thing about taking photos as well as writing, though, is that you actually have to log off and leave the office, visit places and meet people. That’s almost a luxury for many journalists these days.

I don’t have any pretensions towards being an artist. I just want to go and see more and more, and to share what I see.

Sumo Training Session

What is the most difficult thing for a photographer in this day and age? What do you hate the most?

For photojournalists – making a living. I am lucky that I have a job editing a magazine and the opportunity to take photos for it too.

I hate the fact that very very few photojournalists can find publications offering the remuneration they need to really pursue a story.

I hate sterile arguments about equipment. Nikon or Canon? It’s like arguing over whether you should type your novel in Arial or Times New Roman.

Producing the Largest Firework in the World

What inspires you?

Unashamed nosiness. Being a photojournalist is the perfect excuse to go anywhere and meet anyone. I’ve photographed arctic ice flows, Kobe beef cows and phallic festivals. I’ve met bath-house mural painters, wasabi farmers and rookie sumo wrestlers.

I think every story I have ever written or photographed has added something to my life. Life not as a photojournalist for me would be sad and drab.

What kind of music do you listen to when you work on your computer?

I don’t listen to music while I’m using the computer; if I am concentrating on more than one thing at a time, I’m not concentrating. But my iPod is a lifesaver on the Japanese commuter trains.

My station is on the busiest line in Tokyo If I didn’t tune out I’d go insane within a couple of stops.

There’s so much music. How about Nega (Photograph Blues) by Gilberto Gill?

Taking Video of the Cherry Blossom, Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan, April 3, 2010

What was the last photography book you’ve read?

I just re-read Eikoh Hosoe: Aperture Masters of Photography.

A year ago I was privileged to organize an exhibition of Hosoe’s photos at the Japan Foreign Correspondent’s Club and the book was a gift.

Who are your photography idols?

Eikoh Hosoe again. I am in awe of the passion and energy of his work. We showed some of his photographs of the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, who committed seppuku ritual-suicide in 1970.

Hosoe captured Mishima’s sinister theatricality perfectly. The photos are technically superb and still disturbing to look at, decades later.

What can we find on your bookmarks?

I am a fan of the Burn blog and Japan Exposures. Other than that I monitor a huge range of blogs and news sites on Japan in English and Japanese.

I’m always on the lookout for weird and photogenic stories relatively unreported by English-language media. There are plenty.

Tokyo Commuters

What are you working on now?

Japanese food and drink. I’ve traveled all over Japan photographing farmers and food producers. They face a desperate future as the Japanese countryside is badly depopulated and the average age of farmers is something like 65. But they produce ingredients for the finest cuisine in the world with awesome dedication.

I’m still just nibbling at the edges of Japanese food culture. It would take many lifetimes to understand and enjoy it all.

Sharpening a tuna knife at Tsukiji

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