Hi Ulysses. Thanks for joining us today here in Tokyo. Can you please introduce yourself
I'm a Japanese/American living in Tokyo. I've spent most of my life in Tokyo. I started taking photos about 3 years ago beginning with portraits, but started endlessly walking and understanding the art of photography more and more, from about 2 years ago.
I'm now transitioning to taking more and more photos, hopefully as a living.
Having such a busy life in such a busy city, tell us the reason why you also got into photography and how it fits your tight daily schedule.
Just for some background information, I juggle several types of work, the main one being a management consultant for the topic of social sustainability.
I mentioned I took portraits first. This is because I've done fashion modeling in Tokyo for about 20 years, and had a bunch of cool friends around me that needed some new work for their portfolio.
I had a digital canon that I never used, so ended up selling that to get a film contax, because 1) I loved Juergen Teller and 2) I wanted to force myself to learn the basics of photography.
I ended up loving the art of photography and wandered around with the camera more and more. I don't know how it happened, but burned a lot of film in the process of learning.
I think, if you love something enough, you will find the time to do it. You and even others may suffer some consequences, but that's all a part of the circular journey of finding yourself.
Despite Tokyo offering a lot of different situations and ever-changing environments, which may appear to an easier city to street shot in, we believe it may instead be complex to frame all these people, lights and colors in a meaningful way. What do you think? How do you feel and approach the city while shooting (e.g. simplify the scene, walk and shoot, wait and compose)?
I agree. Many others do, too. I've met many people try to shoot here, especially in color, tell me that it was harder than they expected. A lot of people freeze up when I ask them about specific, good color photographs of Tokyo.
My approach has ended being on the free-flowing end. In Tokyo, what people do in the public are ethically framed by many hidden codes. You have to know what to look for, identify those scenes, and have the ability to compose and frame the scene meaningfully within a fraction of a second.
I do some “fishing” too, but personally don't find too many scenes that are worthy of waiting so much (at least, in Tokyo as of 2019).
Talking about photographic approach and style, last time we met you told us that previously you were going through a phase following the trend to shot flash in the face style (aka Bruce Gilden), while you gradually changed to a more relaxed and snapshot way of shooting. Was it due to a natural evolution of your style or were you moved in it by some photobooks / other source of inspiration?
I think the indirect answer is: I'm still learning and I'm also just drawn to good photographs, regardless of style. I've tried many ways of shooting, but mostly to understand myself.
The more accurate answer is: I'm a big fan of Joel Meyerowitz, Alex Webb and Bruno Barbey. Joel Meyerowitz talked about how he shifted from taking moments of subjects, to composing a frame and understanding/creating connections between elements that in reality, may not be relative to each other. This opened up so many doors. I think of how much we can still experiment with photographs in this manner, and it's hard, but exciting.
But naturally, this is also who I am. If I explain what that things will get a corny so I'll stop here to say: I tend to affect the frame I take very minimally, but again, that's just how I am.
We saw your website and Instagram feed are filled with colorful moments, while here in Japan the most common street photography trend is to shoot in black and white. What is your opinion in that? Why do you choose to pursue the color way of shooting? Does color add context and meaning to your photographs?
Personally, I always thought my photography would make more sense in B&W. But that's exactly why I try to add meaning to my usage of color. I try to make every color as intentional as possible. Tokyo in my opinion, isn't really the best place for this (refer to my previous remark from Q3). There's a lot of unpleasing, chaotic colors here. Historically, this is also a big reason as to why many famous Japanese candid photographers have shot in B&W.
You also can't hide from the fact that humans see color, although this fluctuates depending on the person's vision and perception. So color does add context. Maybe not meaning. But it also gifts photographers with new elements to work with. Imagine what you can be capable of, if you can intentionally utilize color in all your photographs.
In the era of digital and social networking, where almost anyone shows their pictures to the world seconds later after they happened, you are preferring to go “old style” by using film camera. Do you consider an advantage the waiting for film to be developed before you may finally see your shot, is it a matter of look, or is there a technical reason? Does film photography allow thriftiness and a more thoughtful approach in the way you shot?
I started using film because I like how it looks, and wanted to force myself to understand the foundation of photography. Regardless of my age, I am pretty old school I guess!
To this day, I do think that my best photographs are made with film for some reason. It does have it's perks. Thoughtfulness of each frame is something I've developed through it. It offers an amazing color palette. I find it more responsive. The cameras look dope.
There is a pretty big advantage in the selection process too. Time is a big factor. I could go on and on about this, so if anyone is interested we can discuss (wink wink).
In terms of how much I shoot, within 2.5 years I've lost track after 500 rolls. I shoot digital too (more than people assume), so it doesn't really matter I guess. I study and think photos a lot too, and that matters as well.
At the same time, today probably more than ever, selection is one of the most important keys to be a successful photographer: we are (recognized for) what we post online thus consistent quality, appeal and messages shall be always perceived by viewers. Please talk about how you select your pictures, either for single image and projects.
This is a big topic, and it's something I'm working on a lot. The bottleneck is that, you need to objectively be able to critique your work, and understand what is high quality photography... at least to an extent.
It's hard to verbally explain what my process is. There are multiple variables. I like experimenting with different genres and feels, but that's only if I think I'm getting to something (of a certain quality). I try to slide some of these new things in naturally, by using at least similar colors or combining them with different photos, in order to create context.
I look back at my photos a lot. This helps understand where you're at, are you getting better, and which are the photos that stand out within your library.
Sometimes, I'd rescan a photo that I discarded because of bad natural contrast or color, that actually might have something interesting happening.
For projects, I like thinking in locations, and creating an unbiased hypothesis of the area. I take photos and amend the assumptions during the process.
As a collective composed by different members, while we have a common ground rooted in candid photography, we all have different interpretation of the genre. How do you define your photography instead? Is it an objective reality or a personal reality influenced by your own emotions?
This is a hard question. I would say my photos are more objective, and perhaps that shows in my photographs. Especially since my emotions barely fluctuate, and I'm more composed and reserved as a human.
At the same time, I believe I'm trying to portray scenes that are hyper-real or surreal, out of what is actually happening in the 3D world. This is more of an artistic standpoint, so it may not be entirely relative to this question, but I'll just throw it out there.
Before saying goodbye, do you have any plans for the near future, you would like to share with us?
I want to thank everyone that has been even mildly interested in my work, and has supported me in any manner. In the end, I'm just trying to find ways to take more photos, and better photos.
Feel free to contact me, talk, work together, all the good stuff. I'm also planning on creating a small collection of photos I've made in these 2 years in the form of a book. Some photos no one has seen yet too.
It was a pleasure talking with you today, thanks again for your time and good luck for your future projects. See you again!
Love all of you, thank you Daniele!
You can find Ulysses Aoki here: