There is no other way to say it - there are lots of posers in the photography lane right now. But every now and then, you come across the genuine article. Atsushi Nishijima aka JIMA is as real as it gets. He originally started shooting in Japan, and then he moved to NYC to further hone his craft. To date, he has shot amazing lookbooks and editorials for brands like Engineered Garments and Brutus. He has even parlayed his craft into the realm of Hollywood. JIMA has truly mastered the art of the spontaneous snapshot. The beauty of humanity surrounds us everyday, but he is able to intuitively distil these moments into arresting visuals that intrigue and inspire. Read our Q & A with him below ....
When did you first fall in love with photography?
It was about 15 years ago when I first took a beginner photography class at a college. I photographed something I liked, processed a film by myself, and printed in a darkroom. When I saw an image come out in a darkroom, I thought photography was very interesting.
Do you remember the first camera you ever owned?
Yes, it was an entry level Canon film camera. It’s called Canon EOS Kiss. Later, I sold it and bought Canon EOS 1. Later on, I continued selling and buying cameras and ended up with a compact film camera, Minolta TC-1. Nowadays, I shoot with digital cameras.
When did you move to NYC and how did this city influence your work?
In 1998, I moved to NYC from Japan. I think Manhattan is a great place to do snapshots (photography). There are many different kinds of people passing and showing up in front of you. Spontaneously and quickly, something interesting happens here. So I could photograph something on the way to a bookstore, a supermarket, etc. Taking snapshots has become my personal work. Since last year, I have been making a self-published book/magazine/zine called ‘LOITER’ that is a collection of snapshots.
These days, it’s become easy for everyone to pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer – what separates the real ones from the posers?
I don’t know about this question. I think it’s up to them. In my case, I didn’t introduce myself as a photographer 5~6 years ago because I was taking pictures, but I was working at a photo lab to make a living. Since 2010 or 2011, I've made a living as a photographer, so when I need to introduce myself, I say I am a photographer.
What are the biggest life and artistic inspirations for the photographs you shoot?
Well, maybe it’s elegance in people. Elegance could be a wrong word. Sometimes I see a person (maybe a homeless person) sleeping on a bench on a weekday and feel it’s elegant. Someone doing things their own way inspires me.
You have done a lot of work with Nepenthes and Engineered Garments – what is your relationship with these guys?
Mr. Daiki Suzuki, the designer of Engineered Garments, thought my snapshot photography was interesting and hired me to shoot Engineered Garments’ lookbooks. I learned something important for my photography career while working and spending time with him. For example, he told me to judge simply: “I like it.” Or “I don’t like it.”
You’ve also done extensive work with movies too – how did you break into that?
When a director, Derek Cianfrance was about to make a movie “The Place Beyond The Pines” he reached me if I would want to work together on the project. I said “of course!”
Is movie photography different from shooting commercials/adverts?
It depends, but it’s usually different.What I do is the same. Trying to find and capture a moment to make a photograph.
If there was one notable personality dead or alive you could take a portrait of and spend an afternoon with, who would that be?
Recently, my intern gave me a book “Once” by Wim Wenders. It’s a very nice book, so Wim Wenders could be the one.
Can you give us any news on the projects/plans you have coming up this year?
I have done some projects that are going to be released this Fall and this summer I have some fashion shoots coming up and a movie shoot. I will also work on my personal work, LOITER.
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