Featured Interview: Kuni Takahashi

This month, we interview photojournalist Kuni Takahashi, a native of Japan who currently lives in Mumbai, India. He has covered various major world events, such as covering South Africa’s first multiracial election, and the Liberian civil war. He has also won numerous photography awards, such as the National Headliner Award.

FYP: Tell us a little about yourself.

Kuni: I was born and grew up in Japan. I studied engineering at university but my heart was not into it. I ended up dropping out and working as a bartender for a few years before coming across a biography of a Japanese photographer named Kyoichi Sawada, who won a Pulitzer while covering the Vietnam War. It inspired me and got me into photography. Because the quality of Japanese photojournalism was not very high, I went to the United States to take photography classes. I worked as a staff photographer at two American newspapers, the Boston Herald and the Chicago Tribune, for thirteen years before moving to Mumbai as a freelancer in 2009.

FYP: Have you had formal training in Photography?

Kuni: At the Maine Photo Workshops, The New England School of Photography and The Eddie Adams Workshop.

FYP: What camera and equipment do you currently use?

Kuni: I use a Canon 5D mark II with the 16-35mm/2.8 lens and 24-70mm/2.8 lens. I sometime use an 85mm/1.8 and 70-200mm/2.8

FYP: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Kuni: I cannot really imagine.

FYP: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your photographic career?

Kuni: I am not sure what the biggest challenge was but my first embed with U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2003 was quite tough. It was a great physical challenge – digging holes to sleep, little water and food, and not knowing where we were or where we were heading. We had only a few hours of sleep every night and kept going for weeks. With all the sand and dust and no bathing for days at a time, I have never been dirtier. It was quite an eye-opening experience. Another challenge was when I became a freelancer after having been a newspaper staff photographer for thirteen years. Freelancing required a totally different mindset. It was not just taking pictures anymore. I had to deal with things like self-promotion, selling stories to editors, networking and of course, invoicing. No fixed income anymore. There is a lot of desk work, and it took many months to get used to.

FYP: Who is your favourite artist?

Kuni: Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese ukiyo-e painter/printmaker. Since I was a child, I have loved the details of ukiyo-e, and Hokusai is my favorite among ukiyo-e artists.

FYP: Where do you find your inspiration?

Kuni: I get story ideas from local newspaper articles, magazines and sometimes just from simple conversations with locals. In terms of visual inspiration, I get inspired by random things, like billboard ads, pictures in fashion magazines or even in in-flight magazines. Also I love to see pictures in the National Geographic for visual inspiration.

FYP: What are your favourite techniques or methods?

Kuni: I do not really care too much about gadgets and techniques. The most important thing to me is the human relationship. If you can connect well with people, the outcome – the pictures – will be successful. So the skill of dealing with people comes first.

FYP: How much emphasis do you put on post-production?

Kuni: As little as possible to make the picture look good. I do not like excessive Photoshopping to “dramatize” photographs.

FYP: What genre would you most like to experiment in?

Kuni: News and documentary is where my heart has always been. I would like to experiment more on documentary portraiture. I think there is room for me to experiment with something new in portraits.

FYP: If you could photograph anyone/anywhere in the world, who/where would you photograph?

Kuni: Nelson Mandela. My first international gig was to cover the first multiracial election in South Africa in 1994, when Mandela became the first black president of the country. Since then I have visited South Africa seven to eight times, and the country has a special meaning for me as I began my career there.

FYP: Have you ever been commissioned? If yes, do you actively pitch ideas to magazines/newspapers etc. or do they come to you? What would you say to photographers looking to have their work commissioned?

Kuni: Yes, I have been commissioned. Sometimes I pitch ideas but mostly I get assignments from clients. I published my first book in Japan based on my coverage of the Liberian civil war. That grew into a relationship with the publisher where they commissioned more projects from me. This year I am publishing my fourth book in Japan, which documents over twenty families who survived the tsunami in March 2011. I revisited them a year later and interviewed them about their experiences.

FYP: Has you work been published, for example in magazines, books or exhibitions? If no, is this something you want?

Kuni: My work has been published in news magazines like Time, Newsweek, Paris Match, Days Japan and many newspapers like the New York Times. I have published three photography books in Japan and have held about ten exhibitions.

FYP: Have you got any hints or tips to share with aspiring photographers?

Kuni: Being a photojournalist is not just about taking good pictures. You really need to think beyond it and think about what you can do to benefit society or benefit the person that you’re taking the picture of. Many photographers, especially young ones, just think about making good images and winning awards (I used to be like that too) but I do not think that is enough to be a good photojournalist.

FYP: What is your favourite way to relax?

Kuni: Singing at karaoke with good friends.

FYP: Kuni, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to interview with us.

Kuni: It was my pleasure.


Links:

Kuni’s homepage : http://www.kunitakahashi.com/blog

Twitter : @kuniphoto

Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/kuni.takahashi


FYP: Tell us a little about yourself (years of photography, where you were born & location now, favourite things to do etc.)

I was born and grew up in Japan. I studied engineering at university but my heart wasn’t into it. I ended up dropping out and working as a bartender for a few years before coming across a biography of a Japanese photographer named Kyoichi Sawada who won a Pulitzer while covering the Vietnam War. It inspired me and got me into photography. Because the quality of Japanese photojournalism wasn’t very high, I went to the U.S. to take photography classes. I worked as a staff photographer at two U.S. newspapers, the Boston Herald and the Chicago Tribune, for 13 years before moving to Mumbai as a freelancer in 2009.

FYP: Have you had formal training in Photography?

At The Maine Photoworkshop, The New England School of Photography and The Eddie Adams Workshop.

FYP: What camera and equipment do you currently use?

Canon 5D mark II with 16-35/2.8 and 24-70/2.8. I sometime use 85/1.8 and 70-200/2.8

FYP: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I can’t really imagine.


FYP: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your
photographic career?

I’m not sure what the biggest challenge was but my first embed with U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2003 was quite tough. It was a great physical challenge – digging holes to sleep, little water and food, and not knowing where we were and where we were heading. We had only a few hours of sleep every night and kept going for weeks. With all the sand and dust and no bathing for days at a time, I’ve never been dirtier. It was quite an eye-opening experience. Another challenge was when I became a freelancer after having been a newspaper staff photographer for 13 years. Freelancing required a totally different mindset. It wasn’t just taking pictures anymore. I have to deal with things like self-promotion, selling stories to editors, networking and of course, invoicing. No fixed income anymore. There’s a lot of deskwork and it took many months to get used to it.


FYP: Who is your favourite artist?

Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese ukiyo-e painter/printmaker. Since I was a child, I loved the details of ukiyo-e and Hokusai is my favorite among ukiyo-e artists.

FYP: Where do you find your inspiration?

I get story ideas from local newspaper articles, magazines and sometimes just from simple conversations with locals. In terms of visual inspiration, I get inspired by random things, like billboard ads, pictures in fashion magazines or even in in-flight magazines. Also I love to see pictures in the National Geographic for visual inspiration.

FYP: What are your favourite techniques or methods?

I don’t really care too much about gadgets and techniques. The most important thing to me is the human relationship. If you can connect well with people, the outcome – the pictures – will be successful. So the skill of dealing with people comes first.

FYP: How much emphasis do you put on post-production?

As mininum as possbile to make the picture look good. I don’t like excessive photoshoping to “dramatize” photographs.


FYP: What genre would you most like to experiment in?

News and documentary is where my heart has always been. I would like to experiment more on documentary portraiture. I think there’s room for me to experiment with something new in portraits.


FYP: If you could photograph anyone/anywhere in the world, who/where would you photograph?

Nelson Mandela. My first international gig was to cover the first
multi-racial election in South Africa in 1994, when Mandela became the first black president of the country. Since then I’ve visited South Africa seven to eight times and the country has a special meaning for me as I began my career there.


FYP: Have you ever been commissioned? If yes, do you actively pitch ideas to magazines/newspapers etc. or do they come to you? What would you say to photographers looking to have their work commissioned?

Yes I have been commissioned. Sometimes I pitch ideas but mostly I get assignments from clients.

I published my first book in Japan based on my coverage of the Liberian civil war. That grew into a relationship with the publisher where they commissioned more projects from me. This year I’m publishing my fourth book in Japan on more than 20 families who survived the tsunami in March 2011. I revisited them a year later and interviewed them about their experiences.

FYP: Has you work been published, for example in magazines, books or exhibitions? If no, is this something you want?

My work has been published in news magazines like Time, Newsweek, Paris Match, Days Japan and many newspapers like the New York Times. I have published three photo books in Japan and held about 10 exhibitions.


FYP: Have you got any hints or tips to share with aspiring photographers?

Being a photojournalist is not just about taking good pictures. You really need to think beyond it and think about what you can do to benefit society or benefit the person that you’re taking the picture of. Many photographers, especially young ones, just think about making good images and winning awards (I used to be like that too) but I don’t think that’s enough to be a good photojournalist.

FYP: What is your favourite way to de-stress?

Singing at karaoke with good friends.

Studying photography at UWE, Bristol, Ameena is a self-taught photographer and retoucher, working to get into the fashion photography industry. Cinematography and portraiture are her two favourite genres, and she loves to create and tell stories. In her spare time, she likes to play sports, video games, and lose herself in good books
Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/zombiemeena

 

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