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Akira Asakura

Seeking Magazine: What got you started in photography?

Akira Asakura: The first camera I had was an old Nikon which was presented to me by my father when I was twenty or so. He used to have a dark room in my house before I was born. I think now that his influence on me was great. I started just shooting around unconsciously with the Nikon, and soon got bored. About three years ago I bought an iMac and Logic Studio, and I was trying to make some music and bought a digital point & shoot as an afterthought because a friend of mine at that time was a Lomo junkie and shooting interesting photographs. I thought that I could also do it. I think I was looking for something, another way to express myself. In my late teens I wrote novels and poems, but since that time I have just stopped doing those kinds of things. Fortunately soon after I began to have an interest in photographs – I don’t know why, but now I think that writing was a form of training for photography. It took me more than ten years though.

SM: I know you work with medium format film but that before you used digital. What differences do you find between both systems and how does that affect your way of working?

AA: The sensor size of my digital point & shoot was really small – smaller than a thumbnail, literally, so it may not be a useful comparison. The first night of a full moon right after I got a medium format film camera, I brought it to the beach. The only light source was the moon. I tried my first long exposure shot with it and found the result was really surprising. I could see every grain of sand on the beach in the print! With the digital point & shoot, all the shadow portions lose detail and quickly get noisy when I use it at night, but the print from film was much sharper, brighter like day and full of detail. Who can stop using film cameras after one has awakened?

The film cameras I use are very simple in mechanism. You don’t have to push many buttons many times only to change the aperture, it’s easy to calculate the exposure settings. The only good point about using a point & shoot was that I learned to tell the correct exposure settings without any tools at night. My point & shoot could fix the f-stop at 3.3, and the longest shutter speed was 8 seconds. To adjust the correct exposure settings, all you had to do was to choose the ISO speed from 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600. I took a lot of night shots with it, until finally I could tell the right ISO speed with it.

Now, all I have to do is just imagine the point and shoot settings and calculate, by which I mean just count the clicks of the aperture ring to convert the settings in my head to a film camera. For example, if the environmental darkness fits to ISO400 – (8sec at f/3.3) – and if you’re using ISO100 film, then 8×4 = 32 seconds at f/3.3 are the correct settings. Then, I set the aperture ring of my film camera between 2.8 and 4 and begin to turn around the ring, doubling 32 seconds per one click. All my night shots were taken like this.

SM: A large part of your photography reflects on urban landscape at night. What is it that draws you to photograph at night?

AA: Because I just like to take photographs at night, and like to look at night photographs because dead space talks a lot, the colour changes in a strange way. I also like to be somewhere outside watching things while others are sleeping. The night is a time for imagining, reflecting, encountering and loitering. If all cameras were to disappear from the Earth, I would do the same thing: just go out at night, go for an aimless drive, loiter around listening to the city breathe and sleep, watch things.

SM: When you go out to photograph at night how much time do you dedicate to a session?

AA: From two to four hours per night. On weekends, a little longer. I’m glad that my wife loves midnight driving.

SM: I’m sure some interesting things have happened to you during the night, can you tell me an anecdote?

AA: Once when I was shooting a building almost sitting on the ground in front of it, a very friendly guy came up to me and started asking me some questions: What was I doing? How I could take photos in such a dark place? And so on… We chattered for a few minutes, and then said good night each other. He walked away a few steps, suddenly turned around and said seriously that at first he thought that I was planting a bomb.

SM: Your seascapes with moonlight are incredibly beautiful, how do you manage to take that type of shot?

AA: Thank you. It’s nothing special, just doing things the same way as the way I take cityscapes. However, it takes much more time to expose the film. Sometimes it is boring to wait for the exposure in the city, especially when I set my tripod at the roadside where passing car headlights shine directly into my camera. I have to close the cap of the lens to protect the film until the car passes by, and have to add the same length of time as that for which I close the cap. But when I am on the beach, I just sit down, listen to the sound of the surf and watch the tide. I enjoy a gorgeous moment while others are watching TV and trading blows in the bar.

SM: I think your series of urban landscapes reflect very well the style of Japanese city life. They tell us of their traditions and the social changes they have undergone. What type of areas inspire you the most, and why?

AA: I like old city areas because of their mood. Okinawa, where I live now, is the island where you can see many things – kind of a forgotten Japan. One of the reasons is that Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan. That means that many old things are still present: assorted derelict houses and bars, sign boards from the post-WWII era etc… About ten years have passed since I moved to this island, but I still feel like I am a traveller. I still feel strange seeing such things.

SM: Tell me something about your hobbies. What type of music do you listen to? What do you read?

AA: I like The Velvet Underground, Bauhaus, The Orb, STS9, Supersilent, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Eddie Costa, Eric Dolphy and so on. They’re all experimental music, I think. I love them because they all tried / are trying to expand the possibilities of music. They never stop in one single place. I also love Joy Division, Keiji Haino, cool techno music and many psychedelic style R&R bands such as Slint, Spacemen3 and Slowdive. To relax I listen to Antonio Carlos Jobim or early Miles Davis works or Dave Pike or Pop Ambient series.

My favourite writers are W.S.Burroughs, Steve Erickson, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, Kazuo Ishiguro, W.G. Sebald and so on, and my dictionary is S.I. Hayakawa’s “Language in Thought and Action”.

I also love the films of Sergei Parajanov and Alejandro Jodorowsky very much, and I love documentary films such as “Jesus Camp” or “Man On Wire”.

SM: Which are the photographers that have most influenced you?

AA: I don’t know. I like Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Peter Scammell and Julio López Saguar, but I know my work is not like theirs. I respect contemporary photographers, especially night photographers. I think we are influenced by each other, and develop through friendly competition online every day on the net.

SM: Do you have any new project in mind?

AA: I want to fly from this island to a certain city, arrive at dusk, shoot around through the night – one single night – and catch the first flight the next morning and go home.

Interview by Andrés Medina
For more information about Akira Asakura take a look at his Flickr.
Review of the English translation by The Great Leap Sideways.

Copyright © Akira Asakura, All rights reserved. This photographs are not to be used as free stock.

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