What can we do through photography? What is possible only through photography?


Excellence Award Winner 2009

Masanao Sugiyama



The Visceral Response of the Self-Portrait
-What was the inspiration for your OLEWA OLALA self-portrait series?

I had already gone on casual trips to places like southeast Asia and India, but this time I didn't want to just take some fun holiday snaps, I wanted to take a set of photographs with a single theme.

I travelled for eight months, from January 21 to September 18, 2008, and I went to twelve Central and South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. First, I wanted to see the Carnival in Rio and after that I just went with the flow. I hadn't decided how long I would stay or how many days I would spend in each place. This time the trip lasted longer than I thought it would.

The reason why I began inserting myself into the pictures was because I wanted to include myself in the pictures of the scenery on my trip. When you ask someone else to do it for you, you often end up with amazingly bad pictures, so I thought, if that's the case I'll just do it myself. I tried several methods, until I hit on "the one" which you can see in the first picture in my portfolio. I felt that if I look forward, what is behind me becomes a sort of wall. The person viewing the picture focuses too much on my expression.

-How many images are in the portfolio you submitted?

There are 71 taken from the 200 or so pictures I took. I chose the pictures based on the level of personal feeling behind the shot, and whether I felt the picture was any good or not. I always choose the place I want to take a picture, but when it's a self-portrait you can never be sure how it's going to turn out. That's why I always say a little prayer when I take them. I took them along with other snap photographs, but the self-portraits were more fun. I was always looking over my pictures during the trip, and once I'd built up a certain number, I began to feel like things were getting interesting. Then, after I got home I decided to submit an entry to the New Cosmos of Photography contest.

-What is appealing about travel to you?

The inconvenience, and then the feeling of relief when that inconvenience is resolved. For example, Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country, but other countries in Central and South America are Spanish-speaking. English isn't understood. When you can't speak, your frustration builds up, but in the end language stops mattering so much and your intent gets across and everyone can have fun together. You can drink together, get invited to parties, and become friends.

Now that I think about it, when I was in the middle of Carnival, I had my camera around my neck and a group of five or six people began tugging on it and I started thinking "I'm in trouble" as they took me away, and they were like, "drink this." So when I took a big gulp of the alcohol they gave me, they were like, "OK, OK, see ya" and let me go, and I was relieved to find out they didn't want to steal my camera after all. When I'm in Japan, I'm quite shy and I don' t talk much. But when I'm travelling, I'm shy at first but I gradually get into the local scene and have a good time.

Experience working at the Kishin Shinoyama office
-You worked at the Kishin Shinoyama office. Mr. Shinoyama went to Rio's Carnival during a terrible personal slump and he took pictures there and released himself from his slump. The book he published from that trip, "OLELE OLALA" at the age of 30 became a seminal work. Were you consciously emulating your teacher?

I just turned 30 recently myself. When I decided I wanted to go to the Carnival in Rio, OLELE OLALA did come to mind. It was just a coincidence, but I was having a crisis myself. I am a professional photographer, but I was worried that the people around me thought I was nothing more than a dude who likes to travel.

-What kind of role has Mr. Shinoyama played in your life?

He taught me the simple fact that photographs are amazing.

I was in the camera club in University, but I didn't go through the usual post-University career search. I did find photographs interesting though, so I thought I'd get into photography. I figured I'd like to learn photography while working rather than pay to study photography, so I got a job at a photo studio. I worked there for three years, and just when I was thinking of quitting, a position opened up for an assistant at the Kishin Shinoyama office, and a photographer acquaintance of mine introduced me to him.

When I was working with Mr. Shinoyama, the thing I felt was that to him, photography is a lifestyle. The preparation building up to and the moment the photo is taken isn't the photo, it's the whole act of living that is connected to the photograph. For example, even when I'd be driving Mr. Shinoyama somewhere, he'd be there thinking about photographs. I thought to myself, the last thing this guy thinks about before he falls asleep at night must be photography.

That kind of thing is just not possible for me, so I try to bring as different a style and character to my works as possible. I'd like to be able to shoot people naturally. I think the best face for each person is the expression they have when they're just being natural.

-What do you want most to get across with this piece?

That travelling is fun. Also, I think these pictures make people feel happy when they see them, but I want that to be not because of any effort I've made, but I'd like the viewers to simply get energy from the work.

  • 1977:
    Sept 15, Born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, raised in Komaki
  • 2000:
    July 21, Started working for Roppongi Studio
  • 2003:
    Mar 31, Started working for the Kishin Shinoyama office
  • 2005:
    Apr 1, Began a life of freedom
  • Currently hoping to be involved with photography in some way.

E-mail wakadorino@yahoo.co.jp