Like a Free Guy – Interview with Takahiro Toh #TheNewOnes

When I first saw the pictures of Takahiro I knew I was looking at something that wanted to express a deep meaning, something that reveals the secrets of a megacity like Tokyo in the subtle way possible.

As he stated, and as you can read down below, his photography is like an exercise for the mind. He walks among the streets listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music and captures the world by going hand by hand with the momentum created by the unity of beautiful sounds and real-time life events.

A spirit of observation that goes beyond the normality brings his work on a upper-level, literally. His aerial shots and overhead perspectived shots have the sole function of showing the relationship between the individual and the enormous structures that enclose him, reminding us that it is not impossible to achieve great things while living in a world that is as enormous as it is uncontrollable.

This type of photographic art bring to the people a great message, especially in difficult times like the one we have been living for two years plus. That said, have a good read everyone. Thank you Takahiro.

If you want to support Takahiro’s work please check out his Instagram profile.

Hello Takahiro, first I want to thank you for this opportunity. Tell me something about yourself and how you got in touch with photography.
Hello Naji. Thank you for inviting me for this interview with Jugaad magazine. My name is Takahiro Toh and I’m a photographer of Tokyo street scenes. I bought my camera when I was a senior in college, and started taking pictures of my girlfriend’s portraits and Disneyland characters. Afterwards I started working mainly on aerial night shots from helicopters. It was around 2019 that I switched to street photography, which is what I do now, and I’m currently a member of a street photographer group called Void Tokyo. (@voidtokyo)

Do you have any reference that you consider relevant for your work? Like something that got your attention in the past and that is forming your style right now.
I learned all about photography by self-taught, so I’ve never followed anyone particular. If I had to say, French painter Michel Delacroix’s work which were displayed in my parents house, had the most potential influence on me. I also like Georges de Chirico, the Chinese photographer Fan Ho, and Andreas Gursky from Germany. In addition, I always listen to music while I’m shooting, and sometimes get ideas for representing the atmosphere of the city in my work. What I play most often is Ryuichi Sakamoto’s album, which becomes a great marriage with the Tokyo cityscape.

Your shots objectively manifest the phases and evolution of the city context. How and when did you find the opportunity to give voice to this side of the world around you in your photography?
I’ve been living in Tokyo for more than 10 years, but I still feel the freshness of the city. For example, medically speaking, it is said that most of the cells in the human body are replaced within a span of three to four months.  In the same way, cities are constantly repeating their metabolism in order to maintain their energy. This is what phases and evolution of the city is all about. On the other hand, however, replacing something new inevitably means that the old will be discarded. I feel the significance of preserving the universal “changeover” of the era in which I live through the unique recordability of photography.

I noticed that a lot of the shots are taken from above, I guess you want to highlight the spatiality of some of the areas you photograph, but what is the real meaning behind these shots?
As it turns out, this is an objective view from an overhead perspective. For example, you can think it as security camera in the public space. You are looking at the city from a slightly elevated position, from a fixed point of view. My photography is not like that of a typical street photographer, weaving in and out of people as they pass by. My goal is to take time to observe the space of the area from a high position and wait until the puzzle of the photographic work fits together.

I also noticed a photo taken from the cabin of a helicopter, I guess you have a strong connection with aircrafts having several aerial images, right?
Used to be a glider pilot when I was a student. I think this is the reason why I don’t feel much hesitation to flying. Also, early on in my photography career, I noticed that there were not many amateur photographers taking aerial photos of urban nightscapes, because of the very strict regulations on drones in Tokyo. That’s why I started taking aerial photos from helicopters to find my originality.

Takahiro Toh – All Rights Reserved ©

Yours is a very composed visual language, one can find many symmetries and very definite light and shade. What is the relationship between the stories you want to tell and this almost cinematographic technique?
As for the compositional aspect, it stems from my perspective on the city. Like I mentioned in 4th question, I try to take an objective view of Tokyo. This is not only for the subjected passerby, but also for the architecture and the street itself. I don’t want to intentionally look up or tilt the frame. I want to take it as purely as possible as an background. I enjoy watching movies, but after all, what we can do is to stare at the screen. So if you think of a day in the life of a city as a movie, what I capture in my photographs are the scenes that I liked the most that day.

Being a street photographer, you tell the life of the metropolis through your eyes, but what does the city represent for you? And more specifically, how do you feel about Tokyo?
Just out of curiosity, what kind of image do you have of Tokyo? I’ve lived overseas for a long time, including Australia, England, Canada, etc., and I feel that Tokyo is very unique. A big city is, of course, a collection of strangers. The resolution to each other is much lower than in countryside. And with the influence of covid, the momentum has accelerated rapidly. However in that point, Tokyo has always had low resolution, and even if you can’t see each other’s faces through masks, I honestly don’t see much change. On the other hand, it can be said that Tokyo is a city where psychological social distance is secured. I feel that this distance is reflected in my work as well.

Speaking about of the society you observe every day, which discrepancies or curiosities do you notice in your subjects?
The question is little difficult to answer. I tend to choose construction workers as my subjects frequently. It’s not because I’m shooting for a particular theme, but because that’s where I end up as a result of my intended expression. Ordinary is good. I’m attracted to people who are ordinary but who you don’t pay much attention to in your daily life. I don’t photograph beautifully dressed young men and women, or even old people for that matter. Doesn’t mean this in a negative way at all, but I don’t want to depend on the subject’s Lucchism.

Takahiro Toh – All Rights Reserved ©

I love the way the people in some of your shots look very small. Do you perceive a correlation between the greatness of modern structures and the people who live and walk alongside them every day?
Thank you very much. This is a summary of what I have said so far, for like psychological social distance of Tokyo. Even though it is one of the megacities in the world, people on the street have a low interest to each other. Therefore, once you step outside, you and I are just one of the nameless diorama dolls without exception. Have you ever seen the movie “Free Guy” starring by Ryan Reynolds? That’s the close image. People feel small and powerless in a big city, and this is expressed through the contrast with modern buildings. On the other hand, I believe that it is important to face people as individuals, even they look small. This is the reason why there are only a few people in each of my works.

Do you have any projects for the future? Something relevant, that you want to share to our readers?
There aren’t any specific projects that I’m working on at the moment. Only one thing, after coronavirus settled down, please visit Tokyo and feel the city with your own eyes. I’m sure you will see another aspect here that couldn’t be found through the screen.

Thank you very much for this interview. I’m so happy to have someone like you in the Jugaad Family, let us know when you want to collaborate, you will be always welcome!
Also, I would like to thank again Naji and all of the Jugaad team for inviting me for this interview.

%d bloggers like this: