Sometimes it’s in the most difficult moments of our lives that we discover our way, our passion. In those moments we feel vulnerable and our emotions expands beyond our imagination.
This was the case of Toshio Ishido, an awards winning street photographer from Tokyo, that told us his incredible story and how, like a phoenix, he rose from a health problem and took photography as his best companion.
Although it was always present in his life, photography started to began someything more for him and later he rediscovered it as a true for of expression that gives the power to tell, produce and create.
By living the busy and chaotic Shibuya’s city-life, Toshio shares publicly his view and let us observe some dicotomies that sometimes go lost or unnoticed. He told us his way, his methods and his purposes. Take a look at his story, you won’t regret it.
Hello, Toshio. I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer this interview. Let’s start with a few simple questions. Why did you become a photographer and how did you become a photographer?
I started taking pictures seriously as a photographer in 2018. However, I had been using cameras since around 2008 to take landscape photos of places I go touring with my motorbike as a hobby, although not in a serious way.
Then I dropped the motorbike hobby and started to get interested in portrait photography. But at that time it was still just a hobby that I did on my free days from work.
About five years after I started taking portraits, I felt so ill that I had to quit my job. It took me about six months to recover from my health problems.
I was worried that starting work again so soon would make my health worse, so I decided to wait and see what happened for a while, which gave me some time.
I thought that this illness was a turning point in my life and I wanted to see what I could do if I took more pictures than I had ever taken before, whenever I had the time. And that’s how it all started.
When did you realise that street photography was your genre?
It was less than a year after I started taking pictures in 2018 that I understood that street photography is my genre.
In January 2018, I selected 10 photos from the first 6 months of my career and submitted them to a photo contest judged by 7 editors-in-chief of national photography magazines.
When I received the notification that I was one step closer to being selected as a finalist, I realized that if I put all my energy into it, I could achieve a good result, even if it was only for six months, and that if I continued with the same passion for a long time, I could achieve even better results. I thought to myself, “Why not?
What kind of emotions do you feel when you are walking around Tokyo with your camera?
Most of the areas I shoot are in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Almost all the people come to Shibuya for shopping, eating and many other things. The way they are walking is like a river flowing. Then there’s the sound from the screen at the scramble crossing, the sound of buses, taxis, people talking, and the noise from the renovation of the area around Shibuya station, where there’s a lot of construction going on. You feel the noise most of the time you’re shooting, and you feel like you’re walking around with an uncomfortable feeling.
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Toshio, your photographic style is clearly focused on form, contrast and sometimes very aggressive grains.
Why did you decide to use this kind of visual language for a particular photograph?
When I take a picture, I want to capture the background as clearly as possible, so I stop down to f14 or higher, and I want to stop moving people, cars, etc., so I use a shutter speed of about 1/500, which is fast.
The ISO is set to auto, which inevitably means that it tends to be higher, so noise will appear in the picture. This is not the case if you want to use the blur effects intentionally.
I believe that this noise leads to an expression that captures the noise of the urban space. I never add noise after the fact.
The reason why my photographs are in black and white and have a strong contrast is because I believe that by using black and white, I can create a sense of atmosphere that is not present in colour, and because of the lack of it, I can directly capture what is in the photograph.
There is an interesting contrast between movement and stillness in your work. What do you think of the words “chaos” and “silence”?
In my photographs I like to have a lot of different things to look at, but not in all of them. It’s difficult to get the right shot because each subject is moving, but I often try to arrange the subject and the people and buildings around it to produce a composition.
For example, in my photo of the cherry blossom tree and the crowd, the cherry blossom tree is just standing there in silence and the crowd is in chaos.
A photo of the back of a homeless man sitting in the western sun and the people around him, I feel that by combining chaos and silence in one photo, they work together to make a complete picture.
So chaos and silence are words that sometimes feel like they are almost synonyms, and other times they feel like they are right next to each other.
What did you find out by observing the city life?
In Tokyo, almost everything is demolished and rebuilt, except for the most historical buildings.
At the same time, it is inconvenient to get out of the train station because of the frequent changes in the exit routes and the pedestrian bridges, which are still under construction, so you have to take a diversion before getting off.
The series of works that I am photographing in Shibuya started in 2015 and will finish in 2028, but even before 2015, Shibuya was working on other parts of the city, so I have a feeling that when the work is finished, construction will start again in other parts of Shibuya.
So I think that the city will never be complete. Maybe it is the city that remains unfinished, in other words, that keeps changing.
Do you think that your visual language will remain constant or will it change over the next years?
At the moment it is constant, but I think that something will trigger it to change. That’s because I want my photography to change.
My current photographs are strong images of those of my predecessors, and I think there is a sense of déjà vu in some parts, as if I have seen them somewhere before.
It’s not easy, but I’m always looking for new ways to express myself.
According to the previous question, what are your thoughts about the relationship between personal growth and professional growth?
I don’t think there is any relation between personal growth and professional growth. Because I normally have a non-photographic job and these photographic activities are not professional.
Althought I am not a professional, this is something way important. It’s not a hobby, it’s a responsibility, it’s a passion. At the moment I don’t think about making money out of my photos.
This photography is my life’s work. I’ve won prizes in competitions, I’ve done talk shows, I’ve had a solo exhibition at SONY, I’ve done interviews, I’ve met people who have given me challenges that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t doing photography, and all these experiences have helped me grow.
I noticed that you won a lot of prizes. First of all, congratulations, and then, are you currently taking part in any competitions or exhibitions?
Thank you very much. I enter competitions because I’m interested to see if my photos catch the eye of the judges, and also because winning a prize gives me the opportunity to have my photos on a website or in an exhibition, so it’s a chance to show my photos to different people, not just the judges.
I am very grateful to have won the award because it has given me the opportunity to connect with many people.
I enter competitions because I believe that action is the key to everything.
But right now, I’m not participating in any contests or exhibitions.
Last question. Do you have any photography projects you are working on at the moment?
I don’t have any projects at the moment, except for my ongoing street photography in Shibuya.
However, I am interested in photographic genres other than street photography, so I am always thinking about what I want to express, and when I think of something, I want to try it.
We thank Toshio for this interview and we hope to work with him again in the future! If you want to support his work you can find his Instagram profile here.
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