Lighting, Locations, Portrait, Tokyo

Portraits from the Archives: Toyo Ito

Never let it be said that I am not an unstoppable content producing machine. I churn out photos like my camera has some form of irritable bowel syndrome, which in itself is a great metaphor for most of my photos. The thing I tend to forget about is the part where I put them up somewhere to be seen; namely on this blog. If anyone’s counting (and I doubt anyone is), you’ll find that I wrote a grand total of 4 blog posts last year, averaging one every three months which equates to typing roughly one word every 6 hours. A pretty gruelling schedule you might say and I say yes, by the time I got to typing my typing fingers had all been tuckered out by the endless button pushing, dial spinning and head scratching that my job requires of me. Facetiousness aside though, I think we can safely delete the title ‘social media guru’ from my LinkedIn account profile, as last year I probably put as much effort into self promotion as a bodybuilder puts into binge eating.

What’s the point of all this you say? Well yes dear reader (as I’m sure there is only one of you), this being the new year and being a time for new beginnings and resolutions doomed to die before Spring and all that, I decided I might try my hand at this blogging thing once again, even though at times it seems that I’m shouting into a stiff wind blowing back into my own face, which can be kind of fun but inevitably exhausting after a while. We’ll see how long I last this time and if I run out of things to blog I can always rely on the traditional photoblogrographer’s tried and true fallback position of bright sparkly GEAR REVIEWS as a half-hearted last gasp before I drop off the face of the Earth entirely once more.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (10)

I shot this portrait of ace architect Toyo Ito with a Nikon D800, which goes to show you how far back through the archives I’m trawling for these photos. I haven’t owned a Nikon for about a year now and I haven’t been happier since I switched over to Fuji even though the spectre of Full Frame still temptingly hangs over me like a naughty text message from an underage coed. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the D800 except for bulky, clunky interface, spotty and unreliable autofocus and bloated file sizes that gummed up my iMac’s HDDs with terabytes of photos 90% of which weren’t even worthy of importing into Lightroom. No, the Fujifilm XT-1 is much more my speed with its slim form factor and traditional interface making it easy to – hang on, when did this post become a GEAR REVIEW? We’re here to talk about photos dammit, and the point of these posts is to give you some insight into the photo taking procedure even though this photo shoot happened nigh on two years ago and my memory of what happened is decidedly dimmed by time and the alcohol-fuelled haze of memory-loss.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (8)

Anyway Toyo Ito, whom I found out much later to be one of the most famous architects in the world let alone Japan, winner of some kind of Pritzker prize, was one of those assignments that drifted across my inbox from a first-time client. The brief was basic: Toyo Ito is a famous architect, please go photograph him with one of his buildings. My immediate reaction (and it is always my immediate reaction) was to envision a Dan Winters-esque tableau picturing Mr. Ito as a towering but humble presence dominating the center of the frame, standing on a rise in the foreground which would conveniently be right where I needed it, with one of his architectural creations recognizably yet artfully out of focus in the background. The sky would be blue but smattered with clouds, as if foreshadowing something, and his expression would be distant and determined, with his body language anchoring him in the present. That was the photo I was going to take, and with my skill and confidence it would translate into glorious reality.

Of course, that’s the kind of optimism you have every time you’re excited about something and looking forward to doing it. You think to yourself, ‘sure, the last time I had the triple spicy jalapeño curry dip I got the shits so bad I turned into a hunchback for a week, but this time it will be fine!’ Well, every photo shoot is kind of the same way – you go into the shoot with high hopes that everything will be fine, but it’s usually not and you have to expend considerable energies trying to make something of the mess you’ve found yourself in, eewwww. Thoughts of creating a Dan Winters style masterpiece fly out the window and all you want to do is come out of the shoot with a frame that doesn’t shame your house and end your career in a gory act of self-disembowelment.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (5)

Case in point, it was raining when we arrived and the sky didn’t even have the decency to have moody cloud formations, just a flat, bright slate gray that will blow out to highlights if you even think of trying to get a decent exposure on the foreground. On top of that, there wasn’t even a nice hillock in the foreground for my subject to stand. The dream was dead. The shoot was shot. No Dan Winters ripoff for me, all that’s left is me standing amidst the shattered remnants of my dream to copy Dan Winters and the need to think of something new to photograph, quickly.

As a photographer it’s a guilty confession of mine that I’m often terrified at the prospect of using my own creativity. That makes life rather interesting as the situations where I’m forced to improvise are far more numerous than any normal, organized person should have to encounter. Anyway, in these sorts of situations my conscious brain sort of recedes into a fetal position and my primate brain comes to the fore. I babble and grunt a lot. I do gratuitous Borat voices, mostly in the vein of ‘is nice’ and, ‘I like’. Occasionally I’ll hear voices, my own, that will say ‘umbrellas! Umbrellas make strong visual thingys!’ I’m never certain whether I am saying these out loud.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (9)

Mr. Toyo Ito was, for his part, bemused, gracious and patient. I didn’t go overboard with my research on him because I never like the idea of being overwhelmed by how accomplished my subject is before I even go into a shoot. Also, it’s hard not to be impressed by someone who creates beautiful pieces of contemporary art that double as functional spaces that will serve people for decades. Still, I didn’t really over research him – there’s no point in knowing all sorts of random tidbits from his life if I can’t walk up to him and have a normal conversation, and to be honest it probably comes across as creepy if you start mentioning random stuff from their lives in an effort to jumpstart a dying conversation. So as it was we chatted mainly about travel, and he exhibited a polite interest in my life story of how I’ve come to be a photographer living in Tokyo.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (2)

I guess the point of this all is not to make me seem like a Dan Winters fanboy (I am), nor that I have a loose approach to interacting with my subjects (I do). It’s to say that sometimes when you’re forced to improvise on the spot it can be fun, if not terrifying in a way that makes my scrotum retract like the landing gear of a small Cessna. That’s photography for you though and if I didn’t want an interesting job there are a multitude of different ones I could have picked from.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (1)

Gear nerds! I’ve not forgotten you. The stuff I used on this photoshoot was:

– Nikon D800
– Nikkor 45mm f2.8 PC E
– 24-70mm f2.8G
– 14-24mm f2.8G
– Paul C Buff Einstein + Vagabond

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Portraits: Kengo Kuma | Tokyo Portrait Photographer Irwin Wong

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