In a good photo series, each picture becomes a note and they come together to strike a succession of emotional chords. This makes the "Sorry, You Will Never Walk Alone" project from Japanese street photographer Shin Noguchi sound like the theme of an old British sitcom--quirky and lighthearted yet with a keen eye on society at large.
The award winning photographer and member of the international collective "Street Photographers" describes his work as "an attempt to capture extraordinary moments of excitement, beauty and humanism in the flow of everyday life… (with) a discreet, poetic and enigmatic approach that is sensitive to the subtleties and complexities of Japanese culture."
Noguchi avoids interfering with his subjects but at the same time makes no attempt to hide from them. He is adamant that all shots be completely candid while also carefully composed--no shooting from the hip or cropping to compensate for poor framing.
Ceiling Gallery was lucky enough to score a short interview with him about his "Sorry" project and what drives him as an artist.
Q. Some of the most incredible projects start with an elegantly simple idea. Where did the idea for "Sorry, You'll Never Walk Alone" originate?
A. It was a personal challenge to convey the contrast between private and public life, to really get under the surface, using simple compositions. Could I show both the individual and society at large in the same image? It started to answer this question.
Q. To be frank, when I showed the project to friends they didn't get it from only seeing a few of the photos. But after browsing the set they fell in love with them. Do you think sets have more value or charm than the single image?
A. Contemporary street photography has reached a pinnacle-- there's so much quality work right now. With layered, multi-subject photos becoming the norm I can see how someone might find my simple compositions lacking at first glance. But that simplicity is what this project is all about. By purposely restricting the theme and presenting the photos as a series you begin to see beyond the obvious--the subject--and into the invisible--the ambiance and sense of distance. That distance is the gap between our public and private lives, the inconsistencies you find there. Rather than hit them over the head a photo slowly unravels in the mind of the viewer.
The photo series or essay are great tools in the photographer's kit for showing their unique point of view on a particular theme. The pictures come together, or sometimes bounce off each other, and create a special kind of synergy. Of course this makes the photographer's intent that much clearer as well.
Q. I often hear your photos described as "very Japanese." Why do you think that is? Do you agree?
A. Well I am happy to hear that! I love Japan, aside from the mess that is our current government. That I hate. But this interview will never end if I get started on politics so let's leave it at that.
I think it's natural for street photographers to observe their own country and find its charm--you have the home ground advantage. But it is important to capture this not only subjectively but objectively as well--assuming you want the photos to be relevant to both local and global viewers. In this case, "objective" means trying to shoot the notions that foreigners may have about Japan.
The funny thing is, foreigners tell me my photos are so Japanese, and Japanese tell me my photos look like they were taken by a foreigner, or, in extreme cases, like they weren't even taken in Japan. I think this shows that my photos are wide open for interpretation.
Q. Many photographers travel the world in search of great photos but you never seem to go much further than your own back yard. Why is that?
A. I'm currently not very interested in the kind of travel photography where you seek out the perfect place to take the perfect photo. Maybe that's because I prioritize spending time with my family or local community.
Anyhow, I have a strong desire to share the wonder of Japan with the rest of the world. I am plenty busy, and plenty happy, simply taking photos of the amazing people I encounter and the streets I walk. There are all kinds of marvelous and unexpected things happening right before our eyes if we only look. Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic but that's how I genuinely feel.
The point isn't to create great photos, it's to draw out every last drop of beauty from the subjects and landscapes in front of me.
I'm always shooting with the general atmosphere and every little detail in the frame in mind, so I am sure I could take Shin Noguchi-style photos even on short trips to other countries. No matter the place or the subject, a photographer shows their unique perspective of the world through their photos. That's a standard I try to hold myself to.
Q. If you have a favorite image from the set, could you share it with us and tell us a little about it?
A. If I can only choose one I guess it would be this:
I try to show a piece of Japan through the unusual objects the people in my photos are carrying. But snapping something that really grabs the viewer is easier said than done. I mean, the objects are just things. And just when I was thinking that the series needed something with more meaning I ran into this woman--a mother and her twins in matching clothes on the posh streets of Ginza. It was everything I wanted the project to be. The subject, the human "objects" she was carrying, the contrast between the people and the location, it all hit me hard.
Q. Where would you point people interested in Japanese street photography or other photographers active in Japan?
A. Unfortunately due to public morals and laws regarding likeness rights you won't find any semblance of real Japanese street photos in Japanese media. It's a shame, really. Ironically, to find truly great Japanese photographers or street photography you have to look outside of the country. Try seeking out others like me who are active on the international scene--that's the real Japan.
For the rest of the set and to buy prints, visit Shin Noguchi's website here.
--Interview by Dan Szpara (translated from original Japanese)
All photos Copyright © 2014 Shin Noguchi