Celebrity photographer Hajime Kamiiisaka has photographed live concerts and album covers for many artistes that Japanese pop culture fans would be very familiar with, such as AKB48, Nana Mizuki, Momoiro Clover Z, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Best known for his live concert photography, his wide-ranging portfolio that also includes fashion shoots and album covers. What drove Kamiiisaka to make his mid-career switch? What's his philosophy behind photo shoots, and what advice does he have for aspiring professional photographers? We find out in Part 1 of this 2-part interview.
Momoiro Clover Z/ Momoiro Clover Z/ DOME TREK 2016/ Image by Hajime Kamiiisaka
Kamiiisaka has been at the forefront of a wide range of genres, having an established reputation in live concert photography as well as fashion photography, album cover photography, and so on. However, he has a rather unique background of having become a photographer at the age of 30, after working in a record label for a number of years. In Part 1 of this interview, he speaks about his career switch and his passion for live concert photography.
The photographer Kamiiisaka, who has been at the forefront of various photography genres such as fashion, live concerts, and album covers.
From experiences in New York, to record label executive, and then to pro photographer
- You switched your career to a photographer at the age of 30. From when did you have an interest in photography? Also, is there a photographer who influenced you?
Kamiiisaka: I started taking photographs when I was about 20 years old. I took a lot of snapshots using a compact film camera. I aspired to be a dancer when I was young, and was also selling clothing then, so I went to New York frequently in the 1990s. During that period of time, I saw the likes of Calvin Klein ads and the Vogue magazine, and I was able to personally experience the power of fashion and photography. I was influenced by photographers of that time, such as Peter Lindbergh, Terry Richardson , and Bruce Weber .
- You didn't become a photographer right after that, but instead worked for a record label, right?
Kamiiisaka: I worked in Epic/Sony Records for 10 year, as a promoter as well as in the design production division. The reason I became a photographer at 30 years old was because in the course of my work, where I was involved in producing album covers and music videos , I became interested in taking photos by myself. Once, I used the company's camera to take some behind-the-scenes shots during a filming of a music video by the director Wong Kar Wai, and they turned out really well. Everyone was pleased with them, and I was even told that I should become a photographer.
A youthful Kamiiisaka (2nd from right) in New York in 1992.
- Did you have any hesitation in quitting your job in the record label to become a photographer?
Kamiiisaka: No, I didn't. It was at a time when I was looking for a new challenge. Also, I had been involved in the scene for many years and I understood the job of a photographer. It happened that JFKK was looking for an assistant then, so I worked 4 and a half years with him. JFKK is famous for fashion photography, but I did not have a particularly strong interest in that genre.
After that I spent some time in the music industry as well, and someone suggested me to give live concert photography a try, so I became a freelancer. Now roughly half my work is in fashion photography and the other half, in live concert photography.
*JFKK: Fashion photographer. Currently active under the name of Keisuke Fukamizu.
Album covers created using photos by Kamiiisaka. He is active in a wide range of genres, including fashion photography and live concert photography.
There are special moments that only a photographer can see
Nana Mizuki/ NANA MIZUKI LIVE THEATER 2015 –ACOUSTIC-/ Image by Hajime Kamiiisaka
- Can you tell me the best part of photographing live concerts?
Kamiiisaka: I myself love entertainment, and photography itself is enjoyable. When you are involved (in the entertainment scene) as a photographer, a wonderful aspect of the job is being able to freely move around a live concert venue.
When I was younger, I did many rash things as I wanted to take good photos, and experienced various failures as a result. I was once told off severely for falling into the hole of a pop-up toaster lift in a dark backstage. Even those kinds of things are all experiences.
I believe that a photo is not simply an image, but also captures the atmosphere of that moment. As photographers, we capture special moments that the audience cannot see at the venue. While it can be physically demanding on the scenes, it is ultimately rewarding when artists like my work and when I am able to take better shots that exceed my own expectations. That is the best part of the job.
Dare to challenge yourself. Having experiences is the shortcut to becoming a professional
- Do you have any advice for people who may someday want to become a photographer, just like yourself?
Kamiiisaka: If you are currently working in a different field, how about taking the plunge and making a career switch? There are lots of people around the world who want to become a photographer, so if you are trying to do photography while doing other work, your efforts will be somewhat half-baked. As you would expect, those who work on photography 24/7 have an advantage. I quit my previous job. While it was a period of instability in my life, I was glad that I was able to spend all of my time doing photography. Also, rather than going to photography school, it is better to get out in the field. You will experience things than you cannot learn while sitting in a classroom.
You can start off with just one camera and lens set. I started off with just one standard zoom lens too. I still find the photos that I took back then impactful, and I love them. Start by working on taking photos that you can be satisfied with using the equipment you have. After that you can acquire more lenses. Get familiar enough with your camera until you can virtually operate it with your eyes closed, so that you will be able to capture the fleeting moments the way you intended. In other words, the first step is to get used to one camera. That is the shortcut to improving.
The minimum set of equipment that Kamiiisaka uses for personal use. He says, "You do not need any special equipment. It is more important to gain experience with a single camera and lens." Camera: EOS 5D Mark III/ Lens: EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
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Hajime Kamiiisaka is holding a seminar in Bangkok on 20 & 21 August as a tie-in with Anime Festival Asia (AFA) Thailand 2016.
Details are as follows:
My life as a fashion and live concert photographer
Siam Paragon Expo, Seminar Room 4 (same venue as AFA)
Saturday, 20 August 2016: 2pm – 3pm
Sunday, 21 August: 2pm – 3pm
1. Please indicate your preferred date in the subject
2. Please indicate your name and contact details in the message
Spaces are limited to the first 50 participants.
Entered Epic/Sony Records in 1993, joining the design production division after gaining experience as a promoter and in A&R. Left in 2002 to become an assistant to fashion photographer JFKK, before striking out to take on photography assignments on his own. Since then, he has been active mainly in the commercial fashion, film, music and visual arts scenes.