Photos That Capture the Everyday Weirdness of Japan
Ikushun specializes perfectly timed snapshots that make us see the world in a new light.
This article originally appeared on VICE Japan as part of their series "Distorted World," exploring the world through the lens of photographers with their own distinct style.
Ikushun lives for the climax. This former office worker has an innate ability to snap a photo at just the right moment, capturing fresh perspectives on otherwise mundane scenes that somehow seem surreal and real at the same time.
"I don't use a rapid-fire shutter, because I think it's cheating a bit," he told VICE. "So I always try to push the shutter at the perfect time to ensure that I don't miss this exact moment. Getting the timing right is the best feeling in the world."
VICE's Tokyo office had a chance to talk with Ikushun shortly after the release of his photo book Desuyone~, a collection that features his favorite photos from the last decade. Here's a short excerpt from his book.
VICE: How did you get into photography?
Ikushun: I’m 35 now, but after graduating from university, I got this white-collar job. I bought my first camera a short time later, once I got used to the job. It’s not like I consciously got into photography or anything—I just bought a camera.
What sort of camera was it?
It was a compact digital. I thought that it could be useful for traveling, friends’ weddings, and so on. Today, I always carry a camera around when I go out, but for the first three years or so I just left my camera, untouched, at home.
What made you realize that photography could be a profession?
There’s this band based in Osaka called Oshiri Pen-Pens that I’m a fan of, so I go to their live shows a lot. They seemed so interesting and I wanted to befriend them. But I was getting to that age when I could no longer really be considered 'young,' so it would be weird to suddenly walk up to band and be like, 'hey, let’s be friends!'
Then I started taking photos of their live shows and uploading them to my blog, hoping that it would catch the band members’ attention. I also did the same thing to other performers like Outdoor Homeless and Clitoric Ris. A short time later my efforts had caught their attention. One of them told me that even though my photos of live shows were good, my snapshots of daily life were far more interesting.
How would you feel hearing something like that? Especially from someone you thought was so interesting? That's honestly what motivated me to keep up with photography to this day.
Your blog really was something, wasn't it? The first time I saw it, I thought you were a high school girl. [Laughs]
I had no idea that I would continue this blog for very long, so, when I started it, I just randomly filled in the profile page and I left it that way. It was the same thing with my blog's title, which was [basically] 'your shit will come out runny within three days if you read this blog.'
It was surprising to me at the time that a high school girl would boldly write 'shit' like that. [Laughs] I have a couple questions about your shooting methods. Do you set a date or a location before going out?
Not really. I usually go out to shoot only on Saturdays or Sundays. When I have plans to go out, I always have my camera with me, and I just take photos randomly along the way. Most of the time, I just take photos on the way to the convenience store or the nearest train station.
What kind of camera are you using these days? Is it still a compact digital?
Now I'm using this JPY 15,000 ($137 USD) mirrorless digital I bought three years ago at Sofmap Akihabara. It's a second-hand, out-of-production model, but it does the job perfectly and hasn't broken down once in three years. Now it's the only camera I own.
When I look at your photos, I get this sense that your everyday life is filled with all these interesting things.
Maybe it's just because I pay attention to what's going on around me way more, like ten times more, than others. If I look around ten times more often than everyone else, it will only take me a year to notice the things that others would see in ten.
But some seem a bit set up, like this one of the girl jumping.
That's my niece jumping really high. I asked her to jump a lot of times. She actually started to jump on her own, but the photo didn't turn out too well, so I asked her to jump again so I could retake it. That's probably the only one I set up though.
What's up with that sequence where the dog keeps staring right at the camera?
For some reason dogs stare whenever I point the camera at them. Maybe they are wondering what the hell I am doing. It's not hard to get an animal to pay attention to a camera.
Have people told you that you're very persistent?
I like being persistent. Whenever someone says, 'ugh, this guy is so persistent' with a half-laugh it really hits the spot for me. But I don't like it when people are persistent toward me. When I ran into that dog, I thought to myself that the dog was bossing around the old lady, by just sitting in that box and getting carried around. Then I took a photo, but this dog kept on staring at me, so I continued to snap away. It was like an imaginary contest between me and the dog to figure out which one of us would look away first.
What goes through your head when you come across an interesting photo subject?
Sensation-wise, it's pretty close to a music video game. Like when you push the button right at the perfect time, right in-line with the visual cues on screen, to get a higher score. For example, the picture of my niece jumping—that's a high score. It feels nice to be able to capture her right at her apex. Or the frog picture. I wanted to capture the moment when the frog's body reached its full extension.
Is there such thing as an ideal photo?
Not really. It would be presumptuous of me to say that a photo is ideal, and that presumptuousness will show up in the picture. Presumptuousness is uncool and embarrassing, isn’t it? [Laughs] I guess the ideal for me would be if I randomly push the shutter and the picture turns out to be beyond whatever my 'ideal' is—something unplanned and not at all deliberate.
You have this nonchalance about your photos, like this sequence of images is confusing, but it's also a lot closer to reality than staged or heavily commercial works.
A sense of reality is important. A lot of photographers have what it takes to create a sense of reality in a pre-arranged situation, but I personally don't think that I have it in me. That's why I only take these ordinary snapshots.