INTERVIEW WITH CHIKASHI SUZUKI
From early 2010s, social media became part of our daily life. But you opened your Instagram account during this COVID-19 pandemic. What triggered you to start?
It’s my habit to start something new in the time of emergency. I learned to edit videos myself during this pandemic and am even learning photoshop little by little which I had never touched until now. I can crop-out and brighten photos now (laughing).
Is there anything you consider in terms of continually posting on the app?
I’m trying to keep the number of followers to 3,000 or so. I think that’s about a good amount. For magazines, for example, you start to have audience who has different style than the one you express once the sales go above a hundred thousand copies, although this is a figure in the 90s. And this starts to create more and more rules for the magazine production. Therefore between ten to thirty thousand copies give you the most freedom. But for Instagram, 10K followers seem a bit too much. You don’t look at magazines everyday which is not the case for Instagram.
In today’s world, the brand, the media, and the consumers all share images both ways in the same format.
There are times where impulsive image posted by an amateur receives more “likes” than the produced visual by a professional. But there’s also importance in the imagination and adoration for something you don’t understand instantly. In order for a brand to be successful from here on, it needs to be on top of creating images that resonate to general audience as well as the professionals online. Those two can’t be the same and therefore, creating separate images for each party would be necessary.
There seems to be a trend where the band side is collaborating with fashion editors for creating an original content. In a way, that idea is similar to how you create magazine contents.
The initiator of that trend was GUCCI. Christopher Simmonds who was the art director of the magazine DAZED & CONFUSED joined the brand and had set the current trend. There’s also the societal background how people look at social media every day and how intriguing content needs to be created in a huge amount in order to keep the audience’s attention. These initiators have set a new style in which the content is curated and created from many angles rather than showing a certain image all at once, like they did in the old days. It’s a way to encompass audience of all genre while keeping the overall brand vision.
The relation between brand and photographer is also changing. It seems like there are less cases where one photographer would commit to shoot continually for one brand.
In the 90s for example, when photographer Glen Luchford was assigned to shoot a certain brand, it was in the contract that he is not allowed to shoot for other brands. In those days, it was considered that if one photographer was shooting for many brands, the advertisement wouldn’t be effective. But that was the time when Fumihiro Hayashi of DUNE was looking to work with Glen and he collaborated with editor Andrew Richardson in creating RICHARDSON MAGAZINE. Their idea was that if the models weren’t wearing clothes it won’t be a problem for Glen to shoot (laughing). Back then, there were such strict restrictions for photographers as well as models. Although, that gave a big boost in contract rate. If you worked on one ad campaign, you didn’t need to work on anything else to succeed. After that time, as more and more media came about, it was necessary to create all kinds of ads and that require huge amount of budget. So from around the year 2000 on, that type of contract began to diminish. Today, as you know, it’s common for a photographer to shoot more than one brand advertisement in one season. The influencer kids would also appear in various shows. It almost seems as the trend has shifted from the confined style of little while ago to one where brands are sharing with each other. I believe that in looking for ways to bring out the brand’s feature in such age, the design with obvious brand logo took the world by storm.
On the other hand, in recent trend, it feels that there is an obvious aspiration for reality. Especially for this season’s release, it seemed that there were many brands that were conscious about materiality for their invitation.
LOUIS VUITTON was one of them, for example. Everyone worldwide can watch the show with simultaneous release online but the guests who are invited to the show would still receive an invitation. Some years ago, the invitation was only an envelope but today, people tend to enjoy the materialistic craft of it, like a gift box. And yet, what you would actually use at the venue is the digital invitation. More and more brands are creatively differentiating the trick that resonates to the mass and to the professionals just like the trend in photography.
Has any visual grab your attention in the recent fashion videography expression?
A piece that made me feel that I only have this one-time opportunity to see it was the MAISON MARGIELA documentary, S.W.A.L.K, produced by John Galliano. That was amazing. They normally won’t show behind the scene of haute couture. You would never see the work of seamstress. Even if that part was a fictitious scene, there still is the fact that that process is done.
What would be the necessary process for the clothes created in this age to acquire new value in the later years?
As it is with the snapped street photos, people won’t be moved by seeing the same photo tomorrow that you shot today, right? But say in 20 years, that photo would seem differently because the city and the scenery would have changed. As everybody knows, the value is in the fact that you are no longer able to take that photo at this time. And that value is conceived because the image remains after decades of time. Therefore, there’s value to the fact how MAISON MARGIELA continues as it transforms over the years even after Martin Margiela have retired. Same with HELMUT LANG, the new value have arisen because of the many designers that inherited his philosophy.
The use of photographers plays a major role in one brand’s entire history. The difference between Martin Margiela you mentioned and John Galliano’s idea for photographic expression also tells a tale for discussing current age.
This is my personal view but Margiela intentionally chose photos that look amateur so it didn’t look so fine. In the end, that choice had pushed him to become particularly special. On the contrary, John Galliano can be fond of images that looked exquisite as you can tell from how he used Nick Knight. Nevertheless, he explored new visual expression and his own uniqueness within that style. And that continuing-to-try attitude of his feels close to that of Margiela’s back then. He also has great respect for the brand while expressing his uniqueness and I like that so much more than people who continue to do an homage to someone else’s work. Galliano has definitely created a new image of MARGIELA.
Martin Margiela and John Galliano also have affinity with each other in the way they’re both well-versed about haute couture.
Long time ago, Marigela had once released his creative process in PURPLE, such as photos of broken down haute couture clothing with stitches coming apart and scattered pattern pieces. It was an expression coming from respect for all people who work with haute couture. And because John Galliano also has a deep understanding of haute couture, I belie there’s many aspects he resonate with that idea. On the contrary, that philosophy doesn’t exists in the so-called hype clothing. In the end, the producers of those type of clothes design them focusing on post-production.
There is a direction to sum-up today’s phenomenon as diversification. And yet, what is really happening can also be seen as a game of “context reading” for setting a fresh angle in the scene, almost like a pro wrestling tournament.
There are designers who take an approach like Virgil Abloh’s in expanding the world of fashion. That is also one type of role. For example, back in the days, after GIORGIO ARMANI had a mega release of his new silhouette, there was a whole trend of other designers copying the style all at once. Today, it feels that that type of trend is subdivided in multiple directions.
The way of consuming seems subdivided as well today. You pick and choose at your own convenience from the overflowing contents of media and platforms. It also seems that consumers view content of far old days as if it belongs to the present. When we watch videos, we normally aren’t paying attention to the release date.
I believe you’re right. Perhaps the time axis is mixed with different set of values of multitude of people, creating chaos. Another dangerous aspect is how people think of images scrolling up on your smartphone to all be your own material. It’s like, “just use that because it’s there” kind of sensibility… Even more, due to the high quality of cameras and computers, you are technically able to do anything and therefore, would consider yourself to be amazing at everything. I believe those layers will affect their later creation. So it’s necessary for one to set their own time axis,
Designers in the old days were similar to rock star musicians and created clothes based on their own interest, lifestyle and culture. Now, they provide what is currently being demanded, at the right time, in the right situation, perhaps the idea is closer to DJing.
I’m sure sampling is a methodology for expanding ideas efficiently. But we can say that for both fashion and photography, there was a beauty in the process of completing a piece. A person who creates from zero can enjoy that beauty in the middle of one’s creation. But for people who copy, on the other hand, their acceptable range is slim because their goal is to make the design closer and closer to something that exists. For example in photography, even if you were an unknown photographer, people would see your photo if you shoot a famous person. But if you mistake the value of that famous person to be your own, you wouldn’t be able to grow beyond that.
The way of evaluating new things is also transitioning with time. Before, the practice of design among designers was one of the main evaluation axis. But today, what you can statistically quantify is the evaluation standard.
For example, during the age when making a clothing worth a thousand dollar to look like a two thousand dollar piece was mainstream. Margiela designed his thousand dollar clothing to look like a hundred dollar piece. And yet, people still bought his clothes because they wanted to wear his philosophy. I believe that creators should honor and support such persons creating new value. If even people like us began appreciating hype design, nobody would continue to innovate. Because it would seem more advantageous to be in the backseat. I try to be conscious of that. Although, I do find sneakers I like from time to time.
Technically speaking, so many images can be easily copied now. If there is something you won’t be able to copy, what would that be?
My photobook SHINTOKYO I just released consists of 20 years’ worth of bad snapshots I intentionally handpicked. There is a series of Kirin Kiki’s grandson UTA, for example, documented from when he was a baby until he grew up to be an adult. Even if there was someone copying my style, they won’t be able to shoot a photo of 20 years back. In the book, there is also a snap of Kishin Shinoyama shooting Wolfgang Tillmans during a project for a magazine. Shinoyama’s photo of Tillmans on its own is precious, of course, but looking back at the scene of Shinoyama shooting Tillmans with a large format camera is also quite precious. Those moments cannot be staged or recreated so it becomes more interesting as more time passes. Photos showing unintentional moment of everyday life brings a value of its own that is different from the posed photos.
I’m sure there are times you would be one of the casting members for the editorial shoot of magazines. What are some of the criteria of your choice?
I like models who seem unkept in a glance but would look drastically different as soon as you get them dressed. And while I shoot, I don’t direct their posing in order to capture them being a little awkward which brings out the best image. For example, if I direct them to “be sexy,” it starts to look fake and I find it more attractive when they have an ambiguous expression. I even finish shooting before they get to express the look they want to express. I get to capture the non-acting natural expression if I finish before the model turns into that person they wish to be.
For our last questions, I want to ask about your shooting method. I heard that you use HMI lights for studio shoot. This is the same lighting set Nobuyoshi Araki uses as well.
After I contemplated what at all can be the best photographic expression, I realized the importance of camera shake showing in film. For example, there’s an effect on iPhone too for intentionally trying to make the image like a film photo. This means that people still have this idea of “photo equals film”. And technically speaking, if strobe is used, the shutter speed would be 125th of a second and that is not a moment human can optically capture. But with HMI, it’s about a quarter of a second or 35th of a second so that means what you optically felt in that moment would be contained in the photo, inside that one image. I think that in this age with so many photos looking amazingly perfect like an ad, the effect of camera shake gives more of a poetic feeling.
My idea of Chikashi Suzuki is someone who explored the methods lived by the ancestors and continued to update his own view by creating a collection of those methods. So when you use the technique developed by previous generation, what are the things you consider for creating a photography only you can shoot?
The HMI I just mentioned, is a lighting that have been used before strobe was developed and master photographers like Bruce Weber use it too. Therefore, it carries not just Araki, of course, but a history of photographers. So with that in mind, if I were to mention my own feature, probably the fact that I never interact with my subject plays a major role. I only realized this because the stylist Michiko Kitamura had told me. It’s not like I’m trying to shoot the world of Yasujiro Ozu, but what I want to capture is that one moment that a glimpse of bra shows through her short white blouse sleeve. Mr. Araki as “ARAKI” invented the way to bring out the model’s seductive charm to the max by challenging her face to face. But I like to pursuit the sexiness within restraint (laughing).
Interview text_ SHINGO ISOYAMA