Junku Nishimura: Street Shooting Set to Music

Junku Nishimura, a Tokyo-based street photographer, shoots with the Leica M5, or as he likes to describe it, he’s a “midnight boozer with Leica M5.” Junku has a distinctly retro style of shooting, which reflects his own reluctance to accept change and let go of his favorite worn in possessions. He is also a member of Ante Portas, a group of photographers on Tumblr who post one image, one series or sequence from their lives each month. Leica blog contributor Eric Kim had the chance to interview Junku about his work and passion for photography.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about a man behind the camera? How long have you been shooting and how did you stumble upon street photography?

A: I first took pictures when I bought an automatic camera some 20 years ago, I suppose. That was to take commemorative photos and it was when I bought a Leica six years ago that I began to think of my photos differently. In the streets and bars at night, the scenes of my daily life since before the Leica, the camera has always been beside me. When I was a corporate employee, I carried my camera bag to and from work.

Q: Looking at your images, they have a beautiful and retro look to them, as if they were taken many years ago. How did you develop this style?

A: Like oil painting and print art, black-and-white photography exists as a mode of expression established by precursors for well over 100 years, I just adopted it. If there is something retro about my pictures, it perhaps reflects my personality, reluctant to accept change and my inclination to cherish dying breeds.

Q: You have said that you are a “midnight boozer with your Leica M5” and that you are the “most funkiest funk old school unknown DJ in the world.” Can you explain a little more about how you shoot in the streets?

A: When I take pictures, say, in a dimly-lit bar, they will be of different tones according to whether the tune that comes to mind at that moment is jazz or hip-hop. This is because I have a habit of trying to take shots which would make a good slideshow to go along with the music that pops into my mind then as background music. In the case of Japanese traditional diners, the tune that comes to my mind there will be of old Japanese kayōkyoku.­

Q: Tell us more about your relationship with your Leica M5. How does it help you achieve your images?

A: The Leica M5 is appreciably different from the Leica M6 in stability against blur due to slow shutter. It is rare with M6 that I take shots at 1/8 second, which I do not hesitate to do with M5. Also, it is nicer to touch when you hold it in your palm than a woman’s skin is, I gather. However, it is too heavy with a Summarit on.

Q: Before you are about to capture an image, what kind of story do you wish to tell?

A: I never develop a story and accordingly form mental pictures before taking shots. This is because I believe you should follow your instincts on the spot in taking snapshots. However, I always have in mind three very broad concepts: life, truth and death.

Q: How do you feel that shooting in Japan is different from anywhere else in the world?

A: This is a very wide-range question, so it is not easy to make a general answer. For one, I was at a loss for how to capture the light when I visited Barcelona last winter. This was because the winter sun there was so much lower and stronger than in Japan. Meanwhile, I was traveling with another photographer from France and I was impressed by the way the long stretched shadows were utilized in his. I would like to see how he would capture the light inflected by the moist atmosphere in Japan.

Q: You have a very consistent style and your images are instantly recognizable.  What type of film do you shoot with and how do you process them?

A: I have been using Kodak Tri-X mainly after Fuji Neopan 1600 was discontinued. I develop it with Fuji developer and print it on Ilford paper.

Q: Why haven’t you made the jump to digital?

A: I tend to keep wearing my favorite shoes or cap until it is impossible to wear them any longer. I stay in a relationship with a woman for a long time, for that matter. For now, I am determined to vanish from the scene together with film.

Q: Your raw and gritty images is reminiscent of the work of post-war Japan street photographer Daido Moriyama. Has he influenced your work in any way?

A: I admit that I admire him and that I am no match for him in sensitivity, but it was after I began to take pictures the way I do now that I heard of him. My shallow thoughts do not begin to fit into that hard style of his which embodies his thoughts.

Q: How would you differentiate your images from that of all the other street photographers out there?

A: I have never thought how to do that. I wish some difference would come along without my attempt.

Q: What are some photography projects you are currently working on?

A: I am currently only working on selling my prints.

Q: What do you see for yourself in the future?

A: I would like to go back to Fukushima and see for myself how people have returned and rehabilitated the rural areas surrounding the nuclear power plant of Fukushima First. I had roamed about there taking pictures the day before access became restricted.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Junku’s work on his Flickr.