snapshotsInsights from Yasu Nakaoka
Early influences, part 1
My father passed away during my senior year in high school. He was abusinessman, but his great hobby when he was young was photography. I had no idea actually that he was that big of a photography buff. Before he passed away he said to me, "Do you want anything special for your birthday?" So I said, "Well, I already have a stereo, how about a camera?" And he went out and got me a Nikon F2, and that was the start of the whole thing.
Early influences, part 2
I think Richard Avedon was my favorite photographer. He was the one who inspired me to become a photographer in the first place. It was the fashion part that intrigued me more than the portraits. Back when I was going to high school in Japan, there was this one clothing company that ran a television commercial that featured Richard Avedon doing a fashion shoot. It was all in black and white, and it was beautiful, kind of glamorous, and I remember thinking, "I can make a living doing this kind of thing." That got me interested in this whole field called professional photography.
When I first came back to Tokyo, I was just strictly doing business here in Japan, my clients were Japanese. But I knew that there was always a need for a photographer in Japan who could work effectively with non-Japanese clients. It's not just about doing good photography but being able to bridge the two cultures, and the fact that clients, especially English-speaking clients, can feel comfortable. What's more, the art directors can talk to me and tell me exactly what they want, and I would totally get that. Rather than talking to someone who speaks little or no English and everybody's going "What? What?" with all that frustration that comes when you can't communicate. I think I take a lot of the worry out.
My favorite city to shoot in is Venice. For some reason when I went to Venice, I just couldn't stop shooting. It was so beautiful. I love the old culture there. I could just walk through those streets all day long and find something interesting to shoot.
Advice to a young photographer
When it comes to being a photographer, it's not about the equipment, it's about the person. All your experiences make you what you are, and, in turn, that's what makes the image. I think people have to learn this over time ˜go through failure and success˜ and just kind of experience it all to see if you can withstand what it takes to be a photographer. At the end of the day, it's not about lighting, it's about life. I have really come to appreciate that. Photography is about your interests, how you deal with people, all the things that you experience that make up your character. That becomes you, the photographer.
Do you take a camera with you when you go on vacation?
Well, now I do. This is one of the great things about digital. In the past, apart from shooting jobs, I rarely ever took a camera around. Now with these little compact digital cameras, I always take a camera with me, not just traveling, but I always have a camera wherever I go, and I am always shooting. A small digital camera and a good tripod; it's amazing what you can get.
Gained in Translation
Although he was born in Japan and now lives in Tokyo, Yasu Nakaoka is truly a world citizen with more than a little American in him. After all, he graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics and went on to study photography at the prestigious Brooks Institute in Santa, Barbara, CA. Following his study at Brooks, Yasu apprenticed with one of the giants of New York photography, Carl Fischer. Returning to Japan in 1984, Yasu immediately began his photography business in Tokyo where he shot for advertising, editorial and corporate clients. Priding himself on always being able to deliver the highest-quality images, Yasu specializes in portraiture as well as products and fashion. Over the years, his work has earned him the kind of loyal client base that results in endorsements like this recent one from a prominent art director at Ross Culbert & Lavery, Inc in New York: "Yasu proved invaluable beyond words. His knowledge of digital photography is outstanding and the final product delivered was of utmost quality." Born into a world-traveling family, Yasu's father was a prominent part of Japan Inc., and his son learned the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese corporate way very early on. His English is flawless, his Japanese perfect (of course), and his talent with a camera is nothing less than exceptional. Add to that the inexpressible grace that is an esoteric feature of Japanese culture, and the result is a master who can bring life and charm to any commercial photography challenge.