Images from students of resistance

Photography school Resist encourages its participants to focus on personal expression rather than technique

by Jae Lee

Prospective students to the photography school Resist need to be searching for a way to find themselves, says its founder, Masayuki Yoshinaga, agreeing with his friend and mentor Daido Moriyama, both established photographers.

Founded in 2006, Resist is a product of Yoshinaga’s observations when teaching photography. He opened the school after returning to Japan from a position in the United States. As a professional commercial photographer, he had been given opportunities to teach as a guest lecturer at Yale University in Connecticut and at Shashin Shomen Daigaku (Shomen photography college) in Osaka — both of which he found particularly interesting.

“The students were beaming with lights of curiosity and enthusiasm,” Yoshinaga says. “But in both Japanese and American cultures I found it very unfortunate that they did not have a real outlet to explore their curiosity and find a way for photography to express themselves beyond their school years.”

It was then that the disappointed Yoshinaga went to Daido, who had also been involved in Japanese photography schools in Japan, to find out more about possible teaching opportunites.

The two photographers originally met when Daido was exhibiting at PARCO, Shibuya in 1998 and Yoshinaga was assigned to take pictures of Daido at the exhibition. Daido, being a of an older generation than Yoshinaga, not only mentored Yoshinaga, he also valued the younger man’s thoughts on photography. And they have been good friends since they met, often going out for drinks and talking mostly about photography.

Daido suggested that instead of looking for more lecturing opportunites, Yoshinaga should open his own school. “I was surprised at how fast he worked after I suggested the idea,” he says. “I told him that instead of being guest lecturer, it might suit his personality, and daily schedule as a professional photographer, to open a school of his own.”

Thinking of his teaching experience during the 1960s at the postwar photographer Shomei Tomatsu’s school, Daido also offered to be a guest lecturer for Yoshinaga’s school.

Resist now has several other well-known guest lecturers, such as Makoto Aida and Nara Yoshimoto, whom Yoshinaga has persuaded to work with him, and lessons are taught in classrooms provided in the building of a film company.

The classes are usually held twice a month over a period of six months (12 classes in total), with guest lecturers from various fields advising students on their work. But Resist is not about teaching photography techniques.

“We do not teach the students how to take pictures,” insists Yoshinaga, who goes on to explain that “students should already be taking pictures on their own.”

This does not necessarily mean they have to be professional photographers or even have an extensive portfolio, though. “We do not hold entrance exams or auditions, even though for past semesters we have had a large amount of applicants,” he explains. “We whittle down prospective students to create smaller class sizes by reading their entry forms.”

Most photography schools, says Yoshinaga, teach specific styles of photography, something that he wants his school to “resist.” His school is designed to free students’ minds to experiment and explore their own abilities and styles. And the smaller class sizes, he believes, makes “tuition” more intimate and personal, an important part of discovering oneself. Students, for example, socialize and get to know their teachers after class.

Both Yoshinaga and Daido say that their experience as photographers gives them a kind of intuition in understanding what other photographers are trying to convey — an intuition they think aspiring photographers can learn from and develop for themselves.

This is put to the test in the fifth semester of a Resist course, when all the students present their images to be assessed.

During one of the final classes late last year, the students presenting works looked nervous. Akira Otake, a 64-year-old illustrator who says that he joined the school because he wanted to broaden his creative field by taking pictures, is given some advice from Daido: “Don’t take pictures others would take.”

Another student, Hiromasa Takeuchi, tells his teacher that he is works on assigned photography projects, but he wants to create a set of non-work images that help him explore himself.

The assessments are quiet and serious, with students listening attentively to the teachers’ comments and advice. Some students are simply told “Don’t give up” or even more vague words of fortune-cookie wisdom. Other students are given more specific advice on choosing subject matters. But, in general, the assesments offer words of encouragement.

“Resist,” for Yoshinaga and Daido, refers to an essential quality of being a photographer: The ability to resist selfishness and to be flexible enough to better their understanding though the experience of others’ works. But another important word, says Daido, is “continue.”

“The students all come to the school with different backgrounds and experiences, but they all leave with a better understanding of their potential as photographers. For a photographer, there is no other way but to continue to take pictures.”

The application deadline for the next course at Resist is April 25. The course begins on May 26 and classes are from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. For more information, visit www.roonee.com/resist
(Japanese only).