People | 20 QUESTIONS

Yuta Kato: Following his photo instincts

by Camryn Privette

Contributing Writer

Name: Yuta Kato
Age: 24
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Photographer, www.yuta-kato.com
Likes: Learning from one another
Dislikes: Negativity


1. You’ve been interviewing and taking portraits of people for your project, “Hazime-Mashite,” for about five years now. What inspired you to start this? I wanted to figure out what I did and didn’t like through the process of asking to photograph random people. When I look back, I feel I really needed space outside my house or school to do something purely for me, not based on other people’s opinions.

2. When did you first start taking pictures? When I started my “Hazime-Mashite” project, I didn’t even have a camera. I just wanted to talk with random people. But once I started, I realized people thought I looked suspicious. So I came up with an idea, which was to approach people with a camera. I thought my first impression would then be, “Oh, this guy might want to take a photo of me,” rather than “Who the f—- are you?”

3. What type of camera do you use? A Nikon D850 for digital and an F3 for film.

4. Do you prefer shooting in digital or film? Nowadays I prefer film because I appreciate each image more and because the color and texture I get is closer to what I see. I want my photos to include the story, instead of just click, click, click. I believe film shows more about the relationship between the subject and me.

5. Do you have a favorite place or time of day to shoot? I really love golden-hour light. Currently, my favorite place to shoot is in Yoyogi Park.

6. Who do you usually approach? A person who is alone or looks like they have time to talk (like smokers, or someone walking a dog). When someone catches my eye, I will definitely go talk to them.

7. What is the strangest encounter you have had? That’s actually what people often ask me but, unexpectedly, no strange memories pop into my head at all. Most of the time I am surprised how nice people are to a stranger.

8. Do you ever get nervous or scared? Most of the time I still feel nervous when I approach a random person, and of course I know how uncomfortable it is when you don’t have a topic to talk about. But after doing this for more than five years, I have good instincts for finding interesting people.

9. Are people normally willing to talk to you? The key is getting trust first. Once I get their trust and get connected, everything goes very naturally.

10. Any particularly rewarding encounters? When someone I’ve approached says “thank you” for listening. People want to tell their stories, and are looking for someone who pays attention to what they’ve been through.

11. You’ve studied photography in Vancouver. What did you learn there that you might not have in Japan? The biggest take-away from living in Canada was experiencing how positivity comes naturally when I do what I love, which is photography. Every experience I have becomes reflected in my images.

12. What was the most valuable experience you had? Living outside of Japan and meeting people who spoke different languages kept pushing me to get out of my comfort zone. Being able to spend time with talented people influenced my daily life, and that kept me humble.

13. Are there any cultural differences between Japanese and Canadian photographers? From my perspective, even if we use the same gear and take the same photo, the style seems different between Japanese and photographers from other countries. Culture-wise I can sense the sensitive, quiet and emotional nature of Japanese photographers.

14. Who is your favorite photographer? I’ve always loved photojournalist/filmmaker Ami Vitale. Now she is known as a wildlife photographer, but before that she was a war photographer. I get inspiration from not only her photography, but her stories as well. My other favorite photographers are Joey Lawrence, Dave Hill, Jeremy Snell and Dexter Navy.

15. Would you rather freelance or work for a company? I work for a company in Yotsuya as a regular employee and freelance after work and weekends. Both are important experiences because there are tons of things that I can learn and notice about myself.

16. If you could have dinner with any two famous people, who would they be? Ellen DeGeneres and Pharrell Williams. I’ve only watched them online, but I can see they are really kind people.

17. If you had a magic genie that could grant you any wish, what would it be? Make my eye an actual camera so when I blink the shutter snaps.

18. What’s your go-to karaoke song? Nowadays, my colleagues and I love to sing “2002” by Anne-Marie after work.

19. If you had to eat the same meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? Raw egg on rice (tamago kake gohan).

20. Any advice for someone who wants to get into photography? Self-assign yourself work instead of waiting for jobs.

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