The regional rivalry in East Asia will help make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics successful, according to a leading sports photographer who has documented the past 16 games.

Bob Martin, who has an exhibition of his work running in Tokyo, says Japanese organizers will be determined not to be outdone by their counterparts in China and South Korea.

China was widely praised for its staging of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, which will also host the 2022 Winter Games, as well as the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing. Pyeongchang, in South Korea, delivered a well-received Winter Games in February.

“The Japanese will want to do it better than anyone else, especially as we’ve recently had Beijing and Korea,” said the Briton, who, as an International Olympic Committee consultant, is helping plan photo operations for those who will come to shoot the Tokyo Games.

“They are big rivals, so I think Tokyo will be looking to really up the ante.”

Speaking at the Park Hyatt hotel, one of the locations in the movie “Lost in Translation,” Martin is in Tokyo to continue his role with Japan’s organizing committee and to promote an exhibition of his work at the Sony Imaging Gallery in the swanky Ginza district. The free show started May 11 and runs until May 31, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

One of Martin’s key tasks is to identify iconic shots and make it possible for photographers to take them. He believes the Tokyo Olympics will produce “mind-blowing” visuals, but says certain challenges exist.

“The (organizing committee) people here treat me with great respect, but I don’t think the sport managers care much about photography, so that’s going to be a battle,” said Martin, who also worked with the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Games.

“And the Japanese mentality that a photographer can stand in a 20-cm square with all their equipment and do their job is something we’re having to battle with. If you miss a picture you cannot go back and get it, so you must have the right place to stand and sometimes organizers don’t appreciate that. And when you look back, it’s the pictures that are the legacy of the games.”

Martin also said Tokyo lacks a stand-out landmark that defines the city, such as Big Ben in London or Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, although he has identified some potentially iconic shots.

“I’m always chasing the image that gives a sense of place. Triathlon could be good, as the Rainbow Bridge will be in the background. Equestrian could be amazing because the cross-country course is on one of the islands and has the city in the background.”

A former staffer at Sports Illustrated, Martin has been published in many of the world’s leading publications and has won an array of awards, including the World Press Photo Sports Image of the Year, British Sports Photographer of the Year, and the National Press Photographers Association’s coveted Sports Photojournalist of the Year.

Having been a Nikon ambassador until last year, Martin has switched to another Japanese camera maker, Sony, where he consults to help develop products such as the breakthrough Alpha A9 camera that was launched last year.

“I have a lot of time for the Japanese photographic community,” he said. “All over the world photographers are being laid off, but here they still employ photographers in large numbers. This country still appreciates photography.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.