Why is it that Japanese people love KiraKira so much? Many of you will answer by saying its sparkly, glitter-like quality, yet Yukari Manabe and Yoshihiro Saeki beg to differ. Their answer is as perplexing as it is meaningful and even philosophic. Both photographers, who form the collaborative effort Toki, may have different points of view.
However, together they manage to create pictures that are much more complex and intriguing than those they were doing on their own. This is why you will not find your run-of-the-mill answers when reading this interview. Expect the typical Japanese courtesy but prepare yourself for poetic and insightful views about the beauty of fashion photography.
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Hi Toki, could you present yourselves to our readers?
We are two people, a man and a woman called Yoshihiro Saeki and Yukari Manabe respectively, and have decided to call ourselves Toki. Our joint name comes from what the crested ibis is called in Japanese. We always follow a theme that we call ‘opening the image to understand the depths of what Japanese people are like’. We chose the name Toki because we thought it sounded very nice and pleasant. Another reason we chose it is that it is very easy to read for foreigners as it is written in Katakana.
How and when did you start getting interested in photography?
We just started taking pictures that were usually seen as if they were taken out of context. Also, one of us began as a fashion photographer’s assistant, and the other as a photographer. We had the opportunity to work together and we realised we could come up with more interesting, detailed ideas if we merged our worldviews. Ever since we have been working as a duo. This is actually our third year doing so, and since 2017, we’ve been calling ourselves Toki.
You have these airy-looking photos where you play with what seem to be light refractions, what is it that attracts you to this kind of imagery?
Those photos form part of a series called Fantasy, which is why they look like that. We wanted to show in the series that, nowadays, it’s really easy to get answers if you search them on Google, which is very efficient. However, it is robbing us from fantasising or imagining their meaning.
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There’s a bit of use of KiraKira in some of your pictures; everything’s shimmering, glittery-like. Why is that?
We wanted to make visible something that we cannot see. By using the Kira effect, we can visualise the light – which is normally invisible – as well as its purity and sacredness. Also, it emphasises a sense of cleanliness.
Actually, Japanese youth culture is very much related to glitter, shine and lots of retouching – at least, when we think of Harajuku. How do you think this affects your personal style? What are your favourite elements of Japanese culture and aesthetic, and how can we see them in your photographs?
We don’t really go much to Harajuku in Tokyo, so we wouldn’t call ourselves experts in that culture. Our reason for using this effect is to represent the fantasy element. However, instead of using it for a kawaii effect, we want to complement the clean aspect of it. The search for cleanliness is to trigger its purity, goodness and mystery. Also, there is a great influence of Zen in Japan, as we are taught throughout school that cleaning is a very important task. As Japanese people, we consider that we have sort of a consciousness to seek it.
I’ve seen that you have photographed the latest album cover of Wednesday Campanella, a huge J-pop band. However, it seems like you’ve only just started in your career. How did this collaboration come about? And what was it like working with Kom_I, the lead singer? Do you have any stories about the experience?
We first met a very charming person called Bunta Shimizu. We began photographing him and then we ended up working with him. In the meantime, he became Kom_I’s stylist. She saw the photos we took for a Japanese fashion magazine called Soen, and so she let us take pictures of her and Bunta. That was the beginning of the photo series that can be seen in Wednesday Campanella’s CD covers. We love working with her. We really don’t have to think much when we are around her; we connect with each other on another level, it’s like our subconsciouses are working together. Also, the experience of the two shootings opened so many doors for us, so we are very grateful for that.
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You have also worked with some really cool brands like Seiran Tsuno, which makes structural gowns using 3D pens. How did they discover you? And how’s your approach different when it comes to fashion photography, instead of maybe other personal projects?
Seiran Tsuno (the designer) contacted us through Instagram. We think that, perhaps, she likes to represent that that we cannot see. That’s what probably resonated with her most about our work, as we are trying to make the unknown visible. When we saw her work, immediately that side resonated with us, which is why we decided to work with her. We have a very warm memory of that shoot, as we found that our views and feelings towards the work were very similar to Ms Tsuno’s and also the stylist’s. Also, because we are a woman and man that form this collaborative effort, we think that our masculine and feminine ways of thinking complement each other, and we end up having quite a neutral viewpoint.
What are your photographic influences?
Of course, we are influenced by many Japanese photography books, and our country’s history and mythology, as well as everyone we’ve worked with so far with, like Kom_i, Bunta and Ms Tsuno. We find it interesting to find the common style of the era from our contemporaries, so these artists are a great source of influence on us.
Could you reveal to us what you are currently working on?
We are shooting for Japanese magazines, working on our website and continuing to photograph even more. In the future, we’d like to open ourselves more by working together with people from different industries, and we’re looking forward to moving on to the next era of our work.
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