High impact is everything in the world of commercial photography, and few photographers are able to make as much of an impact as Satoshi Kobayshi. Still lifes in name only, Satoshi’s ability to bring a visceral dynamism to static images has made his work highly sought after. Satoshi’s hyperstylized work delicately straddles the line between commercial and fine art, and his technical acumen is worth its weight in gold. He’s a user of Sinar’s unique p3 bellows-style digital camera and a devotee of Broncolor lighting.
Describing the photographs of Satoshi Kobayshi as “still life” may be technically accurate, but the spirit is all wrong. True, Satoshi photographs inanimate objects, but his images are so animated that there’s very little stillness to them. He attributes his dynamic portfolio to two factors: the digital revolution and boredom.
Satoshi began his career in Japan more than 20 years ago, where he says photographers didn’t specialize in the same way they do now. He photographed a little bit of everything, but it was the objects that especially intrigued him.
“People can make their own statements,” he says. “Facial expressions, they can talk, they can walk, they have their own will. But the still life, the object, until we find the beautiful angles and moments and lighting, we never notice how good they are. Fundamentally, it’s not even about the photography; it’s sort of my own personal philosophy—every single object has a reason to exist. Sometimes we need to help them to make them look good.
“Humans,” he continues, “we’re all different in the faces and nothing is the same. When you see apples and oranges, the apples all look the same, but when you take a closer look, none of them is the same. I think doing still life is finding the beauty of nature, or even of a mass-produced product. You apply different lighting or a different background or a slightly different angle, you capture so many different faces. I find that really interesting. That’s my initial still-life motivation.”
Satoshi’s personal philosophy led him long ago to concentrate on tabletop photography, but after a while he began to get bored with the same old things and he worried that his work was stagnating. In an effort to keep evolving creatively, he looked to add elements of motion and emotion to his images, and he found water to be the ideal missing ingredient.
“I started to look for something new in the still-life world,” Satoshi explains, “and I found water is a very interesting object. Plus, the visual effect on our psychological mind-set—water makes the same image look a little fresher. So I started to add water, drops, anything. I added more and more to my imaging and then ended up shooting more splashes and liquid. Normally, water is more beautiful to capture backlit. If I have it against a black background, outside of that black I have large light sources—for example, a big 4x6 Plexiglas and then four or five lights behind it. The splash is happening against black, but all the splashes and water drops are capturing the white light source around the black to catch an edge highlight. When shooting against a white background, it’s the opposite.
“Tap water’s got so much air,” he continues. “It’s good water to drink, but because of air, because of microbubbles inside, it wouldn’t look very clear photographically. If it’s a large set, we use tap water, but for other things I use bottled water. Sometimes I need hundreds of gallons of water. Especially when you’re setting up a water tank, it makes a big, big difference.”