Wednesday, May 23, 2007
TOGASHI - Simple Perfection
TOGASHI makes his photography speak for itself
When you see TOGASHI's photographs, with their pure white highlights, rich black shadows and perfectly placed details, his visual sense of style is immediately recognizable. TOGASHI's photographs have been instilled with his style for three decades irrespective of the tools or the medium he uses. The longtime studio perfectionist finds that, now more than ever, photographers are in a squeeze as they struggle to keep up with rapidly evolving technology and a rapidly evolving business climate. As TOGASHI moves forward, he's meeting these challenges by maintaining the uncompromising sense of visual perfection that keeps his clients coming back.
TOGASHI—he uses his last name alone as his professional moniker—is truly a master of the studio still life. In the mid-'70s, he invested in an 8x10 camera and rented a closet-sized studio in which to hole up and perfect this craft. Since then, he has spent countless sleepless nights refining his technique so that virtually everything you see in his finished images was there on the film.
“I am not a fan of manipulating my images,” he says. “All of my images were shot on film and have only been cleaned up for dust removal. I strive to accomplish all the effects in camera and in one shot. My water shots and splashes were all shot as live action. The purity of my white and black backgrounds is also a result of my lighting techniques.”
And now, after transitioning to digital capture, TOGASHI still utilizes his lighting expertise to ensure that he doesn't get sloppy in the studio. He needs his computer only to replace a spotting brush—and make his clients happy. He didn't want to leave his beloved film behind, but when he started losing business to photographers with digital capture backs, he had to make the investment himself.
“I never believed that the commercial industry would go so digital so quickly,” confesses TOGASHI. “My clients still wanted large-format film, and some still do, but my business had begun to feel the loss of my catalog work to digital.”
“The final realization that I needed to learn to shoot digital came in January 2005,” he continues. “I had a chance to accept a new client and shoot jewelry, which is a specialty of mine. They had a minimal budget and lots of shots, so I decided to rent all the digital equipment and hire a top-notch digital tech assistant, and hoped to learn on the job. It was one of my most stress-filled shooting experiences and I received absolutely no [payment] at all, but the results were good. I learned on the job and gained the confidence I needed to try more.”
That a photographer with such a rich portfolio of tabletop photography has to work for free in order to convince clients that he's got what it takes speaks to the real-world needs of today's clients. No longer is it enough for a photographer to deliver a beautifully composed, technically flawless image. Now he has to do it overnight and across the country. That just can't be done without digital capture, but as far as TOGASHI's concerned, his new capabilities are no excuse to relax his lighting technique.
“Shooting digitally can make the large-format photographer lazy and unchallenged,” says TOGASHI. “Previously, I strove to problem-solve in camera; now so much can be solved in layering and postproduction rather than in the camera. The initial capture is easier, but the subsequent part is an entirely new aspect of photography. Being a photographer now is as much about being skilled with a computer and imaging software.”
There's another reason that TOGASHI is compelled to shoot digitally—his film labs are no longer as consistent as they were in the past. For a photographer driven by absolute color and contrast perfection, an inconsistent lab is as unacceptable as an out-of-focus image.
“I still shoot film,” says TOGASHI, “but I'm finding that my long-term color labs have become less reliable with their color control since they, too, have less business. Laid out on the lightbox, side by side, the color is different. So I try to make it neutral with the computer.”
All this adversity is nothing new for TOGASHI. Before he was fighting to learn a whole new process of digital capture, he was fighting to retain his clients. Before he landed those clients, he was battling a language barrier in his newly adopted home. And before he came to this country, he was the second son of a rice-farming family in rural northern Japan, destined for almost anything other than a career as a New York advertising photographer.
“My brother was born to take over the land and farm,” he explains, “and my destiny was mine to make. My father indulged my interest and supported my desire to attend photography college in Tokyo. This was 1966 and equivalent to a Nebraska farm boy going to a sophisticated university in New York City.”
After graduating with a degree in photography, TOGASHI began assisting a fashion photographer who ultimately urged him to come to New York. His goal was to make a three-year documentary about exploring the United States, then return to Tokyo for an exhibition. But even though he lived in an elevator shaft for part of his stay, TOGASHI loved the raw quality of New York in 1970, calling it “a photographer's dream.”
So he stayed in the U.S., and by 1973, he had met and married a young college student named Eileen. Together they formed a convention photography business out of their one-bedroom apartment. After a couple of years, TOGASHI tired of photographing executives in grip-and-grin situations. He and Eileen decided to move back to the city so he could learn the side of the business that interested him.
“We moved back to New York City in September 1975 with the intention of learning the commercial photography business,” he recalls. “I took freelance assistant jobs for well-known photographers, and my wife learned the business side by managing Bill King's studio for three years. Renting small spaces in the present-day photo district around Union Square was easy, and in a small closet-sized room, I started to take 8x10 color product still-life photos. Together with my wife, we art-directed, bought and returned products to test-shoot, and built a portfolio of 8x10 images. These product still lifes seemed like the logical way to start, and the resulting shots proved that I had an eye for making strong and striking graphic visual images. Some of these early images are still seen in my studio and have been digitized for my portfolio.”