Wednesday, May 23, 2007
TOGASHI - Simple Perfection
TOGASHI makes his photography speak for itself
In 1978, TOGASHI and Eileen renovated a small loft and opened their commercial photography studio, coincidentally in the same Fifth Avenue building as Bill King and Irving Penn. Eileen began to work as her husband's rep and agent, as she does today, and they quickly landed a large toy catalog as their first assignment.
“One of his first jobs was for toys,” recalls Eileen, “but they were prototypes so they were even worse than a finished piece ready for photography. He did such amazing lighting on these cheap little prototype toys. I showed them to some good creative people and they said, ‘If he can make a cheap piece of a product look this good, he can make anything look good.' So we took that approach—you've got to be able to take the cheap item and make it look beautiful. That was the test and the telling point of a good photographer.”
“I continued to shoot test photos of luxury items and jewelry for my portfolio,” says TOGASHI, “which helped to land high-end clients such as Bulgari, Tourneau watches and Iittala crystal. As years progressed, loyal art directors changed jobs and my reputation grew, I was given the opportunity to shoot food. I found I liked the challenges presented with food photography—working with home economists, food stylists and the speed required to achieve delicious appetite appeal. It was all very exciting and I did it well. I also did test food shots for my book with my wife working as art director and assistant.”
Improbable as it may sound, this studio master originally intended on a career as a photojournalist. This desire for documentation still can be seen in the personal work that TOGASHI shows on his Website. But how can a photographer so intent on a life outside the studio end up making such a mark inside it? Sometimes, he and Eileen think the practical restraints dictate how you make your creative mark.
“[It was] language,” explains Eileen. “He loved documentary, which was why he came over here, but we saw that there might be a little easier way to get a studio going and start a career. He feels he's got a handicap with his [limited] knowledge of English, therefore, he's got to put it forth in another area. I can't tell you how many nights TOGASHI sleeps at the studio, reshooting and checking film and working tirelessly to get everything just right. Because he can't sit down and shoot the breeze on the same level that some of the art directors want, he's got to compensate in other areas.”
“There are 10 people waiting in line for every job we get,” she continues, “and he may do a great job today, but if there's somebody else who can do almost as great a job and the communication level is better, we know we could lose that client.”
So TOGASHI tries to let his work speak for itself. Since the beginning, this approach has led to good relationships with clients who see that he can make any object he photographs become the ideal. The industry is always changing, however, and some clients can be insensitive to both the business and creative needs of a working photographer.
“[One client] wanted to send another photographer over to watch him shoot,” says Eileen, “for some other person to be kind of tutored by TOGASHI. But TOGASHI said no thank you. They did hire the guy, and he's now their consistent photographer.”
“It has become very discouraging,” she concedes. “We saw things start to change when art directors got their computers and they no longer made sketches of their layouts. They started to present their concepts to their clients as just about finished artwork, and whoever's photograph they used in presenting to the client, the client expected the same result in the finished shot. So what we found was they were bringing in somebody's work and then telling TOGASHI, ‘Shoot this, copy this.' The photographer lost a lot of his ability to be creative because he was just copying what had already been sold as a finished piece of work. The sense of vision from the client and the art director was gone.”
“The business climate is so bottom line-oriented,” says Eileen. “It's a literal climate. You've got to have a sample of the product in your portfolio. Some places really just want to see their product.”
“But with a digital camera,” TOGASHI points out, “it's very easy to shoot it now. Since I don't need a big file, I can shoot it small and quickly [and produce a sample immediately].”
“When the recession hit in the late '80s and early '90s,” adds Eileen, “everybody was so hungry to stay in business, and we were being asked to shoot on speculation, just getting expenses covered. We found out that he was being given the jobs to spec up, and then they were taking the final job with the real money to somebody else. That's the nature of the business. We try not to do spec work anymore. That was really discouraging.”
Ultimately, these discouragements are simply more examples of the hurdles that TOGASHI has faced from the start. It's the nature of a photographer's job—making the not-so-photogenic look beautiful, making the beautiful look breathtaking, making the impossible become possible.
Even when he's making the impossible happen, whether it's on film or in the computer, there's one element that holds true for all of TOGASHI's work: Every image in his portfolio is believable. That's probably because he uses his camera as a journalist would—to show us what's happening in front of the lens. And while he's at it, he makes it beautiful, too.
Computers & Peripherals
Apple Power Mac G4
Apple Powerbook G4
20-inch Apple Cinema Display
Agfa DuoScan T2500 scanner
Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer
Adobe Photoshop CS
Phase One Capture One PRO software
Imacon Ixpress 96C digital back
Comet CX-244II Lighting System
Lowel Omni Lighting System
To see more of TOGASHI's work, visit www.togashistudio.com.