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Mitsuaki Koshizuka

“My H4D images have a luxurious, film-like quality.”
- Mitsuaki Koshizuka

© Mitsuaki Koshizuka

© Mitsuaki Koshizuka

© Mitsuaki Koshizuka

Hasselblad Photographer Presents Japanese Tradition
with New Twist

Mr. Koshizuka Creates Katagami-Inspired Imagery

Mitsuaki Koshizuka, a Tokyo-based fashion, fine art, and commercial photographer for 15 years, loves experimenting with light and lighting techniques. A Hasselblad shooter since 2000, he made the transition to digital in 2007, first with the H1D and more recently with the H4D. Among the commercial clients for whom he has created dramatically illuminated images are IPSA, American Express, Lanvin, and Nike. Since 2006, Mr. Koshizuka has been working on a photography series that captures Katagami - a type of design that flourished in Japan from the 1600s through the late 1800s. A book of his images, titled Japanese, will be published later this year. Two art exhibitions also are scheduled for the coming months. He describes for us the significance of this special series and how Hasselblad has helped him create these magnificent images.

My photo specialty, in a word, is light - natural light, studio light, any light - because the best lighting will produce the best effect on the subject. It can create a crisp coolness or a sultry, sexy mood. When light is applied to a beautiful subject, it lights up that subject and creates an image that's never been seen before. It's like a chemical reaction.

In the history of photography, fashion photographers have always experimented with lighting, the tone of images, etc. This is why I love fashion photography. Now I am creating unique art images. It’s what inspires me to keep taking photographs.

I hesitated moving to digital photography because of the digital noise and tone jumps. What's so wonderful about Hasselblad digital cameras, especially the H4D, is the way they capture texture. My H4D images have a luxurious, film-like quality.

The H4D's True Focus is revolutionary. It has had a dramatic effect on my commercial work, especially fashion imagery. It has been invaluable for my Katagami project. The Phocus software, which is much simpler to use than other software I have used, has also been a helpful aid for my Katagami work, from capture through production. All the applications are so well thought out that I can shoot without hesitation.

As for the camera itself, I am very impressed with the all-in-one body and camera back design. Although it is a medium-format camera, the H4D is so easy to shoot with. Similar to a 35mm camera, I can easily shoot with it in my hand. The lenses give my images very fine resolution. They are perfectly compatible with the H4D. 

Capturing Katagami

One of the most important traditional Japanese arts is known as Katagami. Because it is very demanding, very few people still practice the art. Katagami is a type of design dyed onto kimonos, developed in the Edo era (1603-1867).  At that time, samurais wore their family's "kommon," or family crest, dyed into the fabric of their kimonos to show their family's power.  Later, this technique became "iki," or stylish, and regular citizens started wearing kimonos with these designs. There were regulations against commoners wearing flashy kimonos, but Edo kommon designs gave people the opportunity to be stylish without being flashy.

Katagami also influenced new designs that made it out of Japan.  A German doctor who was in Nagasaki toward the end of the 1800s, brought these patterns back to Europe with him. Many industrial designs have been influenced by Japanese art. Luis Vuitton, after seeing Katagami, made his famous monogram logo.

I first saw Katagami when I visited a museum shop near my house. Out of curiosity, I asked the shop clerk where the items were made. I visited a dying shop in Tokyo and got to see many of the stunning designs. They touched my spirit. I could hear the voices of their creators asking me to preserve the beauty of their historical art, which might soon be lost. At the shop, I bought 30 of the paper patterns, and started to shoot photos. When I visited one of the remaining pattern shops in Ise, I explained my project to the shop keepers and they agreed to lend me some very valuable patterns for my project.

Because the patterns are used for kimonos, I decided to project them onto women's nude bodies to express traditional Japanese art in a new way. In my images, I used actual Katagami patterns to show light and shadows on the female body. My first photography book, Japanese, will focus on these images and will also include Japanese landscapes, light painting, and high fashion. The 52-page book comes in a box, which transforms into a photo frame.

Looking ahead, I have ideas for books on black & white work and still life in modern art. I also want to introduce more Japanese photographers to the rest of the world. I believe there are many great photographers and artists in Japan and would like to find a sponsor to publish the first book of their works.

To see the Katagami fashion imagery created by Mr. Koshizuka, as well as his diverse commercial portfolio, visit www.mitsuakikoshizuka.com.

Also watch for his upcoming exhibition, July 16 to 25, in Tokyo.

Text by Alice B. Miller