Finding & Photographing local models in Tokyo, Japan! [Part 1]
Finding & Photographing local models in Tokyo, Japan!
This wasn't going to be a part one, but instead just somewhere to chat about the shoot and then post a gallery of images, but I got side tracked and rambled again! So far on my photography journey, I've not reached the dizzying heights of being flown across the world to shoot editorials, and I'm not about to start shooting weddings for free trips abroad either. While I have been lucky to have been exhibited in Greece, Spain and India (off the top of my head), I've never actually been to any of these countries either, never mind having been paid to shoot there, so it's fair to say I don't have the luxuries afforded to me of that a household name of the likes of Rankin, unfortunately! I was however going on holiday to Japan, and as I live and breathe through my camera, and shooting people is my jam, it only made sense that I try to organise something.
There are a few questions you're inevitably going to ask yourself, like, where do you even start trying to organise a photoshoot the other side of the world? Would it be too difficult to pull off? Can I find someone to collaborate with, after all the trip is going to be expensive, and if not, where would I even find a model on an agency to pay when you can't read Japanese? Well, it turns out, it's probably easier than organising a TF shoot in North Wales! Even in Birmingham for that matter! I mean, it helps that Tokyo is the largest city in the world, so with 37+ million people, it's pretty favourable odds that someone of age and ability will take a shine to your work and vice versa, assuming you can cast a net wide enough. It's not like it's aunt Sally who works in the local chippy in North Wales, who thinks she's deserves to be paid as a model because she stands in front of a camera with no ability, when you have to travel 45 mins to the nearest truly populated area, y'know?
Where to find potential models
Joking aside, I racked the olde noggin for a means of discovering people to photograph that may lead to real opportunities. The obvious answer was Instagram, of course, not that Insta is the same massive platform in Asia as it is here, or at least I don't think it is, but then maybe that means that those that are on it will be more inclined to understand English and be more in touch with photography. Before the influencers and it being turned in to a capitalist cash cow ran by the T&C's of algorithmic bots rather than laws, that's what it was all about.
Instagram There are a couple of ways to go about this, you can try searching the tags for "Tokyo model" and see who pops up, or "Tokyo Photographer" and then see who they're shooting, and if anyone tickles your fancy. As always, there are a lot of randomers and crazies who aren't models that just use these tags for attention. There's also those that are bang average, or even the aunt Sally's, or if we're wanting to be polite, people who just don't appeal to your style and vibe. And then there are those who look agency represented and are shooting for massive brands that you know you can't afford. It's pretty much the same as searching similar tags in the UK to be fair.
Short of trying your luck with the awesome models that are clearly doing commercial work and who are getting a ton of messages from weirdos and wannabes, and that's before them potentially laughing at you for an unsolicited 'g'wan just check out my shit' (probably more professionally presented than that), as they've seen it all before to even care for a second if you're remotely decent; the biggest issue you're going to have on Insta is that anyone you message, no mater who, if they don't follow you, it will probably mean you land in their spam box. And Instagram loves spam! Fuck, do they love spam! It does my head in! For a platform that police the nipple to the nth degree, unless of course Victoria Secrets is taking out ad revenue with them, they will shadow-ban you so you get less reach if you post anything remotely thought-provoking and interesting, and then out right ban you for censored images if their bots deem it not so, even though that's fine according to their T&C's. The millions of people phishing however, and those asking you for money so they can promote your images to their other million phishing accounts full of pictures of Aunt Sally.. well, that's insane! Basically, once you're in that spam box, who ever you've messaged can deny any knowledge of your existence or having ever read it - I know this because I get mental messages too and do the same.. sometimes it's just less awkward that way.
Ok, in life, you have to think outside the box, and OKCupid allows you to change your location with no need for premium accounts, unlike most dating sites. Now not everyone uses these sites for dating, many use them to just spam and shill only fans or snapchat, much like Instagram, but many in Japan use them in a hope they can find someone to learn and chat in English or another language with, or even just a domestic or international friend. Basically, you need to set up your profile outlining you're a photographer that's travelling to Japan, change your location to where you want to shoot, and also say that you're interested in meeting people to shoot with, and see what becomes - this was more successful than Instagram initially! I chatted to a couple of people, but it fell through, but at least you're not just in the spam folder.
Facebook As you can tell, I'm a big fan of the bots of Meta and how well they run their various (i'm pretty sure due to a lack of human policing) illegal social media sites, but hey, what can you do, Instagram and Facebook, we all need them! I wish we didn't! Anyways (but I will rag on them more later, I promise), Facebook and the various groups that you can join was the answer. The most useful and populated was "Japan: International Models and Photographers Network" - there's probably similar for other countries too should you be travelling else where. With groups, they are typically run by the creator and their chosen admin(s), so they can vary in quality depending on how stupid the rules are that are being imposed on you (or not, and then it becomes the wild west of stolen images and trashy posts), but equally, I've also been banned from Facebook by Meta bots for posting in my own private Splash Point Photo group! It was a censored image of a black model advertising a studio day that we had here, and apparently contrast detection bots are a little racist. I've also had posts flagged by bots for spam, ironically, not least because it's my own group where I set the fucking context! Anyway, part of the reason self drive cars have been pushed back so often is because they're more likely to run over darker skinned people for much the same issues with contrast detection. They're obviously not programmed that way, it's just a flaw in the tech, however, the difference is, Facebook don't spend their money to hire people to get around this problem, they run their bots anyway.. and, y'know.. fuck y'all.
Despite my lack of love for Meta, I put a post up in the group and had a mix of responses. Many were from non-Asian girls living over in Japan, which really wasn't the vibe I was going for, but I guess it is to be expected because of both the language barrier and the fact the group is labelled as International models and photographers right? I duno about you, but why would I go to Japan and shoot a European model? One who clearly looks European too? I want the cultural context, and Japan isn't the most culturally diverse of counties either, it's very much an island heavy on tradition. Of course, though, those Japanese locals that do want to experience shooting with foreigners are savy enough to be a part of it too. In the end, I ironically found two Japanese-born ladies who were very diverse by Japan standards, to the point they had moved away young and had moved back, and Japanese was their second or third language!
If you are expecting some 'Kawaii' behind the scenes giggles and introversion, kinda like this from the maid cafe:
I instead, present you with this:
In the end, even on Facebook, one of the original models I was chatting with about the shoot, that broke down too. It can be pretty common with TF in the UK as well, as it's easy to not commit to something that you're not getting paid for, so you have to trust the other person is as equally excited by the idea and not just being a dick and going to fuck you around after you've invested time, emotion, and possibly money in to an idea. Apparently she had to fly out to New York last minute!? I've heard my fair share of excuses in my time, and that's a new one, so fair play on her for wanting to collab in the first instance if that was legit! Prior to this though, I had also ended up messaging Nami from seeing a post she'd made a long while ago while having not found joy with the replies to my post; so do be proactive too if someone's vibe speaks to you! You can run the risk of the spam folder on Facebook as well, but typically Facebook will tell you if the person who has messaged you is in the same group with you, so then context makes that interaction much more likely to happen. I always intended it to be a duo shoot, because most people in these groups do single model shots, so why not be different, plus it means I could cover my ass if a model pulled out last minute. I really wanted the experience of shooting in Japan, and despite the fact that I can be pretty anal with details back here in the UK, I was quite content just to see what would become and have a chill fashiony street shoot with minimal gear, something i'd not normally do in the UK. At this point I'd ruled a duo shoot however as I couldn't tie down a suitable second model, and communication with Nami had been regular and good, so I was pretty confident we'd get something done, but while I was already in Japan, Katy posted up in the group and I dropped a reply. I loved the diversity of a mixed Asian model, and she thankfuly agreed to join up with us,
If you want to see more of these images, I guess you need to follow me on Instagram where there's a bunch up, or just wait for part 2!