The first time I saw the photography of Junku Nishimura I became transported to a different place, like a poor man’s Arthur Dent, though not so much gone on an actual trip as merely dumbstruck, mouth agape, thoughtless and wearing a frayed robe and suddenly wondering where my towel was. It is not as if I was perusing these 35mm film images on stark white walls at a local gallery printed large on 16 x 20′ Ilford Multigrade FB Warmtone Fiber Base Paper, no, I was looking at his flickr stream a few thousand miles away on a crappy laptop and sipping on a lukewarm mug of coffee, thinking how I wished things were different, that I wished I could wander around Junku’s old school Japan with him, hitting the pachinko parlor and the bathhouse, the strip joint and pull up a chair next to him at whatever local divebar he frequents and pound on the counter pouring out stories and fish tales over medium quality whisky and cannisters of film. Sufficiently drunk, we would then venture off to find some spicy kimchi ramen or hit the Karato Ichiba fish market in Shimonoseki for some baby blowfish tempura, anago nigiri, and ice cold Asahi. Not being there I have to imagine it through Junku’s masterful eye, so I project his vision onto what my brain thinks it knows about the reality of people and places that exists independently of myself, to which I have been only a handful of times. My hitchhiker’s guide spits out a series of gritty, vaseline-coated images from the early 70s, a fractured compendium of gangsters and bathhouses, bars and kimono-clad wenches, stray cats and random urban landscapes. The truth is not far off. He would be having hundreds of conversations with all of these people, the photographs coming naturally, not interfering with the human connection. Because to look at Junku’s photography, that is what one finds, humanity, in all its mundane frailty and strength, the perpetually imperfect moment perfectly captured.
HESO: Who are you and where are you from? Give us some background please.
Junku Nishimura: I was born in a small coal-mining town called Mine-City (Me-nay), Yamaguchi in 1967. I lived there until I graduated from a high school and then studied at a university in Kyoto. After working as a club DJ as well as a construction worker and dish washer for a couple of years, I was hired by a concrete material company and worked for 18 years (6 years in Sapporo, 12 years in Nagoya). During this period, I happened to get a Leica and started to devote myself in photography. Since retired, I am fully engaged in it.
HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?Junku: I was seven or eight when I first took a picture of a plastic model tank that I made with my parents’ camera. My mother helped me to get a sharp focus. I happened to find the camera in storage at home a few years ago. It was a Minolta HI-MATIC E. My first camera was like a cheap copy of Canon 110ED. I used it when I was a high school kid, but not really crazy about photography at that time.
HESO: Your photos have a very distinct look. Often very crisp and sharp yet there is a grainy feel as well. Are you a mathematical photographer or do you just shoot?
Junku: Thanks. Although my photographs might look completely intuitive and spontaneous, I consider myself quite conscious about exposure. As a user of a Leica M5, I have explored the best combinations of aperture and shutter speeds to create the contrast that I intend. Leica is not easy to handle in terms of exposure, but worth struggling for.
HESO: Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa. Or is it not important? Explain.
Junku: Regarding processing, I prefer analog. There is a very personal reason why I use films. I like the whole process of printing. When listening to my favorite music, soaking a paper in liquid in a little darkroom of my apartment, I feel the same tranquility as when I concentrate on fishing in the ocean. Both require sincere focus to get the “it“ moment. It is not easy, but truly rewarding.
HESO: You get up in the morning, pick up your camera, where are you going?
Junku: I usually go to the market. Fish market is always first.HESO: Who are your favorite photographers?
Junku: Isao Yamaguchi and Katsumi Watanabe. Yamaguchi took pictures of coal mines in Kyushu. He was a coal miner himself. Watanabe captured vivid images of Shinjuku, selling food on the street. I am overwhelmed enormously by works of people who are deeply rooted in where they belong to. There are such photographers in Okinawa including Mao Ishikawa.
HESO: You mention that you are the “most funkiest funk-old school unknown-dj in the world.” Does music influence your photography? What are some of your favorite styles of music and musicians?
Junku: I might have been the “most funkiest DJ” (lol) when I used to steal the DJ booth at night clubs, but now I should be modest to say “once-the-funkiest.” Sound and smell bring back memories and inspire images. For me, music is my inspiration. Like many other Japanese, I think of an old downtown like Golden-gai of Shinjuku when I listen to 70’s to 80’s Japanese folk songs. When traveling overseas, I shot scenes inspired by folk music of the county, for example, Trot in Korea, Isaan in Thailand and Spanglish Hip-Hop in Spanish Harlem. Personally I love R&B and Hip-Hop from late 70’s to mid-80’s. I was working in my darkroom listening to DeBarge last night. On a side note, I read the Okino interview on HESO a while ago. Once when I was a DJ at a club and he was the manager, I let him stay with me in my cheap apartment. Kyoto, 23 years ago :).
HESO: Very cool. What do you do when you are not working?Junku: I used to go fishing and camping when I owned a car. Recently, I am making mixtapes, reading, and studying Korean while I am not working. Other than that, just drinking.
HESO: What is your favorite food? If you could eat with anyone, alive or dead, in any time period in history, in any place, who, when and where?
Junku: I am not picky and enjoy anything, but rice is something special to maintain my strength. For the other question, I am thinking of a black woman’s small diner in the last scene of a Norman Jewison film In the Heat of the Night. In the middle of nowhere Deep South, around the season for cotton crops, with young Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier, it would be nice to have hogshead cheese and Hoppin’ John that Mama Kariba cooked, with a cheap bottle of bourbon.
HESO: Junku, if you want to mention anything else about yourself, your work or a charitable cause you work with—anything—please do so here. Thank you for your time.
Junku: I will be based back in my home town from next year on and engaged in growing rice. If you feel tired from city life, come visit me at www.junkunishimura.com Yoroshiku desu