Wednesday 22 July 2015


A lot of people think of me as having been an Awa photographer before I was a performer. This is partially true, in that I took photography seriously as a hobby and occasionally photographed Awa Odori performances at Koenji and other events, but 'Awa photographer' is far too grandiose a title for me to claim.

The real Awa photographers are a dedicated bunch, and it's a real privilage to call many of them my friends. Every festival I attend, whether it's pouring with rain or scorchingly hot, I get to meet the same photographers time after time. They know who all the teams are, they know many of the individual performers, they know the routines....

They also give up their own time to get some amazing photographs, and for the most part they let us use their photographs free of charge for any reason we like, including our own publicity.

And true to the art, each photographer has their own style and leaning that they add to the mix. Some are adept at capturing the human energy of the performers and their environment, others at capturing the beauty and form of the dance. Some take images that are visually striking, while others are more documentary in nature. The styles are almost as varied as the dance styles they shoot, and getting to see them in the days and weeks after a performance is always a joy.

One thing many have in common is a disproportionate number of pictures of me floating high in the air while shouting. It's a very specific image that comes up often.
2013 Kitamachi Awa Odori
Very specific!
Photo: Ken'ichiro Sugiura
With all that to one side however, two very specific styles of photography emerge, which very few photographers ever seem to mix. There are those that shoot from the spectator’s viewpoint (which on a parade portion will almost always be off to one side looking in), and there are those that shoot from within the performance space. Both bring their own unique challenges and rewards.

Spectator viewpoint photography, assuming an unimpeded view, significantly limits your creative options such as framing. When done well, the pictures can be both striking in their own regard, and still recreate the enjoyment of the spectacle.

Performance space photography offers a lot more freedom of movement, from which the photographer can exercise a wider range of creative options. When done well, it’s conducive to high impact images that people would pay to see displayed in galleries. However, many festivals require a permit which can be difficult to attain. The individual photographer must also be wary of the responsibility that comes with the freedom, specifically to the audience. The moment you step foot in a performance space, you become part of the performance, so you owe it to the audience not to impede their view and enjoyment of the performers any more than is absolutely necessary to get the pictures you require.

Most of the performance space photographers I know are real life ninjas. They plan their moves carefully, and at the last second they appear out of nowhere, get the specific pictures they want, and then disappear into a figurative puff of smoke. It’s an impressive act to watch.

But with that said, most of my favourite pictures have been from spectator viewpoint. It's simple logistics really—the audience is off to one side, so that's the direction we target our performances at, and therefore the direction you'll get the best angles from.

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