Oi Polloi

Interview: Jima

Published: Fri Jun 03 2016

Jima is a photographer who lives in New York. You might know him as the guy who does the photoshoots for Engineered Garments, but he also puts out his own magazine of high contrast street photo action known as Loiter.

Seeing as we just got our hands on the new issue, we catapulted a few questions his way… 

To start things off, how did you get into taking photographs?

That was about 18 years ago when I went to college in New York. One of my roommates suggested for me to take a photography class. Once I took the class, I was fascinated by the process; photograph something I like, process the film, make a contact sheet, circle an image on a contact sheet, and print the image I like. 

Maybe a tough one, but what are you looking for when you’re wandering the streets? 

I usually just go out with a camera. I am not looking for anything, but when I see and feel something a little bit odd, beautiful, unique or different... I photograph.  Maybe I’m looking for an unknown character.  

What’s your technique for photographing strangers? Do you ever get in trouble for snapping people? Anyone chased you or anything daft?

Most of the time, I shoot with a small digital compact camera, a Ricoh GR. It's less noticeable.  I usually take one photograph of a subject and leave.  

Once I got in trouble. On that day, I grabbed a Leica film camera to refresh my mind. I saw a man and tried to photograph him, but it took one or two seconds to focus. He came up to me and said he would kill me. 

The next day, I grabbed the usual small digital camera.   

When you’re taking other people’s photographs, often without them knowing, do you feel you can go too far? Is there a line that you try not to cross?

I don't think or feel about going too far and invading people's space or people's privacy. I am photographing a human on the street.  

A line I try not to cross would be not bothering people and not photographing with a telephoto lens. In my opinion, photographing a candid shot with a telephoto lens would invade their space and their privacy.  

What other photographers do you like? 

Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Willaim Klein, William Eggleston, Nobuyoshi Araki, Shomei Tomatsu, August Sander and Wim Wenders.

New York has always been a bit of a hot-spot for photography, with people like Jacob Riis, William Klein and Daido Moriyama taking loads of famous photos there. Have you any theories as to why this is?

I have never lived in other big cities, so I can't compare, but I feel New York has bright light and deep shadow at the same time physically, mentally, environmentally…  maybe that's the power of New York, and that's why people like to photograph here? 

You’ve been making your LOITER books for a while now, when did you start doing these?

When I photographed for the Engineered Garments FW2013 look-book, there was this idea to combine the studio photographs of models with the snapshot photographs of random people in the neighborhood where Engineered Garments' office was located.

Later on, Mr. Daiki Suzuki said, “Let's make a book using just snapshot photographs." The book needed a title, and I named it LOITER because I was loitering on the street.

It seems more and more people are releasing their own books or zines. Why do you reckon this is?

I am not sure why other people make books or zines.  Originally I started to make it because I was suggested. I was happy when other people also liked images what I photographed.  

As well as making your Loiter series of books, you work shooting fashion stuff and stills for movies. What’s it like taking photographs on set? Do you ever get in the way of the main camera?

On set, everyone is there to make a movie. I am there to make a movie too, so always I try not to get in the way of the main camera and movie making.  Of course I have made mistakes though... 

In the past one of the directors told me, “Jima, your job is to photograph something you want to show on your website.” Since then, I have that in my mind, so to me, there is not much difference between taking photographs on set and on the street.

I think people here maybe first saw your stuff through your work with Engineered Garments in New York. How did you meet those lot?

About seven or eight years ago, a friend told me to go to sale of a clothing brand.  I didn't know anything about Engineered Garments or Nepenthes. I bought some painter pants, really liked them, and wore them almost every day at that time. To answer your question, I met them through a friend.

Okay, to round this off, what do you get up to when you’re not taking photographs? What music do you like? Have you seen any good films lately? And more importantly... what are you having for dinner this evening?

Recently, my wife has been playing The Beatles on YouTube, so I listen to The Beatles a lot. I don't see films much, but I am thinking of buying Eric Rohmer's DVDs to see his films. 

Recently, I’ve been enjoying cooking spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino. I’ve had it three or four times this week. I don't know what’s for dinner tonight.  

See Jima's Loiter here.

See more of his photos here.