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With two decades under his belt as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, Hiroyuki Ito’s specialty is music. His work for the Times’ Arts section focuses on classical music, covering events at renowned venues such as the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. However, he’s also covered the culture of sound around the city at iconic sites like CBGBs and Central Park. Moved by the spontaneity of any given moment, Ito’s personal projects document the dynamism of a range of locales from Brooklyn and Peru to Japan. With a captivating and eclectic body of work now on pause due to the pandemic, Ito took some time out to share thoughts on his photographic practice.
No Age performing at Brooklyn Bowl, 2010 © Hiroyuki Ito
DUGGAL ART SCENE: As a music photographer deeply attuned to New York City’s music culture, what does the city feel and sound like to you now, with live music venues and the nightlife scene shuttered due to the pandemic?
HIROYUKI ITO: Since the lockdown began in March, the only time of day I go out is 5 in the morning for my daily walk to a nearby park in Jackson Heights. I haven’t roamed the streets long enough to perceive how different the city sounds now from 4 months ago. Normally during the summer, New York has many free concerts in parks all over five boroughs. They are great. It is not just about music but also about friends and families picnicking together, feeling the breeze and sharing the laugh. That’s something we cannot get from listening to CDs at home. I miss that communal experience.
Tokushima, Japan, 2015 © Hiroyuki Ito
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Your photographs have appeared in a variety of publications including New York’s now defunct, yet forever iconic Village Voice and the internationally acclaimed Arts section of the New York Times. Similarly, you’ve covered live music at a range of venues— from CBGBs to Carnegie Hall. Are there qualities you look for to let you know you’ve made a successful image, despite the cultural differences found in various venues, audiences and publications?
HIROYUKI ITO: My main objective when shooting a performance is to photograph musicians in the best possible light, be it a punk concert at a dive bar or a recital at an opera house. I don’t change the way I shoot based on music genres or publications. What I do is nothing magical; it’s very practical. If a microphone is hiding a singer’s face, I step aside and shoot from a different angle to separate it from her face. When I am shooting a conductor, I pay equal attention to orchestra members behind him. Because even if you capture the conductor in exciting gestures, if a cello player right behind him is drinking from a Dasani water bottle, it will spoil the moment. There are more things like that in my playbook. It feels more like ’problem solving’ than ‘art creation.’
Coney Island, 2007 © Hiroyuki Ito
DUGGAL ART SCENE: In the last five years, and as recently as January 2020, you’ve traveled to and turned your lens on Japan, your birthplace. What aspects of life in Japan do you feel most drawn to as a photographer? How has this journey evolved over time?
HIROYUKI ITO: It’s been almost three decades since I moved to New York. But my mother still lives in Tokyo, so I visit her twice a year. While I am there, I try to get out of Tokyo whenever I have a chance, to travel the parts of Japan I have never visited before. I am basically a tourist there. I am not writing a thesis, so I do not take an analytical approach. I just sit back, relax and enjoy myself. The photographs are simply the result of my experiences. I am interested in the history of the country as well as what’s happening there now. I love the hustle and bustle of the big cities, like Tokyo, Kobe, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, but I am equally in awe of the wild nature offered in Hokkaido, Okinawa, Nagano and Kochi. My list can go on forever. I am fascinated by their literature, music, fine arts, cuisines, fashion, architectures, social behaviors, religious rituals, mythologies and so on. I am taking it all in.
Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, New York, 2019 © Hiroyuki Ito
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Much of your work is presented in black and white, although you also work in color. Which is your preferred medium? Do you use each to express different qualities? And, lastly, what do you think the role of black and white photography is in the current visual culture—one full of hyperreal, saturated digital color?
HIROYUKI ITO: I like both. I am not particular. I make do with whatever is available. To me, shooting in black and white is a subtractive process like making a sculpture; you start with a solid object like a block of wood, then remove parts from it to arrive at a shape you desire. Shooting in color is an additive process like painting in watercolor; you start from nothing, a blank canvas, then start adding more elements until you fill the canvas. Of course, in reality, things don’t work like how I just described. I just shoot like a madman barely remembering what type of film is in my camera. Color or black and white, you want to come up with a photograph that illuminates the moment that you have just experienced. I have no idea what role black and white photography is playing in the current visual culture. I am not even aware of what is popular these days. It’s beyond my wits.
View more work here: www.hiroitophoto.com