Professional Insights

Professional Insights

David Dare Parker

Sayaka Ikemoto

Underwater/Nature (Japan)

Expressing myself through "messages without words"

Film and/or digital, the creative dichotomy

I wear two hats in photography: I shoot with digital for client assignments, but for personal work I use film. A friend once told me that if she commited herself to two totally different things, then she would dedicate herself to both equally and eagerly. Somehow, her words gave me conviction as a photographer to pursue this method while staying positive and maximizing the advantages of each medium when capturing a moment.

Digital and film photography can be radically different from one another, and not just from an operational standpoint. Each medium instills a different feeling when shooting, and both require a different approach to subject matter. It is true that recent D-SLRs can improve your chances of capturing the right moment dramatically. Moreover, the post-production process with digital allows for more freedom than with film, and you can shoot more frames with less consideration about how much film is left or when might be the right moment to use your last frame. However, there is something special and visceral that I feel when I concentrate on a single shutter release for a single photo with film. I really do not want to forget that, because I believe that this helps me imprint my own deep feelings into the resulting photograph, and it also applies to when I switch to a digital camera body. I think one of the biggest advantages of using both film and digital equipment is retaining the concentration used when shooting film, even when I am using digital cameras.

This practice of using film also affects how I select a picture, which I also consider a great advantage in this digital era. After you've shot a roll of film, some time passes before you see the actual images because you must first develop the film, and then in most cases, you must print your pictures using the analog process. I personally like dealing thoroughly with one selected photograph, as I would in a darkroom. In a darkroom, you will see the same one photograph again and again.The development process does not move quickly. In fact, it cannot. This, I think, resembles a process like looking back into your diary or reflecting on your past and thinking about the future. Processes like these, I believe, add extra depth and warmth to the mind. As a matter of fact, the long process takes even longer as I sometimes have digital assignments with priority of deadline. But this makes each photo I work with precious and valuable, and the time I take to complete them gives me a more objective point of view. I try to tap into this same objectivity when selecting digital photos, as well.

The images made from film are not "perfect" in the ways digital images can be, and I consider this another advantage. Imperfection and ambiguity give my images more human feelings. Perhaps I feel this way because, like film images, I as a human being am also imperfect and ambiguous. I feel this is very important to me as a photographer, as it lets me be "out of the box." I always want to be ready to set my mind free and push my limits. I may have chosen to live my life as a photographer because I can see how I have progressed and changed with the passing of time by looking at the work I have made.

Photographs: Messages without words

I distinctly remember the day I visited a retrospective photo exhibition of William Eugene Smith in the Ginza district of Tokyo. At the time, I was a graduate student working toward achieving my master's degree at a university where language is studied. I was really struggling to put words on paper, and occasionally was thinking that there must be things in this world that cannot, and sometimes better not to be expressed in words. As I viewed Smith's photographs — the expressions of anonymous soldiers; the women in a Spanish village; the country doctor who could have been anybody from any other part of the world — I thought to myself that simply trying to describe these moments with words could ruin the element that makes them powerful, and that photographs are much more capable of conveying that power. It was then that I decided to dedicate myself to photography.

When my academic years came to an end, I began working for the Asahi Newspaper, and thus my career as a photographer began. A newspaper requires pictures that tell the story "as accurately, as quickly and as objectively as possible." This is a worthy goal in journalism, but as time went by, I began to contemplate if this was how I wanted to convey my message through photography.

My method for expressing wordless messages is one of the key elements in my photography. In that sense, if I were to exhibit my presumptuousness, I would regard myself as an artist somewhat similar to a calligraphy artist.

Black-and-white photographs are what fascinate me most. I am attracted to the fact that they can transport you into another realm, a world that your eyes do not see in daily life but only through photographs. Without color information, I think the message becomes even more direct. I work on my photographs in the darkroom by myself. I consider the artistic quality also important, and therefore believe that the form of presenting my work — on gelatin-silver prints with fiber-based paper where people can feel the beauty — can also have an important meaning.

Among the various art forms, I think photography is interesting because its main creative substance is something that surrounds our physical world every day: light. Movies and other cinematic pursuits also seem attractive, but photography is about stopping time and capturing a single moment, what your eyes do not actually see. This is what captivates me in photography, and keeps me producing and presenting silent messages: my viewpoint, in visual form.

Life is beautiful, and so is the Earth

My work today mostly centers on nature, the ocean and living creatures. I believe that human beings are simply one kind of the Earth's creatures. I find them interesting subjects as well, and when I have the opportunity, I photograph them in situations when they are doing something with concentration. What I really would like to do, however, is discuss "mankind" through the context of nature and the Earth's other animals as a way of examining and observing ourselves.

The ocean provides a good example of this idea: compared to the radical advancements in space travel technology over the last few decades, and despite the ocean's proximity, our knowledge of what lies underneath its surface has not grown accordingly. We have only seen a fraction of its depths over thousands of years of human history. The ocean is crucial to our existence on this planet, and also often provides calming reassurance, yet we continue to pollute it in unspeakable ways. We are the only creatures on this planet who do this.

Consider the wild animals in some parts of Africa: they are "protected" in the national parks, and without a refuge like this or similar method of conscious preservation, many of these animals would have surely become extinct. But it leads us to a question: What does being "wild" mean? Once again, it is humans who have created such dire circumstances for the rest of the world's creatures, and yet poaching continues — in many places unabated. There is a history to every situation, and by looking directly at the reality, we can hopefully listen to the messages being sent from other beings on this planet. I would like to raise awareness of this very important idea: questioning one's self. It might not be easy in photography, but I hope that through my photographs, people would think about and experience such beautiful scenes on this planet. With this knowledge I would hope that they would see the importance of preserving and sustaining these places, and eventually act accordingly.

It appears that most animals do not think about or ponder what they are doing, even when it concerns reproduction and extending their family line. They simply live their lives the best they can. This notion came to my mind while I was watching sea turtles lay eggs on the shore, not knowing what will happen to their own progeny. Despite the difficulties and danger, mother turtles come ashore, lay their eggs and then quietly return to the ocean. The majority of eggs and hatchlings will be eaten by other creatures before they reach the sea. As far as we can tell, these mother turtles cannot recognize their young turtles who will survive and thrive in the sea. My point, however, is that year after year, mother sea turtles continue their pilgrimage to the shore even though they will never know what becomes of the eggs that they lay. Life goes on. Like most living creatures they just live their lives. The phrase "Life is beautiful" comes to my mind.

Humans have now become the dominant creatures on this planet. We are capable of complex thought, of forming groups and societies, and of influencing the natural environment. Therefore, I believe we have a profound duty and responsibility to protect the other creatures and the environment we all share, all while learning to appreciate being part of the natural world at the same time. We should not forget the fact that humankind is only one species among many, and should not be thinking only of ourselves.

If you were to ever come across someone from another planet, you should want to show them photographs proudly, saying: "See what a beautiful, interesting, exciting and a wonderful place my home planet is. Don't you think?"

Always ready, because NPS is always there

Preparation is crucial to shooting photographs. If you are not prepared, then capturing the right moment is difficult or even impossible. Maintaining your gear and keeping it in its best condition really counts. NPS provides an incredibly important service for professional photographers. Even though I do not visit that often, just knowing that NPS is there ready for us at any time means a lot. It provides protographers an immeasurable amount of relief, and frees us from unnecessary anxieties.

From my experience, I have been very impressed by the services provided by NPS. Even when you have equipment in need of repair, NPS is ready to replace the item with the same gear. This is really helpful, and keeps me on schedule by not affecting my work. The security this provides is priceless. When I think of maintenance, NPS sets my mind at ease. The reliability they provide comes from staff with a history of pride in their work. We photographers have confidence in both Nikon and NPS. As long as we are here, using Nikon gear, I hope NPS will continue supporting photographers like the good partner they have always been.

What's in my camera bag

When I go on assiginments, I use different cameras for different client needs: I select either the FX-format D3 or the DX-format D300, depending on the client's requirements. The lenses I use are as follows: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR, covering the focal length range of 14mm to 200mm at the maximum aperture of f/2.8, and AI AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED, which is light and compact. This equipment gives me the advantages of practicality, versatility and mobility.
For underwater photography, I use several NIKONOS-V bodies together with the following lenses: UW Nikkor 15 mm F2.8N, UW Nikkor 20mm F2.8, UW Nikkor 28mm F3.5 and UW Nikkor 35mm F2.5. The first and only exclusively underwater system SLR camera in the world, NIKONOS RS is also my favorite, together with R-UW AF Fisheye-Nikkor 13mm F2.8, the first underwater AF fisheye lens in the world, R-UW AF Nikkor 20-35mm F2.8, and R-UW AF Micro-Nikkor 50mm F2.8. I usually bring 2 bodies (2 NIKONOS Vs or a NIKONOS V and the RS) with me underwater so I can get 72 exposures.

My signature film camera out of the water is the F6, which I think is a masterpiece. Sometimes I use an F4, F3 or FM2 as well. I also use AI AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D, AI Nikkor 50mm f/1.4S, and AI AF Zoom Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D lenses. If I had a choice, I would prefer to use wide-angle lenses to get interesting images.
I often think that I would love to have a medium-format Nikon camera; is that asking too much?

Profile

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Sayaka Ikemoto graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, majoring in Spanish and Latin American Culture and then went on to receive an M.A. in Latin American Regional Studies. In 1993, she joined the photography department of the Asahi Newspaper, where she started photography. Two years later, she was an assistant of the underwater photographer Ikuo Nakamura, and then studied at a school of photography in Paris, France from 2000 to 2002. Returning to Japan in late 2002, Ikemoto has worked as a freelance photographer based in Tokyo ever since, focusing on natural subjects such as the ocean, wildlife, underwater life and landscapes. She is also fond of shooting human activities such as travel and the performing arts. She has held numerous private exhibitions, and currently teaches at Nikon College and JCII (Japan Camera Industry Institute), writes photo-essays in various media and has judged numerous photo contests such as NPCI (Nikon Photo Contest International) and IPA (International Photo Awards).

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