• Musings:
  • April 11, 2014

Musings: Q. Sakamaki Seeks the Soul Behind the Scene

Becky Harlan

Q. Sakamaki began his photojournalism career covering the the Thompkins Square Park Riots in New York City in the late 1980’s. He has since documented everything from the aftermath of conflict in South Sudan, to the civil war in Burma, to the survivors of the Haitian earthquake and the Japanese tsunami, all of which he has captured masterfully.

What I wanted to talk to him about, however, were his Instagrams.

Picture of woman walking with an umbrella
A woman walks through an alley at Tsuruhasi. Many Korean immigrants and their descendants live in the area, which has experienced discrimination. In recent years, however, it has become a more desirable destination.

If you check out Sakamaki’s Instagram feed, you’ll notice that over the last few months he’s been posting complex, evocative images from his travels in Japan, where he was born and raised. The street scenes feel suspended in time, fixed in a kind of enduring catalogue of encounters.

“I feel something soulful, like I’m touching some human emotion behind the scene. If I’m shooting a building or a landscape, I feel something behind there like a spirit of nature, or a spirit of the human soul,” Sakamaki says about making images with his phone.

Picture of a security guard reflected in a window
A security guard stands in the lobby of a big office building, while Tokyo’s urban landscape is reflected from outside.

He’s always seeking that depth of emotion, and he thinks it’s more accessible when he works with the Hipstamatic app. The process, he says, reminds him of shooting with film except that it’s cheaper and faster. “Before shooting, I decide which digital Hipstamatic lens to use, which film to use, so I feel like I’m shooting back to the film age.” Working in this format, somewhere in between the old and the new, frees him to break out of his role as a photojournalist. “I feel more freedom,” he says.

Picture of a bicyclist passing a large zebra statue
A retired, masked man cycles past a zebra statue in Tokyo’s business district.


“Many people say about photojournalism, ‘We have to be very objective.’ Of course I understand we have to be very objective, but we are always behind the scenes. We always have our own idea, our own identity.”


Picture of a woman sitting at a desk as the outside is reflected on the window
A receptionist sits at her desk while the urban landscape reflects upon the window.
Picture of a man crossing the road with the Mori building in the background.
A businessman passes the Mori building as he crosses MacArthur road a day before the opening between Shinbashi and Toranomon.

Sakamaki is influenced by photographers Deborah Turbeville, Takuma Nakahira, and Eikoh Hosoe, who made their names through experimental work and fashion. That cross-pollination of inspiration is something that he carries with him when he’s making Instagrams. “I don’t like to be defined by my photography—like photo documentary, or photojournalism, or personal. It always overlaps.”

Picture of a woman speaking about a Nissan convertible
A woman speaks about Nissan’s legendary 1960’s Fairlady convertible car in Ginza, Tokyo.

Before the advent of mobile photography, Sakamaki experimented with film, playing with motion blur and double exposures. That’s something I still see in his work. He says now, rather than layer different images, he’d rather just capture the same feeling in one frame.


“I feel more like shooting just one shot. At the same time, I want to put something like a taste of double exposure, that’s why I love the reflection. Because the image of our life is not simple, it’s very complicated. It’s not black and white, so there are always many gray zones, many different ideas, many different environments. So showing that, creating different images, I can bring many different types of elements, sometimes people compete, sometimes they conflict with each other—it shows the reality of our world. That’s why I love the reflection and probably why I use them in my Instagrams.”


Picture of people walking through a snowstorm with umbrellas
People returning home during snowstorm in Tokyo.
Picture of a young girl running
A girl runs through a promenade with a view of Tsutenkaku Tower in Shinsekai. It used to be a very crime-rampant area but is now a tourist destination.

Sakamaki has only been seriously exploring iPhone photography for a little over a year. He still carries other cameras, both film and digital, but he sees the iPhone as a tool for branching out, for allowing pre-determined genres to bleed together, and for pushing himself to new photographic places. “Part of my aim is to combine my own identity with so-called photo documentary and even photojournalism. I would like to get to a point which I haven’t reached yet. So Instagram might be a way, a process to get there.”

Q. Sakamaki is represented by Redux Pictures. To see more of his work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

There are 16 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. arshad
    May 27, 2014


  2. Bhum swrang basumatary
    May 14, 2014

    Nice i love it

  3. Mr. Harunor Rashid
    May 12, 2014

    Always old is gold ,its reminder me back .

  4. erdogan
    May 11, 2014

    Always I have thought the style of black -White is the great,as these samples are Hte Greatest…..

  5. erdogan
    May 11, 2014

    Always I have thought, The style of BLACK-White is THE GREAT ,as these samples are The Greatest…

  6. luiz amaro
    May 11, 2014


  7. abdelmajid lamsallak
    May 11, 2014

    j ai toujours pense que une photo sans un petit texe semble proche d une photo solitaire c.a.d une photo qui ne peux pas tout te dire sur sa realite .sur son originalite.et au contraire une photo avec un petit mot peux nous apprendre enormement de chose et excite notre reflexion d avantage…je respecte beaucoup le travail de SAKAMARI …je crois qu il npous fait entrer dans son monde de la meilleure facon possible et c est tres bien pour les gens aui cherche qqchose de plus dans une photo….j ai tout bien aime et je de demande encore et encore plus de photos semblables…chokrane bezzaf bezzaf

  8. Susan
    May 11, 2014

    great black and white photos

  9. Kailash Tuli
    May 11, 2014

    World is simply beautiful, be it black or white or HD color photos. Beauty lies in the content and its balance, harmony and Gestalt.

  10. umang soni
    May 11, 2014


  11. Martha Takayama
    May 2, 2014

    Exquisitely poetic images and eloquent text! Each picture is enigmatic and evocative of something beyond what is immediately visible. Your ultra-modern and innovative aesthetic use of the phone generates a multi-layered admixture of a nostalgic avant-garde

  12. Evariste
    April 28, 2014

    Nice pictures

  13. Eder Matumoto
    April 21, 2014


  14. Rosemary Treyvaud
    April 16, 2014

    I too love photographing in Japan, I don’t know what it is, but never enough time to capture all the beautiful images I see before me. Sometimes I just have to look thru my eyes and not the viewfinder!,

  15. erkan
    April 13, 2014

    Outstanding photographs and distinctive style of using black-white style..

  16. Donna
    April 11, 2014

    Beautiful work. Great story.

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