People often say that when you have children everything changes. To a certain degree this is true, yet the often negative connotations of this statement fail to reflect the positive nature that a lot of these changes can have. Time often seems to speed up and perhaps this is a result of the increase in highly emotional experiences that accompany the fast-paced development of a young child. The first sounds, the first smile, the first steps, the first words. The heightened frequency of these moments leaves little time to reflect on each individual occurrence. It can often seem like a high-paced jazz solo, where the breaks in between each note become undetectable. Shin Noguchi likens family life with his wife and three daughters to jazz music. He quotes Eric Dolphy, “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air. You can never capture it again.”
The truth is that there is no going back. No way to experience once again the specific feeling of a singular moment. Nonetheless, Noguchi sees potential in family photography for holding on to these moments. Shooting with the Leica M-System, the prestigious street photographer applies a similar approach to photographing his family as he does to capturing extraordinary moments on the street. We spoke with Noguchi about his on-going project “One Two Three”, which suggests an overdue re-evaluation of family photography.
When did you first start thinking of collecting these intimate family photographs as a project? Where did your inspiration come from?
I lost my father who had stage-IV lung cancer in 2017. After his death, I was going through my father’s belongings at my parents’ house, trying to organize them. While doing so, I found many photos from my childhood, which my mother had taken. Most of them I had never seen before. As a result of discovering these images, I have integrated them into an on-going project, as a kind of point of departure. I want to show the photos of my daughters and family to my mother, who lives alone in my parents’ house. Above all, I’m trying to increase our parent-child communication through these photographs with my daughters, while also increasing their self-esteem.
Pictures of Shin’s childhood, from his mother’s archives.
You’re well-known for your street photography. How is this particular project similar to your candid work on the street? And how does it differ?
I see myself as a street and documentary photographer. I always try to capture the uncontrived, pure moments from the daily lives of my fellow human beings. This is also the essence of this project. On the whole, I usually only press the shutter release sporadically because I prefer to enjoy the time with my family. I think this is probably evident in the pictures themselves. Nevertheless, the biggest single difference between my street photography and this project is that I have never met such quirky and tomboyish subjects in the street before.
Family photographs are often dismissed as “irrelevant” or simply as a nostalgic means of reminiscing about the past. Apart from the obvious personal value of these images, how relevant do you think this series is for the viewer?
I enjoy appreciating the moments of my family life, as I do with the moments I capture in my street photography. I want the viewer to find pleasure in these lovely, everyday moments, and not just see them as a record of the private lives of a family of strangers. Nonetheless, whatever I may say, publishing this project within the context of documentary photography is the biggest challenge. There is definitely a risk that the viewer will misunderstand the series, because, at first glance, it appears profane. After all, the subjects presented are my own family, who can be photographed at anytime and anywhere, and whom I could always ask to pose for a photo.
However, the most important reason that I chose to focus on my family in this way is our familiarity to one another. In some sense, this makes it easier to shoot my subject. I want the viewer to sense the way I feel about photographing a human being, whether it’s a person I know closely or a stranger. “The most extraordinary moments exist in your daily life. The question is whether or not you can find or see these them.”
The intimate nature of your personal projects is also one of their great strengths. However, are there times when you feel you can’t press the shutter? Where do you see the dividing line between the private and the public?
This is my family. I can see everything they show me and I can take a picture of anything. Every day, every hour and every second, there is no clear dividing line. When I feel that they have given me the “gift” of the beautiful moment, I just click the shutter. It is the same feeling that makes my body instinctively sway and move, while listening to jazz. I can’t clearly say what it is but I’d be happy if we share the same feeling.
These images certainly present a very fun view of family life. Is this a fair reflection of how you have experienced parenthood? And how has having children influenced your take on photography?
These pictures represent only a few moments of our lives. My wife lives this life for 24 hours a day. I am a freelance photographer. This job reduces the amount of time I can spend with my family. Irrespective of this, it can be said that these moments are the climax of the live jazz performance. I post Instagram stories from my daily life with the family and I hope to show through these pictures, the real moments of an ordinary family life. To answer your question of how has having children influenced my take on photography: I can no longer go anywhere at all without having a camera with me. I don’t want to miss a thing, even when I go to the bathroom or to bed.
Which camera did you use to capture this series?
I shot these images with a Leica M6 and a Leica M9-P. As far as I’m aware, there is a camera that automatically captures an image when the subject smiles. To me it seems that these cameras have an automatic shutter release when the photographer’s emotions reach their climax in any moment. Is there such a thing as a better camera than this? I also love these cameras because they can be operated fully manually and I can shoot these moments without breaking the intimacy I feel with my family. That’s why I need these cameras and a 35 mm lens.
How do you see this project progressing? Is there an end in sight?
I can not see into the future but I want to publish a photo book of this series. I have been contacted by a few publishers but I’m still looking forward to hearing from other publishers. To put it simply, I hope to keep shooting their smiles forever. Having said that, perhaps I have to stop shooting when my sweet daughters get married and leave my house? Oh… please stop, I don’t want to think about it now.
How do your daughters and your wife react to your photographs?
They often smile and we talk about the stories behind these moments. This is a very important thing for a family living together. Through these photographs with my daughters, I’m trying to increase our parent-child communication, while also increasing their self-esteem.
What else are you working on at the moment? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I am still in the process of organizing my father’s belongings at my parents’ house. Part of the work entails scanning and cataloguing old pictures my parents took. I want to show these pictures to my daughters and also want to share them with other viewers. My aim is to show that there are things that never change, things that are universal, in our minds, at any time and any age. Otherwise my main on-going project involves taking photos of strangers in the street. It is titled “Something Here” and is continuously featured on major media.
What one piece of advice would you offer to anyone looking to improve their photography?
The most important thing when taking photos is whether you can recognize yourself in that moment, right before you click the shutter release. This action reflects the workings of your own mind, which are cultivated from your own experience and thoughts. You should try and tie this to the shutter release of your camera. Then each photo will be imbued with your thoughts about that image. The viewer will surely enjoy communicating with you via the picture.
You can take a look at more of Shin’s street photography and connect with him via Instagram.
Head over to his website to see more of his personal projects.