Kenji Toma


Kenji Toma is no stranger to introspection. The Tokyo-raised photographer believes that everyone should be asking the eternal question,“Why are we here?” and should never be satisfied by any simple answers. Toma moved from Tokyo to New York in 1990, currently dividing his time between the city that never sleeps and Paris. He has been awarded with the Society of Publication Designers’ Annual Print Award numerous times and has done work for almost every glamorous brand from Chanel to Saks Fifth Avenue, but despite his high end work, he’s not above a little controversy. Having lived and worked in such a global way, Toma has developed a taste for pushing the envelope and seeing what topics are more sensitive to which group. His photos can
be seen in the book Body-Chic Simple written by Judith Newman as well as magazines like InStyle, Vogue, and of course, SOMA.

What would you tell a young photographer trying to make it in the industry today?
This is just not for photographers but you need to think and ask yourself “Why was I put on this earth and given life? Why do we work so hard when we all eventually die?” That will open doors to ideas and explore territories you are not comfortable with. The question is a catalyst to more knowledge and even more questions. In this way we can always feel like a student and continue to grow. You can feel fresh and adventurous at any age.

How do you describe your work and passion?
I believe every person has a platform in which they express and convey their life. Photography just happens to be the medium in which I decided and have been blessed to do it on. Through photography and challenging myself from shoot to shoot, I feel I learn something new about myself everyday.

What do you try to communicate through your photos?
It’s about exploring my own mind and sharing it with others. Through reactions and responses I learn more about myself. At times they betray me. Other times they validate me. You need to be open to criticism; you don’t always need to agree with it but it is important you listen. Photography is a medium to be shared. If you just create and enjoy it yourself, to me that is the same as masturbation.

How did growing up in Tokyo, Japan influence your work? Did it
change when you moved to New York?

Growing up in Japan definitely had a great impact on me. Japan is a very mysterious country. It is very isolated and volatile, so it’s easy to get stuck in its ways. That’s both good and bad. One habit I developed was to be very careful and meticulous with everything I do. Some things did change when I moved to New York. I had to be more sensitive about certain topics but at the
same time I enjoyed pushing the envelope.


1. A combination of practical, phlegmatic and high-strung characteristics is seen in this hand. He approaches life with vast enthusiasm tempered by good common sense, but startles easily.

2. Easy to anger and easy to forgive. Don’t let the occasional yelling bother you – it blows over fairly quickly and he doesn’t hold grudges.

3. Likes to lead in all that he does. He can be manipulated by being convinced that something was his idea.

4. Likes security in the basic necessities of life – housing, food, shelter, etc. Will tend to worry overmuch about how to get it. Fortunately, this is the only area in which he tends to overdo the fretting.

5. Strongly family-oriented and loves with a very deep heart. He will grieve deeply enough to injure his body when losses of loved ones occur. To him, pets will be people too – they are loved ones just as much as humans are.

6. He is naturally monogamous in his mating, but able to love many people deeply even if
he doesn’t marry them. In fact, due to circumstances, he won’t find his monogamous mate
early in life – it will be later when he mates for good, but he will love deeply and truly before then!

7. This is a marvelous storyteller. He catches the right details to bring his stories and anecdotes alive. There is a slight tendency to overwork or overwrite his material, but nothing a good editor can’t deal with.

8. A sensuous toucher. This is not necessarily sexual. He pets animals really well – they will love him for this. He enjoys the textures of things and sees as much by touching as by looking.

9. He will have mixed feelings about travel. Likes the idea of it, but doesn’t like the expense of it. When he does go places, will tend to be a budget travel who splurges on experiences that are highly sensual or tactile.

10. Does not instinctively attune to the needs of others and will miss signals, but he wants very much to be considerate. Will learn to take care and pay attention to compensate for this.

11. He tries to save money, though he isn’t naturally good at it. There is a sign of protection on his finances however, though he doesn’t always trust it and will tend to fret about money matters.

Text by Veronica Dolginko