Kenji Toma

Kenji Toma is no stranger to introspection. The Tokyo-raised photographer believes that everyone should be asking the eternal question of “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 Pu blication 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.

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Text by Emilie Trice