Tomo Ota Q&A | Fine Art Film Photography

Tomo Ota's has a diverse portfolio of fine art photography; however there is a running theme of minimalism through his work which I find very calming. I asked Tomo if he would work with with me on a Q&A. Below is the original transcript. Images are in no particular order. I would like to thank Tomo for his cooperation.

1)    Please state your name
Tomoharu Ota

2)    Current occupation
Something nothing to do with photography

3)    Where are you currently living
In a small town near Sapporo, Hokkaido

4)    What’s your age

5)    Where were you born

6)    How did you get started in photography
When I was a student, I had a part-time job as a videographer for wedding ceremony at a church in Sapporo. And there were some wedding photographers as well, and at every break time, I played with their cameras (EOS 5), and I got basic knowledge of photography (aperture, DoF, focal length, lighting, etc.) from them. At first, I just enjoyed looking at photographs and photo books, and didn’t take many photos by myself. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t particularly interested in taking photos. I didn’t even have a camera that time but purchased quite a lot of photo books.

7)    Which countries would you like to visit for photographic opportunities and where have you been so far
I have been to lots of countries so far (Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Italy, France, China, Indonesia, Greece, Malta, Morocco, and UK, that is all I think…).
If I am with my camera, I would be happy to visit any countries, but I’d like to visit some Nordic countries in winter in the future. I personally hate cold weather, but I am always fascinated by winter sceneries.

8)    At what age did you become a photographer
I bought my first camera (Contax T2) at an age of 25 just a couple of weeks before leaving for Middle East, so I can say 25, but I was just snapping around during travel.

9)    What inspired you to become a photographer initially
The fact that I was leaving for the countries which are very different from Japan.

10)    Who or what inspires you now
Almost everything and everyone around me.

11)    Your known mainly for your film photography on Flickr, what is it about film photography that appeals to you
For now, I have been working on a few projects for three years and will probably keep doing longer. I want some consistency between current photos and those I took a few years ago. If I am shooting digital cameras, I might have to upgrade every five years or some, and it might be very difficult to achieve similar colours, similar contrast etc. However, as long as similar film is in production, I can keep the consistency in my photos for a longer time.

12)    What does film offer you that digital capture doesn’t
I have actually never used digital cameras for my projects, so I can’t compare them, but I think I can be more relaxed when shooting film than when shooting digital. Probably because I don’t need to worry about too much about camera setting and so on, and can concentrate in reading light and deciding composition. So, the answer here is relaxation.

13)    What’s wrong with photography today, if anything
Less and less people see photos on prints, and they see them mostly on computer screen. Probably because they see photos only with translucent light on computer screen, not with reflected light like on prints, they prefer more and more contrasty photos with more and more saturated colours, and don’t seem to notice subtle tonal difference and smoothness, as if people who always want spicier, saltier food can’t notice delicate flavour.

14)    What do you find most difficult/challenging about photography
Taking photographs with meaning.

15)    Do you have any goals for 2010
Not actually goals, but I am hoping to take more photographs of local seascapes this year.

16)    Do you have anything exciting lined up for 2010
Nothing so far, unfortunately.

17)    Are you planning any trips for 2010
I stay about four weeks in England with my family every summer, which is planned this year, too.

18)    How much time do you dedicate to photography
It depends on season, weather and how busy I am for family events.
But, even when I stay home with family, I am always pretty happy to take photos of them. So, I can say I spend most of my spare time for photography (my projects and family photos).

19)    What gear do you use most and why
For my projects, I use the Hasselblad V system (500CM, 50mm, 80mm, 150mm and 250mm). I’ve chosen this system because it has a good selection of lenses and I can find a replacement easily if something happens to mine.

20)    Do you think ‘gear’ matters
Of course, it does to some degree. I can’t take photos for my projects with a P&S digital camera, but can probably do with a similar format film camera. I don’t particularly worship the brand “Hasselblad”, and don’t really believe someone saying that hassy has soul or something. As I mentioned above, I am using this because it is practical to me.

21)    Is there any more ‘gear’ you’d like to own which you don’t currently
I would love to try an SWC one day.

22)    Do you prefer E6 or C-41, please explain why
I generally prefer C-41 film to E6, because it is smoother and less contrasty. But, I love Fuji’s ASTIA and 64T, too.

23)    Whats the biggest compliment you’ve been paid and by whom (photographically)
I won honourable mention at EPSON PHOTO GRAND PRIX 2009.

24)    Can you tell us about your approach to photography; what you look for, how you go about creating images, what's your thought process
Well, it is very difficult to answer. I always try not to be too excited and to stay calm. “wow, that is beautiful, let’s shoot!” like attitude never worked to me. I often ask myself why this caught my eye, or why I think this is interesting, and then I think about how I can convey this to photographs.

25)    What do you hope to achieve when taking photographs
People can feel something more than what is actually on the photograph.

26)    Do you have a favourite photograph that you took
Next One!

27)    Do you have a favourite photograph by someone else
There are so many…..

28)    With regards to film, what’s your process from camera to print/web
For BW film, I do developing by myself (using XTOL), scan it (EPSON F3200) and print it with an EPSON’s pigment ink printer.

For colour film, a lab does developing for me.

29)    Have you exhibited your work and if so where
Last year, apart from annual local art exhibition, two of my photos were exhibited at the Forum in Norwich, UK.

30)    What’s your preferred mediums for print
For BW, I often use Gekko blue label or red label (only available in Japan, I think).
For colour, I use EPSON Crispia paper mostly.

31)    Are you signed to any stock/art agencies, if so, who
I got an invitation from Getty before, but I didn’t sign for that.

32)    A lot of your photographs are 'minimalist' and/or symmetrical, can you explain what draws you to these compositions
On a process of deciding composition, I always ask myself just whether this composition is comfortable to me or not. I am not particularly pursuing minimalist style or such, but just don’t want too many elements in the frame, which often looks messy to me. For the same reason, I sometimes just like to place the vanishing point in the centre of the frame.

33)    What's your favourite film(s) and why
Currently, I use Tmax400 and ACROS for BW, and Portra160NC and EKTAR100 for colour mainly. Tmax400 is very forgiving and easy to use. It is pushable by two stops (even more). It is a great all-rounder, IMO. ACROS is very useful in long exposure and it handles tones from mid-tones to deep shadow very nicely.

34)    Whats your favourite camera/tools to use, and why
For cameras, apart from Hasselblad, I use Nikon FM, Contax G1, ContaxT2 and Ricoh GRDIII. They are all very nice for snapping my family.
My favourite tool is a tripod, well, necessary tool, really. Even with a shutter speed of 1/500 and a wide angle lens, I would prefer to use a tripod.

35)    Do you develop your own film
For BW, yes.

36)    What do you like about night photography
You can see very different expression of objects at night. An ordinary concrete shed can look gorgeous and majestic at night, which is very interesting.

37)    If you had to choose one camera, one lens and one film (if you choose film over digital) to work with solely for your own purposes, what would they be and why
Another difficult question to answer… Well, when I made a short trip to Kyoto last month, I took my Hasselblad with 50mm lens, so I would choose this for the camera. And for film, I would go with Tmax400. Oh, can I take my travel tripod, too?

38)    Kodak or Fuji
Love both, I have little experience in Kodak E6 film though.

39)    Do you use filters
Sometimes, yes, apart from yellow, orange and red filters, I have ND filters and colour compensation filters.

40)    What excites you
Foggy morning, empty beach, reflection on water, sunny day after snow storm, dusty industrial area and smell of fixer.

41)    What’s your favourite Flickr group
Hokkaido Life; it is always nice to see what kind of images local people (and tourists) take in Hokkaido.

42)    How do you relax
Looking at my favourite photo books in bed.

43)    Can you tell us more about your photography in general
Sorry, I can’t wrap up my mind for this question.

44)    How would you like to be remembered
A nice husband and a nice dad of two boys.

45)    What advice would you give to someone looking to take up photography as a hobby
Keep in mind that there are no rigid rules in photography.

Some says “follow the rule of three”, “should shoot around sunset or sunrise time”, “should focus properly on main subject” etc. etc.
But, a ridiculously underexposed blurred photograph shot in the middle of daytime with a bull’s eye composition can be excellent.
46)    If someone would like to see your work, where can they find it
Please visit my flickr site:
47)    Can you send some examples of your work as low-res JPG’s (500pixels)
Please feel free to choose from my flickr photostream.
48) Do you have anything else you’d like to add
I thank Paul very much for giving me this chance to think my photography rather subjectively. After answering these questions, I feel that I have sorted something out in my head. I hope this interview is interesting to other photographers, but at least, it was very useful for myself and gave me a great motivation for my future photography, too.


maddoc2003jp said…
I have met Tomo a couple of times here in Sapporo. Watching him setting his camera up and taking the shot is a better teacher than most books about photography. A truly wonderful and inspired work.
maddoc2003jp said…
I have met Tomo a couple of times here in Sapporo. Watching him setting his camera up and taking the shot is a better teacher than most books about photography. A truly wonderful and inspired work.