Misaki Tsuge is a photographer who became much talked-about when she was hired as a photographer while still a high school student for a Pocari Sweat ad in 2018. The photos she takes abound with affection. She won the grand prize in the IMA next online photo contest sponsored by IMA that was based on the theme of “LOVE.” The photographer Chad Moore, who served as one of the judges, made the comment that, “I think that the way Misaki expresses her affection for the subject through the camera is outstanding.” She is currently 20 years old and lives in Mie Prefecture. We had a chance to speak to this young woman, who we expect to see even greater things from in the future.
——This incredible sense of affection for taking photographs comes across in your photos. What was it that initially inspired you to start taking photos?
Misaki Tsuge (referred to as Tsuge below): It was my freshman year in high school when I started taking photos. Back then I didn’t have any self-confidence and didn’t think there was anything admirable about myself, but an acquaintance of mine told me I should give photography a try, so I took it up. When I first started taking photos I used my smartphone, but this wasn’t good enough so I bought an EOS Kiss X7 single-lens digital camera. But for me it was too big and heavy, and I couldn’t take it to school with me everyday. So I ended up just bringing it during special events and taking photos of them. But the photos I took back then weren’t exactly what I was going for, and I didn’t really like them. I’ve deleted almost all of the data from these.
It was when I began photographing with film by letting the subjects appear in frame that I first started to like my photos. So I bought an Olympus Pen EE-3, which is a film, half-frame camera. With that I could take it to school with me everyday and take photos when I wanted to, and then I thought “This is it.” So then I started to think I should just take photos in film, so I sold my digital camera and bought a Nikon FM2 single-lens film camera. After buying a film camera, I began bringing it to school with me everyday and taking photos on a regular basis, such as on the way to and from school and during class. Even now to this day I still use these two cameras to take photos.
——Are you self-taught as a photographer?
Tsuge: Yeah. We had a photography club in my high school. But they had all these rules like you could only take photos using monochrome film, and since I didn’t like that I never joined.
——So from there you kept taking photos as a self-taught photographer, and in 2018 you were chosen by Pocari Sweat as a high school student photographer.
Tsuge: A photographer I had connected with over social media was the one that told me that Pocari Sweat was recruiting high school student photographers, so I applied. The results were announced on February 16, and the photo shoot was held in March around the time when I graduated. Back then they selected three high school student photographers, including myself. For the selection we were to send five photos and an essay. When it came to selecting five photos on my own, I had the impression that they were going to choose photos that were in line with the Pocari Sweat brand, so I asked the photographer who told me about the contest to select them for me. But up until the results were announced I had all these different anxious thoughts, like maybe it would have been better if I had chosen the photos myself.
I went to Tokyo in March for the photo shoot, which of course was the first time I took photos as part of a job. Members of the staff told us that we didn’t have to worry about taking pretty photos, because they wanted us to take them after our own personal sensibilities. Everyone I met on the staff there was very serious, and placed a lot of trust in us. They didn’t take a biased view of us as “high school students,” but rather treated us as individual photographers. I was overjoyed by this, and decided that I was going to try to take the best photos I could because I really wanted to please these people. They had not made any decisions on how many photos from each person they would use in their ads, so this made me want to have my works used to the greatest extent, and to have more of mine used, out of the three of us.
During the photo shoot from back then someone asked me if I was going to be a photographer, which marked a major turning point for me. Up until then it was something I had been doing as a hobby, and so to my way of thinking it was probably not something I could do as a career and so I had never even considered turning pro. But hearing these words back then were the catalyst that made me realize for the first time that I had the potential to become a photographer. But at the time I had decided to go to a nursing college with the goal of becoming a nurse, and so I proceeded ahead with my studies as planned.
——Are you currently going to college?
Tsuge: I went to college for about a year before dropping out. Of course, I felt a little out of place going to nursing college once I had begun to consider the possibilities of becoming a photographer, and my motivation just dried up all at once. The entire time I was going to college I kept thinking “Is this really the right path for me?” I kept thinking that I wanted to quit the following month. So I informed them that I was dropping out on the final day of second-semester tests in my freshman year. That was around February of 2019.
——Were you still taking photos while you were enrolled in college?
Tsuge: I would occasionally go to Tokyo to take photos whenever I had work requests. I tried taking photos on a regular basis while I was in college, but I just wasn’t feeling it and so I ended up not being able to take any photos at all. I really hated that, and I felt that if I kept going the way I was headed I was going to start hating the process of taking photos itself. I would take photos outside of college, but it got to the point where I wasn’t able to take photos at college regularly.
So then after dropping out of college I continued taking photos at a dry-cleaner’s shop run by some relatives, and then starting from this year I began photographing my dad. Some people told me that the photos of my dad were really interesting, and while I wasn’t quite sure what was so interesting about them myself, I decided to keep taking them, and so I did (laughs).
I just take photos of the exact moments that I want to capture
——In February of this year you won the grand prize in a round of the IMA next contest based on the theme of “LOVE.”
Tsuge: IMA next has contests on a variety of different themes, and for the “LOVE” one I thought I might have a chance so I applied by sending in five photos I had taken back in my high school days. Prior to that people would tell me that they found my photos interesting, but having them appraised like this once again gave me a boost of self-confidence. Chad Moore was one of the judges, and right before I applied for this contest I was looking at a collection of photos by Ryan McGinley in a bookstore that made me think that mine resembled his. So being chosen by Chad gave me the impression that it was fate.
——What is on your mind when you’re taking photos?
Tsuge: I take photos of the exact moments that I want to capture, so there isn’t really anything on my mind when I take my photos. I want to be glad that I took the photo, and to not regret it, and so I tend to shoot what’s in front of me more so than some idea I come up with. Whether it’s for work or it’s a situation I’ve found myself in, I feel that one way or another it’s up to me. For the most part I take photos using film, but for the future I want to take on the challenge of shooting in digital as well.
——You take a lot of photos that are out of focus, is that intentional?
Tsuge: No, it’s not intentional. It’s just something that happens when I’m peeping through my camera and taking photos, since I don’t have any knowledge or skill. Basically I think that the photos from my high student days were out of focus, which is perhaps because I myself was unfocused.
——What do you consider to be a “good photograph”?
Tsuge: Regardless of whether they were taken by professionals or amateurs, I think that every photo is equally valid, and that with photography there are no wrong answers. But among these, I think that a “good photograph” is one that I feel affection for and want. Even if I just feel a slight affection for a photograph, it makes me wish that it had been one of my own.
——You interact with some older figures like Nobuyoshi Araki, Koichiro Yamamoto, and Masamichi Katayama. How did you become acquainted with them?
Tsuge: Araki let me take photos with him on an overseas job. He is someone who has continued to work as a photographer for several decades now, which is amazing and something I have great respect for. It seems like Koichiro learned about me from Instagram, and sent me a message. So I’ve met up with him a number of times when I come to Tokyo, and he’s offered me his counsel. Katayama has taken a look at my photos and offered me advice on them. Since I live in Mie Prefecture I don’t have all that many chances to meet up with them, but I kind of feel like Koichiro and Katayama are my “Tokyo dads.”
——Are you aware of other photographers who are close to the same age as you?
Tsuge: I”m not really aware of other photographers, but I look at the photos of various other people without regard for their age. I’ve only met Noriyuki Okuyama, who shot advertisements for Pocari Sweat prior to us, on two occasions, and he’s someone I’ve just decided to consider my senpai (senior) in this regard.
——Have you ever thought about moving to Tokyo for work reasons?
Tsuge: I get asked that a lot. Opinions vary from person to person. Some people say that since there are lots of photographers in Tokyo living in Mie shows more individuality, others say that coming to Tokyo would increase the amount of photography work I get. Personally I haven’t made up my mind on the matter yet. I feel like if there’s a job then I’ll go to Tokyo for it, but ideally I’d like to create an environment where I can freely travel back and forth. For example, it would be great if some friends and I could rent a shared house in Tokyo.
——Are you considering holding solo exhibitions, or creating collections of your photos or the like in the future?
Tsuge: My plan had been to hold exhibitions this year until the coronavirus came along. I still want to hold these exhibitions at the proper time, but I think they might turn out to be kind of strange. I’d also like to put together a collection of photographs.
——Lastly, can you tell us about your objectives?
Tsuge: I want to keep taking photos forever. I really just like taking photos. And I just want to be able to lead a happy life, like by enjoying great meals and going on trips with the people I love.