Jesse Kojima (JPN), photographer/art director, Tokyo

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‘I used to live in Hawaii and California. I was always playing in bands when I was younger, but in Long Beach I studied recording engineering. I grew up near the beach in Kamakura, so from a young age I was always exposed to surfing, skateboarding, punk music, and the people that come along with it. So from a young age I saw a lot of tattooed people and was always intrigued by that culture. At the age of 20, I got my first one in Hawaii. At that time, I had a girlfriend who was working in a piercing studio and she had one tattoo after the other. We hung out in her studio a lot, so the piercings and tattoos came naturally. I only saw my parents 2 times a year at that time, when I travelled back to Japan. I knew they wouldn’t agree on the tattoos, so I started on places I could easily hide from them. The first ones were on the back of my legs, easy to hide under my socks. My chest followed, so I thought I was safe. One time, while visiting my family, I fell asleep in the living room and apparently some ink peeped out of my socks. I was still getting financial support from my parents, so I thought they were going to be really upset and it would be the end of my American adventure, but actually they’d already suspected it and kind of just laughed it away. I’m a dad myself now, so I guess as a parent you feel where your kid is heading, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise for them. So from there on, I kept going; it was kind of an unofficial ‘ok’ from them.’

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‘When I turned 30 I started having second thoughts about my job as a professional musician. So I became a designer for a small clothing brand that allowed me to do almost everything myself: the clothes’ designs, the catalogue shootings, shooting the clothes, making online commercials, … That job triggered my interest for photography, which has now become my main source of income, next to my work as a designer.’

‘I just had an exhibition with my personal works, shot in NY, during which I also sold a photo book with the showcased images. Girls are my main subjects, but no mainstream cuteness here. I want to bring a mixture of a girl’s coolness and sexiness, without making it tacky. For the project in NY I only shot local girls, but not actual models; just the girl next door-type. I never really did any street photography before this shoot, so it was an interesting experience for me too.’

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‘My first steps in the world of photography were taken while working for a free magazine. I shot a lot of rappers, street culture and underground stuff. I felt there was something missing in my portfolio, so I challenged myself to balance out my work a little and started to shoot girls. I had the impression that Japanese girls weren’t being shown in a cool way, so I felt this was a gap that needed to be filled. Also, while being abroad, I noticed Asian girls quite often had this strange erotic image which I didn’t like. I felt eager to change this in the photos I made. Working with regular girls usually results in a more natural outcome. I want to show real people, so I never tell them to pose in a certain way. That would just make it fake, or unreal.’

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‘A while back I had to go to Hawaii for a job and I stayed a week longer, but I realised it’s not the right place for me now. Life is too slow, too relaxed there. Right now there are still too many things I want to do, to achieve, so Hawaii is not the place to be. Long Beach on the other hand… When I was shooting in LA last year, I had some free time so I went back there for the first time in 15 years and I really loved it. It would be great to live there with my wife and son. The Long Beach mixture of chilling and being creative matches me perfectly.’

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