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  • Writer's pictureJane


Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Minori Iwahashi is a visionary. Over the three years I have known this 22-year old photographer, she has constantly amazed me with her talent, skills and creativity. However, it is her dedication to improving her craft and helping other pursues theirs is the thing I admire most.

From working to big names such as Nike to winning a trip to the Big Apple with her photography, this girl has done so much in such a short amount of time. I have been waiting for a long time to get the chance to interview Mini because I think her journey so far has been truly inspiring. It's so empowering to watch her pursue her passion at University with no qualms or questions, especially given that art subjects do not get as much funding and have a certain reputation to them. Mini is the perfect example of why creatives are so important in our society; they help us reflect, explore and look at the world in a different light.

What Made You Pick Up A Camera In The First Place? 

My grandpa used to shoot a lot of film even though he was an economics professor in Nagoya, Japan. It was an expensive hobby at the time but he was passionate about it, which is why he had accumulated quite some gear over the years. After he passed, my dad invested in a camera to take photos of my brother and I to document our childhood and that’s sort of where it all started - a tribute to him.

I was and still am a very curious person. I also had no sense of boundaries as a child, always rummaging my mum’s bag to get out the compact camera or camcorder, capturing everything I thought was #aesthetic. When I was 8 years old, I remember begging my parents to let me take the 35mm film camera on a school field trip and somehow managed to expose all the film on the bus ride back, crying over the lost footage the entire way home. Little did I know back then that it would be the first of many data loss induced cries.

"The ‘real’ journey started when I turned 11 and asked my parents for a Nikon DSLR for my birthday, fully expecting them to say no as I wasn’t at an age where I could wholeheartedly appreciate my belongings."

Entertaining the idea, my dad asked what model I wanted and a few days later, I had my beloved Nikon D5000 in my hands, which I used until my parents got me a new camera as a graduation gift before going to University in 2016. It sometimes feels strange not having a clear cut reason as to why I picked up a camera but I like to believe that it is genetic or simply instinctive. I also have an immense amount of gratitude to my parents for listening to what I wanted and for believing in me, as they very easily could have swept my request for a camera and my interest for photography and filmmaking along with it.

I recently inherited my grandpa’s film camera and have yet to shoot it. What’s iconic though is that my grandma found the equipment in his University locker, along with twenty pairs of designer shoes which he knew he’d get in trouble for if he got caught wearing them. Guess I not only get my interest in cameras from him but my shoe obsession as well.

Could you name some of the projects you have done in the past? Which has been your favourite/most memorable?

My recent work has included a product shoot for Glamour UK magazine, the #1YearToGo Tokyo 2020 Olympics & Paralympics campaign, and a shoot with my friend Sarah featuring Billie Eilish’s Bershka collab, which somehow won us an all-inclusive trip to New York. I have also been very fortunate to have worked with my favourite sports or streetwear brands, including Nike, adidas, New Balance, Puma, The North Face and Vans.

My favourite project so far has been my weekend away in Berlin with House of Vans. It was during my social media placement at JD Sports but it is definitely a highlight as it was my first business trip abroad. I should say “business” because it was a weekend full of skating, amazing food, and music, where I got to see Octavian perform live. Another highlight would be doing social media coverage for adidas X Hailey Baldwin’s London Fashion Show in 2018, weeks before she was Mrs. Bieber.

I think many people would be interested in knowing, how do you get this type of work? How do you secure these opportunities? Any advice? 

"In a competitive field, you have to make yourself visible, which is especially relevant if you are young like me."

People always assume that youth equates to inexperience but by doing internships every summer and actively seeking out creative opportunities nearby, I have worked hard to carry myself as a young professional. 

Though there is no right or wrong way, I can only speak for what’s worked for me. I first overcame my fear of criticism and started to post my work on social media. As someone that has been taking photographs and making videos for over half of their life, I was getting in the way of my own progress by being too critical. People share their work not only to be seen but to reflect, as it documents progress. It also creates conversation, where you can find friends to collaborate with, which you may have not thought of before, and sometimes even strangers who shower your posts with love. The network element has been crucial for me, as this is where I get most of my freelance work and have met an incredible amount of talent, from makeup artists, stylists, and models, to dancers, designers, and musicians who significantly enhance my work. Sharing is definitely caring here, so don’t be afraid of being overshadowed or having your ideas stolen as everyone’s out here trying to hustle.

Word of mouth is still good as ever and I’ve secured a lot of clients through this. For the big fish however, it comes down to giving up your free time to pave your path for the future. I actively searched for work experience every term break, emailing people with my CV and making myself visible on LinkedIn. There will undoubtedly be discouragements and rejections but so long as you are putting yourself and your work out there, people will start to talk about it and find the time to interact with you. Connections are also nothing to be ashamed of; if you know a friend of a friend who knows someone that works at your dream company, drop them a message! There is absolutely no harm in trying.

Playing the long game is my tactic where I have made personal sacrifices but in short, if you shout about it, like-minded people will most likely come your way. For the serious stuff, make sure you’re polished and your work is too. 

What would be your ‘dream project’?

I’m not sure what this entails yet but since I was little, I always had this dream of being responsible for executing a Tier 1 campaign from start to finish where I could call all the shots on who, what, where, when, and how. The reason behind this isn’t to be a complete control freak but to be able to reach out to my fellow creatives from all over the world who I believe need a breakthrough moment or pay it back to those who bless me with their artistry.

That’s bare cheesy. A project with ID magazine or high fashion retailers like Dover Street Market would be dope too though.

Nowadays, who inspires you and your photography? What direction do you want to take your photography? 

I often feel inspired by people around me or those I have met along the way. It’s different to aspire to be like someone or produce work to a level of a person you’ve never met but there’s something so inspiring about feeling the presence of a hard working person in your own life. For that reason, I definitely look up to my mum, my old colleagues Dolly and Molly, my friend Sarah, and the two girls running this magazine living their best lives in Asia, to name a few.

My photography inspiration constantly changes but currently, I am very drawn to the art direction in Rina Sawayama’s work, which is done by @ben_ditto. I’m currently taking my photography in an art direction as opposed to a commercial one which I’m used to, with a hint of social commentary like my latest work ‘Visual Tensions’ on racism in times of crisis (hi corona, I’m @ing you).

Could you show us your favourite photo you have ever taken? What makes this one stand-out to you? 

This one is my current favourite as it won me and Sarah a trip to New York.

Does being what you yourself describe as a ‘Eurogrown Japanese’ influence your work at all? Any examples? 

I am a firm believer that no matter how much one suppresses their background or heritage, it always has a way of making an imprint on your actions. I definitely feel that as a Japanese by blood that is so far removed from a ‘typical’ Japanese girl, the Western influence is present in everything that I do. Equally, the Japanese part will never leave as that is who I inherently am. Even though I may have been better off as a half Asian for my identity crisis, I feel that my Japanese parents raising me in Europe has given me a multicultural perspective and a unique eye. The biggest compliment I ever received on my work was this...

"So ‘eurogrown Japanese’ is less of a description, more of a signature, one which apparently is identifiable as mine so that’s pretty cool"

With everything going on at the moment and there not being a chance to go out and shoot, how are you staying creative and further perfecting your art?

The downtime is definitely hard to navigate but I’m trying to push myself in new ways to stop these days from becoming one big blur. I’ve been following the #CreateAtHome hashtag which has been circulating on social media, which was made to keep creatives motivated despite these difficult times. It’s forced me to think outside of the box, using absolutely everything and anything around me. As someone that is constantly on-the-go, running around Leeds or travelling to London or abroad for shoots, it hadn't even occurred to me that I should try shooting in my room or let alone my house.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have definitely had my fair share of indoor shoots and flimsy home studio setups but the challenge has been in using what I had in my home away from home, which doesn’t exactly have everything I want. To honour this challenge, I am also refusing to source things online or in town, which has required a lot of brainstorming. The below is what I’ve got so far…

I have also been working my way through a backlog of material, which I haven’t had a chance to play around with. I was super busy this time last year so there’s been a lot of throwback posts featuring new edits or IGTV videos. Guess I really took 2019 for granted...

♡Check out more of Minori's work at her official website

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