Ms. Hayashi, you have been quite active as a photo journalist with photographs you’ve shot with Nikon cameras, and received a number of prominent awards for your works. Can you tell us about your first encounter with Nikon cameras?
I always enjoyed traveling and bought the Nikon FM3A SLR camera just as a way to photograph and keep a record of my memoires from each trip. I chose this camera because it was recommended by an instructor at a 3-day photo class I attended while in college. Without any idea about that camera or what it looked like, I jotted down the model number “FM3A” and took it to a camera shop in Ginza.
Ms. Hayashi holding a Nikon FM3A prepared for the interview
Wasn’t it difficult to shoot with an SLR camera for the first time?
It was actually very easy to use. Even today, I feel really fortunate for having started shooting with this camera. In 2006, I had a chance to visit Gambia in West Africa as a part of my university program. While I stayed in Gambia, I shot a number of photos from hibiscus flowers and women wearing colorful traditional costumes, to unique home interiors and cityscapes of the region. The FM3A was my first SLR and I was still learning how to use it at the time, but I really enjoyed taking photographs with it.
Thinking back, I believe that holding a camera in my hand gave me courage to get close to and start a conversation with people. It helped me to delve into people's lives and lifestyles, even in cultures where I would feel reluctant to do so under normal circumstances.
Looking at each of those pictures I shot with the Nikon FM3A, I can literally recall the situations, shooting conditions, and how I felt at the time when each was taken. My feeling towards the images taken with this camera is so strong that I can even remember the aura outside of the camera frame. Even now I regret letting it go.
Ms. Hayashi holding a Nikon FM3A prepared for the interview
Nikon FM3A, the same model Ms. Hayashi owned as her first SLR
Show someone's existence by staying close
Did your experiences in Gambia motivate you to become a photojournalist?
When I was in Gambia, I had a chance to work as an intern at a small local newspaper called "The Point" in order to learn more about the country. In the beginning, all I did was travel around Gambia with a reporter and take photographs. Meanwhile, I saw reporters, who later became my friends, covering the news in Gambia; an environment where the press had only limited access at that time. Then it dawned on me how fortunate I was to be born in Japan, a country where there are no restrictions in freedom of speech, and truly realized the importance of conveying a story. This got me thinking deeply about journalism as a whole.
Looking back, the fact that the timing of my encountering the Nikon FM3A coincided with when I started to think about journalism was very important for me. Nikon became the camera I wanted to keep using, and it made me think seriously about working as a photojournalist.
Will you tell us your coverage style?
Well, mainstream media for the most part offers the big picture of what happened instead of focusing on individuals or digging into their lifestyles. What I do is to be with people at the scene and report on what they have to say. For me, instead of telling what happened, I always want to tell the story of the people I spent time with or someone I met along the way; that style became natural for me. It's not like I only cover things that the mainstream media overlooks, but rather, I want to spend the time needed to convey people’s lives, which are rarely in the spotlight—and that can only be done by freelancers like myself.
From The Chaos and Silence – The Great East Japan Earthquake
Ms. Hayashi, you have won several prestigious photographic awards including the first prize for DAYS JAPAN International Photojournalism Awards 2012 with your work titled The Chaos and Silence – The Great East Japan Earthquake, as well as the Visa d'or feature award at the Visa pour l'Image Festival in France in 2013 and the 2014 NPPA Best of Photojournalism in the US for your photos of Ala Kachuu: Unholy Matrimony. How do you feel about receiving these awards?
My first coverage of the Great East Japan Earthquake was for a job from a German magazine. Flash reports and breaking news are required for this sort of news coverage assignment. Therefore, it’s most important to head to various scenes and show what’s happening there.
As for Ala Kachuu: Unholy Matrimony, I first learned about the practice of bride kidnapping when I was in college. At the time, I wasn't thinking anything about becoming a photographer or getting into journalism. It was written in one of the books that I had to read for a class and I became very concerned about this topic ever since.
Of course, I am very much honored to receive awards but, at the same time, they aren't only for me; I feel they help to return a favor to those who supported me, and it helps to expose the work to a wider audience so I am very grateful about that.
From Ala Kachuu: Unholy Matrimony
The D850 (right) and D810 (left), the two main cameras Ms. Hayashi currently uses
What's important is not to disrupt
Ms. Hayashi and the D850
Now can you tell us about the cameras you have used for coverage?
For a few years after I started off as a photojournalist, when I was working on news coverage, I used the D700. It went along with me during the Great East Japan Earthquake and my first trip to Kyrgyzstan. In that sense, I have a strong bond and feel for this camera. It went bouncing around in a car while traveling along a bumpy mountain road. It tumbled over with me and hit a rock as well. Even in such harsh conditions, I was able to take pictures with this camera and make prints without any problem.
In the end, the body turned into a silver color as the paint peeled off partially. I decided to sell it at a camera shop and the clerk said “I’ve never seen such a thoroughly used camera in my life”, and added “It won’t sell for much, but the camera must be happy” and I was glad to hear that.
For my second trip to Kyrgyzstan, I took the D810, and this was also very easy to use. I often had to shoot in private spaces in a quiet room. In such situations, I was saved by the D810 as the shutter makes very little sound. I thought this camera was great for shooting when you don’t want to spoil the ambience of the environment, even for families who have agreed to be participants.
Ms. Hayashi and the D850
I heard that recently you’ve used the D850. How did it feel?
I began using the D850 at a recent trip to Argentina. I photographed a lot of mountains and aerial-type shots, taking pictures from high above. When I returned to Japan and made large prints for an exhibit at Nikon Plaza in Shinjuku, I was stunned by the sharpness of the images even down to the finest details. Before I made prints I zoomed into the photos on a monitor and was really impressed. All the details of the entire frame were clearly visible. It’s so reassuring when you want to enlarge images to exhibit.
The silent photography function that can be used for shooting with live viewing is a truly convenient feature. Not only does it not make any shutter sound, the ability to shoot using the monitor instead of the viewfinder is a big plus for me. Using this function, I can easily reach into the lifestyle of my subject without interfering with the rhythm of their lifestyle, even when the subject knows that I’m there. Since I will likely be staying in close proximity with my subjects in the future, this is a wonderful function I can rely on.
Small village in Northern Argentina taken with the D850
Nikon’s advantage is the depth of the image.
Which lens do you usually use?
It depends on the assignment, but usually I make sure to take along the 24-70 mm (AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 mm f/2.8G ED) and 35 mm single focus (AF-S NIKKOR 35 mm f/1.4G).
I also use the 17-35 mm (AI AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35 mm f/2.8D IF-ED) a lot because many of my assignments are shot in dimly lit confined rooms, sometimes with only a single miniature bulb. Because the room space may be smaller than two square meters (21.5 square feet), or even in tents, the lens has to be ultra-wide with a brightness of f/2.8 to capture all the details and expressions of people in such a cramped space.
When I want to zoom into a subject, I would take along my 70-200 mm in f/4 (AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 mm f/4G ED VR). When you consider my shooting style, a smaller f/4 lens is easier to use because I can’t take along bulky or heavy equipment with me.
From left to right:
AI AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35 mm f/2.8D IF-ED,
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 mm f/2.8G ED,
and AF-S NIKKOR 35 mm f/1.4G
What else do you bring to shoot sessions?
When I’m on the go while on assignment, I usually put my cameras in a tote bag. There was one family I stayed with, in a rural, very conservative area in Pakistan. Whenever I would go out with one of the children, I made sure to leave the camera in the bag as much as possible because if someone notices me walking with a child while carrying a camera, it may make people feel uncomfortable and react harshly towards the child.
Tote bag to carry the camera while on the go during assignment
Finally, once again can you tell us about your thoughts toward Nikon cameras and lenses that have supported your activities until now?
I have always used Nikon cameras. Of course I would hold and try out cameras by other manufacturers at stores, but none of them intrigued me so I never thought of changing Nikon for something else.
Where I really feel Nikon’s superiority is the depth of image. It’s not something like striking vividness that comes right at you when you look at the picture, but rather a rich gradation of colors that lets you sense the feelings and way of life of the subject. For instance, when you shoot something that’s red, there are actually so many different reds and other hues within that color. This sort of Nikon coloration fits me well.
Also, I’ve never experienced any problems using Nikon cameras. All models are tough, sturdy and hard to break in any sort of environment or condition. To be able to use a camera with peace of mind even in a harsh environment is a big plus for us photographers who shoot while traveling.
Congratulations on the company’s 100th anniversary. The act of taking photographs must have been a very amazing experience at the time when the first camera came out from Nikon. Compared to back then, our society has changed tremendously and now anyone can take pictures. However, I hope that Nikon will continue to create awe-inspiring cameras that trigger people’s desires to take photographs—especially among younger generations who may not yet have taken an interest in cameras or photography, like the time when I first encountered the Nikon FM3A.
Ms. Noriko Hayashi
Noriko Hayashi is a member of:
Nikon Professional Services (NPS)