Urban Weird Photographer Brian Wood-Koiwa (Podcast 685)

by | Nov 20, 2019 | Art Talk, Interview, Podcast | 5 comments

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I’m really happy to be able to bring you an interview today with my friend Brian Wood-Koiwa, a Tokyo-based urban fine-art photographer. He has lived/worked and traveled around the world in places such as Qatar, Ecuador, Thailand, Australia, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in central Africa, before settling down in Tokyo, where he has been living for over 17 years.

Brian Wood-Koiwa with his Rollei
Brian Wood-Koiwa with his Rollei

He calls his photographic style “Urban Weird”, celebrating The City by emphasizing the beauty and “un-beauty” of the seemingly urban mundane and banal by incorporating the literary concept of New Weird (and its ancestor Decadence) in conjunction with the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi-sabi, centered on the acceptance of transience and the beauty in imperfection. The physicality of his focus encompasses anything urban (urban landscape, cityscape, street, urban abstract) inspired by the contrast of the ultra-modern and traditional aspects; at times existing harmoniously and others not so harmoniously – but interestingly.

I took the opportunity of having Brian in my studio to shoot a few portraits of him, of which this is my favorite. As you’ll hear, Brian is relatively quiet and unassuming, yet his tartan pants and “As If” t-shirt are, in my mind, undeniably flamboyant, and I mean that in the most positive way. These things suit Brian’s character, and his dry sense of humor are things that I appreciate as some of the wonderful reasons that I consider him a friend.

As our conversation was not scripted, I do not have text for the rest of this post, but here are the questions that I posed to Brian forming a framework for our discussion. Please listen with the audio player above to hear how the conversation developed.

  • Tell us how you came to live in Japan?
  • How did you get started in photography?
  • What’s your main photographic genre?
  • You have a passion for film photography. Tell us more about that?
  • We both have a pretty good appreciation for Wabi-Sabi, which is the Japanese concept of beauty in imperfection, and your thinking surrounding Decadence and Banality is fascinating and thought-provoking. Tell us a little more about that.
  • Talk through your three images (below). Tell us what you were aiming to achieve etc.
  • Can you give us three pieces of advice for anyone that wants to shoot compelling street photography like yours?
  • I often recommend your private street photography tours to my guests that come to Japan for my winter tours, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Tell us more about what you get up to when someone books you for say half a day or a day?
  • Where can people find you online?

You can find Brian’s work, publications, and services at http://urbanweirdphotography.com

Here is a direct link to one of my favorite photos of all time, on Brian’s website: https://urbanweirdphotography.com/prints-street/clandestine

This is also a favorite: https://urbanweirdphotography.com/prints-street/the-red-umbrella

Here are the three images that Brian referenced during our conversation.

Show Notes

Check out Brian’s website and street work here: http://urbanweirdphotography.com

Brian’s Instagram is here: https://www.instagram.com/urbanweirdphoto/

Music by Martin Bailey


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  1. Christian Meermann

    What a nice interview. I enjoyed listening to it very much. It was almost a trip down memory lane because even though you talked about Brian’s present work and projects, you still managed to bring up many memories from the Arcanum days. 👍🏻🖖🏻

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Christian,

      Thanks for the comment! Having become friends with Brian before the Arcanum, I didn’t really think about that much, but thinking about it, my favorite shots of Brian’s come from the Arcanum days. Thanks for putting that into perspective!

      We should do an interview with you at some point Christian.


  2. Kris Leigh Vockler

    So cool to see and listen to this. It was a total trip down memory lane from the Arcanum. Christian is so right. I’ve always loved Brian’s work. My favorites are like the one you have here with the legs severed from the body. ha

    • Martin Bailey

      Hey Kris!

      This is great! It’s becoming a proper Arcanum reunion!

      I hope you are well and still enjoying your photography.


  3. Brian Wood-Koiwa

    Hi Christian and Kris!

    Yea, it was a great time during the interview and after over dinner and a couple of beers with our spouses.


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