Interview: Mari Kojima


Mari Kojima is an emerging photographer based out of Tokyo with a global adventurous upbringing. She shoots under the label Little Island Management, follows the point and click tradition of Hiromix, and Araki, she documents daily life, herself, nature from an introspective and subdued dark perspective. She sat down to discuss her background, work and future!

Could you give us a quick overview of who you are, what you’re doing, and where you are right now in life, work etc?

Hello, my name is Mari Kojima. I grew up in Shimane in Japan. I moved around a lot, but now I live and work in Tokyo. I sometimes DJ for FM radio shows in the Shonan area.

What is Little Island Management? Where does this come from?

When I was living in Brooklyn, I met this cute Japanese musician, Kaz. He plays under the name PWRFL POWER. We got along well like sisters, and we were thinking about starting a record label and came up with the name Little Island, which means my last name “Kojima” in English. So we named our dreamy record label “Little Island Management” for someday in the future. Moved back to Japan after that and the label thing didn’t happen, but when I started showing my photos on the internet, I didn’t want to show my real name out there, so I started using Little Island Management instead. These days I’m ok with showing my real name in public, but still, LIM sounded really useful for something…. So now I’m thinking about starting my own little company named Little Island Management, doing something related to curation, photo studio, publishing kind of things. I’m still sorting out ideas and thinking about $ that I need.


Is there a common theme/link you’re trying to capture in your photography?

I’ve been taking many snap shots, I try to shoot something that my pure instinct tells me to take before any thoughts come up in my head. Those instinctive pushes, pure feelings, I really like in my photos if they come out right. When I’m out there wondering around and taking photos, I try to avoid “oh doing this and take it from this angle would look so awesome and hip, especially with her tits out” kind of things.

I think art should be brutally honest and something that wakes you up like a big bitch slaps on both of your cheeks at the same time (by the way, I had that when I was in 2nd grade by my teacher when I was falling asleep in class, he said it is called a human sandwich, man it was such an awakener in many ways). It is hard to reach the point that makes others or myself awaken with what you create though, but with no cheesy intentions, shame, hesitation, I just want to capture something real.


Most of your photos are dated with a snapshot camera date? Something that Nobuyoshi Araki, Hiromix and other Japanese photographers use often. How and why do you use dates? Is this aesthetic purpose - something else?

There is not that deep meaning to it. It just helps me to recall what happened on that day and how things around me have been progressed… Hmmm I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I don’t really cherish the moments that I captured.

I think I’m trying to capture things that might never happen again, but not for my precious memories. So I guess the snapshot data thing is just floating there at the bottom of photos looking not so sophisticated.


Technically how and what are you shooting on?

I shoot on 35mm in color and mostly with point-and-shoot cameras so that I can quickly take photos whenever I want to. I use SLRs for something that I already know what I have to take, which I rarely do.

Family, Friends, yourself - these are generally your subjects in photos? Are you their biographer - your own autobiographer? What are you aiming to record?

They are really close to me, and they act really natural when I take a picture of them. I don’t think I’m their biographer or my own autobiographer. I think I’m not trying to tell my stories, I think I’m just interested in seeing what kind of feelings or emotions people have, and capturing it whenever I have a chance… and it’s easier for me to pull those moments out from people who are close and open to me.


Do you find any significant differences when shooting strangers as opposed to familiar faces?

When I see someone interesting, I ask them if I can take a picture of them, but usually it comes out really generic. They don’t know me and I just only know what they look like, and I don’t like seeing those “I feel a little bit awkward” barriers between me and them from my photos. I like when I get sneaky and capture a stranger doing something weird or funny though, but I guess it’s not really my style, that is just how I learned to take pictures from other photographers.


Nature seems aggressive and chaotic in your photos? Are you attracted to this violent uncontrollable edge? Is your photograph acting as a control, a document, a reflection?

I grew up in the mountains and while I was growing up, my grandma told me which snakes are poisonous, which berries are eatable, which leaves make your skin rash, which place I can go and I can’t in the woods, all the basic things that I need to know in order to live in the environment. If you know the limit, it won’t hurt you. I think I’m really attracted to the limit and balance of nature and how we have to follow its rules since it can be really dangerous without knowing.

I think I recently take more pictures of nature with some artificial things built around it. One of my pictures shows all the trees are growing diagonally from the ground. This picture was taken by this beach where people planted those trees as a windbreak, and the trees grew slanted instead of growing straight as they should be. I also took this photo by the beach, there used to be this beautiful cliff, but it was too crumbly and dangerous so people firmed it up with cold concrete. I think it gets really violent when people try to make a use of nature’s function or destroy its beautifulness, and it makes me want to capture it as a document, sometimes could be a control or reflection, it really depends on a situation.

What other artists inspire you?

It changes everyday, but recently I got really inspired by my friend Yosuke Yamaguchi, he’s such a great painter and he has a clear vision on what he wants to do, and also has such a good heart. Last year I saw Henri Cartier-Bresson’s exhibition, and everything he captured blew my mind too.

You studied fashion design - what impact has this had on your photography?

Learning fashion design was fun, I really like making 3D objects out of the flat surface, thinking about how they can make shapes and volume.

I won some fashion competition and was excited to keep doing fashion design, but when I moved back to Japan, I had to follow all those Japanese traditional unspoken rules to be so polite again. I think it’s such a great thing to have this kind of tradition, but sometimes it gets too twisted or superficial. I felt so fake using my business voice choosing super polite words while I was talking to our clients, dang, it is so superficial, and I also felt the same way towards fashion since it can be just a surface thing. And then I just started being more interested in what people have inside. I bet everyone has some sort of secrets, crazy family maybe, nasty thoughts, weird habit and other things that I don’t expect. Hmmm, so I think, in a way, studying fashion design helped me to realize that peeking inside of people’s mind is more interesting.


Whats next? How are you looking to expand?

Hmmm I don’t want to get too greedy but I hope I’ll be really ready to start my own company… but also I’m planning to have an exhibition soon!

More on Mari Kojima’s Work

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