f-stop Icon Jason Halayko is an action sports photographer based in Tokyo. We caught up with him to hear about shooting the b-boys and b-girls of the Tokyo breakdance scene with the FUJIFILM X-H1 as part of their 'Proud Of' video series. Jason Halayko shoots across many different action sports and he opened up with some very honest and personal perspectives on finding his own style and the athlete-photographer relationship.
Check the video below and read our behind-the-scenes full interview with the images created during these shoots - and his tips for those wanting to go and shoot images like these in Tokyo.
In this video you talk about how the creation of a good image involves both the photographer and the athlete showing their style in this process. How important is that collaborative aspect of shooting to you?
For me shooting with dancers/athletes is always a very collaborative effort. I shoot a wide variety of disciplines so its difficult to be an expert at everything I am shooting all the time. But I understand this limitation and embrace it by taking the time to talk with my subject and see what he/she wants to bring to the final image. Maybe they have a new trick they want to try, or a specific style they want to show. From there it is my job to shoot that trick or style in the most photographically pleasing way possible. And even then, sometimes the subject will have a great angle idea that shows their trick in the best way, or some other idea I didn't think of before hand that is really cool, so its always good to talk with your subjects when possible.
Something else that I think is very important in these collaborative efforts, especially with action sports like BMX, skateboarding, FMX, etc., is making sure that my images are not only photographically amazing, but also show the athlete's tricks at the best timing possible. I could have a really well lite and composed image, but if the athlete tells me the timing of the trick is off, even by half a second is some cases, I will try and re-shoot the image where possible. This is because I want to show these athletes in the best way possible and create an image we are both happy with and excited to share with others in our own various communities.
Tokyo is famous for being full of crowds, but the locations you used looked very peaceful. How do you escape the crowds in Tokyo?
Staying away from the main parts of Shibuya or Shinjyuku is a great way to start. For sure these places are super iconic and can make for a fun afternoon of chaotic shooting, but there are lots of great little spots in and around Tokyo that are not generally on the top 10 lists for tourists. With just a little time online I am sure you can find lots of little spots here and there that would be great for low key shooting.
Saying that, I am always amazed at how quiet Konnou Hachimangu (the shrine in Shibuya) is. It is only about 5 minutes away from the famous Shibuya crossing, but hardly anyone goes through there - at least while I have been there - so it is a great spot for shooting. I think I have shot there three times in the last 6 months for various projects. Please understand though that we had written permission to shoot there from the shrine, so if you would like to use it as a location please contact the shrine directly via their website.
You made Tokyo your studio in this video. Of course not everyone can get access to a rooftop for shooting but, without giving away all your secrets, where would you recommend to someone coming to Tokyo to shoot street culture?
The ironic part of shooting "street culture" in Tokyo is that it can be actually kind of difficult to just come across people breakdancing, or street skateboarding/BMXing in the major areas of Tokyo. There are lots of places I like taking people for shooting all around Tokyo, but as far as I know there are not so many places you can just walk up and meet riders/dancers at any time of the day. If you are visiting and would like to check out some kind of street culture then I would suggest following your favourite athlete or dancer on social media and watch for when they have events. The events they put on themselves are usually small in size and a great spot to start if you want to meet them or photograph the event.
You worked with some impressive breakdancers in this. What is the b-boy scene in Japan like?
The b-boy/b-girl scene here in Japan is AMAZING! We literally have some of the best breakdancers in the world here, on all levels! B-Boy Taisuke's crew "The Floorriorz" have been the top crew in the world for the last three years, B-Boy Issei and B-Boy Shigekix have both been killing it around the world for years, and several of the b-girls are also top of their game, winning various international competitions every year. And yet, I find all the dancers here, at all levels, are so amazingly cool and chill. If they are top of the world, or just starting out, you rarely find any attitude outside of the battles, at least that I see. In the battles they KILL it and throw down hard, but I always love seeing that handshake or hug when the battle is over, showing their mutual respect for one another. Something a lot of "professional athletes" might want to learn from.
I have known Taisuke for about 8 years now, he was the first breakdancer I ever shot. Taisuke has been dancing at a very high level since he was in elementary school, and was often on Japanese T.V. shows at the time. Now I would consider Taisuke one of the older b-boys in Japan, but he is still progressing as a breakdancer, and still throwing down new moves and combos in battles all over the world. As part of the Red Bull BC One All Star crew he is also a kind of ambassador of breakdancing and seems to be constantly battling, and winning, around the world as a member of this crazy crew.
B-Boy Jun is a younger b-boy and part of the well known GOOD FOOT crew. I met him at a Red Bull BC One qualifier here in Japan and we seemed to click right away. B-Boy Jun is the kind of breakdancer who can do everything, and well. He is strong in battles, and very easy to use in shoots as he is always smiling and has a really infectiously positive attitude. I look forward to seeing how far Jun is able to take his skills in the next couple of years.
If I had to describe B-Girl Miharu in two words it would be style and confidence. I find there are some B-Girls who really try to emulate what the B-Boys are doing, almost to the point of forgetting what makes them unique as a B-Girl (and thats super cool too), but B-Girl Miharu seems to embrace what makes her unique as a B-Girl with her dancing style. She is feminine with her movements, but there is also a strength that comes out and I think this is a reflection of her confidence in herself as a B-Girl and a person. Also, I love her style of clothes that she choses for her battles and shoots. For our shoot she was emulating Missy Elliot from back in the day, and I think it worked out really well with the style of graffiti we had on the wall behind her.
You shoot a wide range of actions sports. Do you change style with each different sport or lifestyle?
I have noticed over the years that in general I keep the same general style no matter what sport or lifestyle I am shooting. Sure, for specific jobs with specific requirements I will adapt how I shoot to match the clients wishes, or change my editing style to better reflect the mood of an event, but I think in general I keep the same style most of the time.
Looking back I would have to say the reason for this is during my first time shooting a global level Red Bull event, the Red Bull X-Fighters in Osaka, I got some really good advice from a friend of mine who was also working at the event. You see, I was quite nervous, and not sure what kind of style I should shoot the event in. Should I match what I am doing to the other photographers? Should I be shooting in some specific way decided by the event staff? These were just some of the questions I had for him. But his answer really surprised me. He said, "just shoot what you think is cool, and everything else will be fine." I was shocked by the confidence he showed in my abilities, but it helped me to say "#uck it" and just shoot whatever I thought was best. In the end my images were well received by everyone, and I really had fun not worrying about what everyone would think of my images, so I have kept that style to this day.
Finally, before we wrap up. This video series is called 'Proud Of'. What photographic achievement are you most proud of so far?
There are many things I am "proud of" when it comes to my photography, but I would have to say I am most proud of the amazing people I have met and become friends with through my camera. There are so many amazing athletes and performers in Japan, and I cherish every chance I get to work with them and share their abilities with the world. Also, as Japan is such a popular destination for various events, and with international athletes, so I have been lucky to work with some crazy talented people from around the world. So I would have to say it is these connections I have make over the years that I am most proud of and wouldn't trade for anything.