The Sony Alpha Art House exhibition is currently touring Australia, showcasing the winning entries from the Alpha Art House competition — along with with portraits of Australian personalities shot by professional photographers using Sony’s line-up of mirrorless cameras.
Musician, producer, portrait photographer and Alpha Ambassador Ta-Ku spoke with Gizmodo about his career, and what drew him to photography in the first place.
He has photographed Jaden Smith, Questlove from The Roots and — as part of the Alpha Art House project — musicians including Wafia, Joyride, Nina Las Vegas, as well as Dan Hong, Executive Chef of Ms.G’s, El Loco and Mr Wong.
Image: Jaden Smith, Ta-Ku
“I travel a bit, so it was a natural kind of progression,” Ta-Ku says “I feel like the more you travel, the more you want to hold on to those memories, especially if you’re touring for music. You get stuck in this whirlwind where you don’t pay attention to anything. Photography is a nice break from that. It gives me an opportunity to document things just for myself.”
Photography obviously isn’t Ta-Ku’s only creative love, but offers something different — more personal.
“Every time I write music, it’s for the action of putting it out and sharing it with the audience, so it’s quite impersonal in a way,” explains Ta-Ku. “For photography, there are photos and moments I can share with the audience, but the majority of them stay with me. A majority of my photos have never been seen by anyone. It’s only a small percentage that I actually put online and on Instagram. I think that’s quite special that I’m creating art for myself first and foremost.”
Ta-Ku says his style is very free, and somewhat controversially laments the idea of privacy and consent when it comes to capturing public moments.
“If I shoot portraiture — it won’t be like a subject, it will be just like people watching. A lot of my followers on Instagram get a bit uppity sometimes if I share a photo in Japan of someone on the train because it’s an invasion of privacy, but in my view it’s not. It’s simply taking a photo of a moment that happens to be in public. I like to shoot portraits without the kind of worry about invasion of privacy.”
Photographing subjects you have no previous relationship with reveals a vulnerability, he says.
“I think going in and not knowing the person, there is a lot of vulnerability there in the subject. There is definitely that kind of uncomfortable awkwardness, which makes the shot kind of special.”
On the other hand, having an existing relationship can enhance the experience.
“When you know someone, you are quite casual, relaxed. You definitely see the side of them that’s just purely them,” says Ta-Ku. “When it comes to shooting friends, there is already that repartee there. When I’m shooting the likes of Joyride and Raph, for instance. They are just really nice guys. Joyride’s a clown and Rapf is a sweetheart. You can see that from the photos.”
“I think that both sides of the spectrum are beautiful to capture. Neither of them are inferior to the other, it’s just special to capture them in that way. For me, I would rather not know the person and then get to know them while I’m shooting them.”
Ta-ku isn’t a fan of “overthinking” portrait shoots. “They should just be what they are in that time,” he says. “That’s what I like about it, it’s quite spontaneous.”
“Being in the music industry, finding a genuine person is harder and harder. That’s generalising of course, but it’s nice to catch up with guys like Joyride and Raph, even Jaden Smith and the guys I just shot for the Sony Alpha Art House exhibition. Just seeing them as people is refreshing and I feel like that comes out in the portrait.”
“I really don’t like staged shoots where there is lighting and too much hair and makeup. The lighting I use in my portraits is very natural, and that’s why I like shooting with the Sony A7 series. Its low light capabilities are really good and I don’t have to mess around with lighting flash. I honestly don’t have time for that.”
“I tend to shoot a lot in low light, literally point and shoot. I work manual I don’t do auto focus so it’s really quick. Sometimes my ISO will be blown out badly, but that’s how I like to shoot. I’ve used other cameras before, but Sony is the one that put me into overdrive.”
Ta-Ku’s favourite subject of all time? “Natasha Bordizzo. I met her when she reached out to me on Instagram and said she was a fan of my music. I was taken away by how beautiful she was. When I met her, it was during the process of filming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which just came out. Every time I would come to see her in Sydney, we would shoot. There was probably about 4-5 times before she released this movie when we caught up in Sydney, LA and New York.”
“Seeing the progression of the shots was how we got to know each other and become comfortable with each other. Now I can’t even get a minute of her time, because she has blown up. She is living in LA and is cast in all these amazing roles, it’s amazing to see someone so young see that journey. I tried to shoot her for the Alpha Art House exhibition, but she was in LA. I would like to shoot her again. You could shoot her doing anything and she would look good.”
A stand out from Ta-Ku’s portfolio is his Joyride portrait. “Knowing your shot is one in a million is amazing. For me, the shots that I like have some meaning behind it. The Joyride one is one of my stronger shots because it was taken for the Alpha Art House series and I was given a time and parameter to go out and do it. It feels nice that it was chosen as the beginning of the Ambassador series. I think this shot is very special as it’s the start of my working relationship with Sony — which will hopefully be a long one.”
The exhibition will run in Sydney at Customs House until tomorrow, 15 March, then head on to King George’s Square in Brisbane (17-23 March) and Federation Square in Melbourne (4-10 April).