SIGMA meets SEEKERS vol.1


Koichiro Toda

To remember a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
That to me is the attraction of photography

  • Koichiro TodaArt Director

A SEEKER pursues their own path in a variety of fields. For this issue, we talk to leading art director Kocihiro Toda, a man exploring original expression in a wide variety of fields, about working in advertising and his thoughts on photography.

photo : Motonobu Okada
lens : SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG HSM / SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 IF EX DG HSM

Even for those who have heard of an ‘Art Director’, surprisingly few people could perhaps accurately answer when asked what kind of work they do.
“It is probably difficult for the average person to interpret art. For me, it is to convey to others everything to do with what is being advertised through visuals. That is what I believe to be an Art Director in advertising.”
These words come from one of the most talked about art directors at the moment, Koichiro Toda. Much of his work has the hidden ability to make people go “what’s that!” in an instant. One of those is of the advertising posters hung on trains in Japan composed only of a TV personality and the product in question, leaving only the profile and name of the product deliberately vague enough so it cannot be clearly read. Within is the sharply focused face of a TV personality holding the aforementioned product.
“It’s very unbalanced when you glance at it. (laughs). For me it’s the result of my sincere pursuit of the theme. As a matter of fact, to the side of the photograph, there is another completely opposite photograph arranged where the personality’s face is not shown clearly whereas the product is. The two focally different photographs were to be arranged together so I wanted to see whether I could spin the two frames of the story together. The ultimate target of an advertisement is to sell the product, but if you ask whether you can sell a product with the first thing that comes to mind, the answer is no. If the message is not delivered to the heart of the consumer, no matter how beautifully arranged the picture or tag line, the people will not be moved. What the client wants to convey is taken with an open mind. But how much it grabs you is the key to expression.”
To send a message to the consumer through an advertisement, first, you must know “the message to yourself”. That’s where it begins for Koichiro Toda as he further explains. “With that as the basis, the task is then to start tying it to the consumer’s behavior and work out how the advertisement should be expressed. Not just from the viewpoint of the client, but to view myself as a consumer and think along the lines of everyday communication”.
Though his work exposes him to photographs and photographers, for a man who is deeply associated with photography, Koichiro Toda had in fact “distanced himself from photography” for about a year.
“When I use a photograph which came from a preconceived idea, there is a possibility that I would allow that photograph’s “feeling” to overpower the message. It was like being afraid to not confront that feeling which was the case at that time. To look at it another way, it shows the power photography has in regard to advertising.
In that period, I did away with the television personalities on purpose and instead created photographs which placed emphasis on colored backgrounds and design motifs. However it was a strange thing and after doing it for a year, I felt like incorporating photographs again.”
It is also said that what prompted the change in the way he viewed photography was from a profound encounter with a professional photographer.
“Right at that time, I had the chance to work with Bishin Jumonji where I was reawakened to the power of photography. I saw the photographer and the subject face-to-face, having a conversation through the camera without exchanging any words. It could be said that it was like “falling into the subject’s arms”. It may not be a feeling as he seemed to penetrate to the deepest parts of the soul. There and then, I witnessed a situation where a photograph was truly born. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Koichiro Toda always has a camera at-hand not just at work but also in his private life. Even today he has his beloved SIGMA DP2s.

Koichiro Toda's cherished DP2s is customized with an automatic lens cap.

“I like film, and even nowadays I often take photographs of my family with film. The moment I became aware of the joys of digital was with the DP2s. There was a group of designers and colleagues at the time who were using digital SIGMA cameras, and I thought to myself of wanting a digital camera.”
Koichiro Toda amusingly recounts that, though half unsure about buying one until going to the store, once it was in his hands, he bought it immediately.
“I was astonished when I used it. It’s great. But it’s hard to explain why it’s great. To put it simply, what I felt was that SIGMA’s approach to photography matches my nature. It’s not a camera where anyone could take a great photograph the moment they pick it up, but the person who took the photograph would be surprised by the quality of the finish. That element of surprise helps to fuel my creativity.

“The sound of the wind or the smell of the vegetation at the time awakens from a single photograph. That to me is the “memory” of photography.”

Though able to use digital, he is not a fan of post modification and processing. As Koichiro Toda explains, enough retouching would make it become not a photograph but a “painting”.
“I want a photograph to show a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. That is my basic stance. I want to value the feeling that the people are alive above everything. To remember something that won’t happen again is what I believe to be the joy of photography.”
This is perhaps why a lot of Kocihiro Toda’s photo albums are filled with photographs of family and friends.
“My twin sons are in elementary school so the worry is that they constantly don’t stay still. There are many times with the DP2s where I can’t get them in focus as when the shutter is pressed, they are no longer in front of the lens. So recently, I have been using a different camera to take them. (laughs). Also I love mountains. I often go hiking with like-minded friends so I make sure to bring a camera and tripod. I treasure the photographs with my friends on the mountains.”
The “connection” between the person taking the photograph and the one being taken is bound by the focus. When that moment comes by is when Kocihiro Toda is moved to press the shutter.

Koichiro Toda takes many photographs of his family and friends. A personal favorite photograph of a field of clouds during one of his mountain climbing trips (bottom photo). camera : SIGMA DP2s

My favorite photographer | Koichiro Toda

Lee Friedlander

Fascinating photographs that show me a family

“ went and searched second-hand book shops for Lee Friedlander’s photobook ‘Family’ after fellow photographer Yasutomo Ebisu recommended it. The book consists of portrait photos Friedlander had taken of his own family between 1958 and 2004. His marriage, his children growing up, his grandchildren being born — it’s all there. The entire family is captured in his monochrome photographs. The book is incredibly good. It’s my new little treasure.” (Koichiro Toda)

©DR Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Lee Friedlander was born in Aberdeen, Washington in 1934. He began taking photos aged 14 and studied photography at the Los Angeles Art Center. He started working as a freelance photographer in 1956 and went on to become an artist representative of American photography. In 2005, the MoMA in New York held a large retrospective of his work. Other important photobooks by Friedlander include “Self Portrait” (1970) and “America by Car” (2010).

Koichiro Toda

Art Director

Born in 1970. Joined Dentsu after graduating from Tokyo Zokei University. Belongs to Dentsu Communication Design Center dealing with design in advertising from product development to company logo’s, television commercials, posters etc..

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