Published on October 4th, 2011 | by mrgrumpyninja1
Turning Japanese- Aaron Mai talks JDM,Grid Girls and raw horse
Aaron Mai is not a Maori…I learnt this the first time I met him and I am unsure to be honest why I had made that assumption. Turns out by chance that when he is in the country he resides very close to my family so I thought who better to add to the Lensman series than him.
He’s a pretty hard man to pin down with a number of engagements around the land of the rising sun keeping him busy, so here is his take on the world, interspersed with a selection of his favourite Japan based shots
Welcome, or is that konichiwa? Anyway, Could you please introduce yourself to the readers
I’m Aaron Mai, 27 years young and I shoot with Canon gear. I run 50D and a 7D body coupled up with a combination of glass, a 50mm f/1.8, 70-200 f/2,8, and a 17-85 f/4. I am based in Japan kicking it with the locals and shoot the ‘Tuning Japanese’ Section for NZPC as well as operating Maiham Media with my buddy Luke Huxham. I have been in Japan for just on six years now, (damn is it really that long!?)
I have loved motorsport since I was a young lad, I am a rallying-purist although my time in Japan has allowed me to appreciate other forms of motorsport. It has really opened my eyes to what can be done with cars, before moving to Japan, blow off valves, 18 inch chromes, and a audio systems were pretty much what I thought tuning was about. J-tuning gave me one heck of a wakeup call regarding that!
How long have you been taking photos for?
I have been taking photos for just on two and a bit years. However I spent a few years back around 99’ at the Rally New Zealand winding off reels of film (usually consisting of airborne stones and dust) on my Dad’s point and shoot Olympus camera. I loved having some photos to look back on from the events I went to spectate at (when I caught a car in the frame). After coming to Japan and attending all sorts of motorsport and events I decided I wanted to give photography a real go so went out and picked up my first SLR, which was the 50D. No point in going to all these fantastic events and not having anything to show for it. I have been on a steep self-taught learning curve ever since.
Talk me through your shoot planning process?
Usually in Japan I shoot either hard-parking or motorsport (predominantly D1 drifting). However for any hard-parking or event such as Tokyo Auto Salon it’s a case of scouring the Internet in the weeks leading up to the event to find what is new (and there is always plenty of new). Japanese people love to blog, especially car builders so it’s relatively easy to see the new cars that will be debuted early on the net if you know where to look. I use these photos to a: know what to shoot out of the insane amount of cars on display, and b: to try and think of what angles the cars look the best from, as well as any detail shots I might need.
As well as a bit of spying, arriving SUPER early to an event is one of my top priorities. It might sound a little obvious, but if anyone has ever seen the amount of people at Japanese tuning shows (250,000 over a weekend) they will know what I am talking about. Getting in early I will go and put my camera gear into the pressroom, grab a coffee and wander into the exhibition halls before they open to the public. I can get in a few important shots before the public swamp the place, although it primarily gives me time to hunt out where the cars I need are located, as well as see what kind of confined space they have been put into, and check things like how over-done the lighting is and also if they have covered the car in promo crap or a girl with nasty crooked teeth in a mini-skirt etc. The sheer size and amount of cars and parts on display at the Tokyo Auto Salon will blow your mind, to cover it in a day you need a game plan for getting everything captured.
Taking on an actual track-based event has much of the same prep involved and once again getting to the event early is a must. Usually at D1 drifting the cars are out and about on track from 6:45-7:00am, so this means there is plenty to catch in your lens before the official programme schedule even kicks off. A quick look at the days schedule so you know where are the best places to shoot and what time is a big help. One thing about the circuits over these ways is they are so damn big; don’t end up walking around in circles, as you will regret it. It’s great to have an idea of where to shoot qualifying, then the battles before going out on the circuit in the morning. It can get easy to just sit on one corner for long periods of time and shoot so to keep things mixed up certainly helps.
Recently too, I have been out with the likes of RWB and a bunch of Porsches, in these instances we just take over the highway and cruise along for rolling shots. If we hold people up well that’s just how it is. Find a nice backdrop to shoot against. The motto is shoot until someone kicks you out…then come back 15 minutes later and repeat process.
What’s your “hit” rate? How many images do you come back with from a shoot?
Shooting an individual car for a customer will usually consist of about 200-250 photos. I tend to overshoot a little, as I would rather have more to choose from than less. Tokyo Auto Salon is a bit of a shocker usually, in one day I will rattle off just under 1000 photos capturing anything that looks interesting as backtracking around the venue isn’t an option often. Shoot it or leave it.
You are living in a different country with different etiquette, are the Japanese easy or hard to work with?
For the most part living in Japan is great, I am used to the etiquette and mannerisms now so that’s no problem, however I quite often exercise my right as the dumb foreigner. In fact every time I come home I even find myself bowing to the supermarket staff, which makes for some awkward moments! I can’t really fault the Japanese people who I have met during my time over here.
If there are ever any small issues they will always go out of their way to ensure you are accommodated, often bending the rules for me and other foreign media. Drifting has provided me with rides with the D1 drivers, merchandise, and great hospitality at the events on many occasions. Private tuners are always willing to take time out of their busy schedules for interviews, taking cars out of the workshop for shooting, and such things. I can’t say I have really had any negative experiences, except for one count of fierce racism although the tuning marquee shall remain anonymous.
You must see some pretty odd things and have eaten some pretty odd stuff?
Where do I start? Japan is the land of weird and odd things. Fried chicken wing ice-cream was right up there on the list of weird foods, of course those filthy fermenting beans known as ‘natto’, my marinated raw-horse entrée, and fish eyes. There is something to creep out even those people with an iron-gut.
It’s great when you just eat it, don’t ever ask what you are eating until after you have eaten it. That’s my big bit of advice. The raw horse was great until I asked what it was! At least here you know Lassie won’t be served up as sashimi on a plate so you are safe in that regard.
Japan is not just the land of odd food, but on a daily basis I see something that will make me mutter to myself ‘only in Japan’. Police driving around with construction crash helmets on, Suzuki Alto’s with NOS kits, Hydraulic suspension scooters, squirt-ya-ass toilets with pinpoint accuracy, ‘guys’ wearing skirts, world’s worst driving, diet water in the convenience store, square watermelons, buying beer from vending machines, dogs in clothing, ah I could go on forever!
Tell me a little about the work you and luke huxham did with RWB?
RWB, well RAUH-Welt Begriff has been hands-down the best car related experience of my life in Japan, absolutely. The boss man, Mr Nakai from the get-go was so welcoming and after an article for NZPC was published, my buddy Luke and I created Maiham Media.
We work closely with Mr Nakai, as well as his good friends (customers) and shoot their cars for them as well as getting RWB in front of people. Luke looks after the video side of things and makes some insane videos and I look after the photography side of things. RWB is something that is larger than life and we do our best to capture that in a lens.
Kicking back at the workshop at night while Mr Nakai works on his latest creations has provided the base for a video and photoshoot we shot recently. Rather than focus on the machines we wanted people to see the man behind the builds. Mr Nakai is the most fascinating guy you will ever meet, builds at night, and sleeps by day. Designs without any paper and pencil, purely inspiration, and makes every individual car differently from the previous one. No two cars are the same.
We have also been able to link in with many of his long time friends and customers to shoot their own personal rides. Most recently we shot Shinji Yoshioka and his 964RS. We have done a lot of RWB media of late and continue to do so because there is never a dull moment at RWB. I often head out to the workshop if I have some spare time to just hang out as well because it’s just a great circle of people.
If you could shoot anything or anyone, anywhere, what would it be?
That is a difficult question. Mmmmm to be honest I would have to say it would be WRC rally Finland. I am a rallying man at heart and for any rally fan Finland is the pinnacle of events. The thing about WRC is that the photo opportunities are endless and every car comes through using different lines and speed, which makes each photo unique. It doesn’t get any better than a 5 left over a blind crest!
Outside of taking photos, what else do you do with your time?
I am a big downhill mountain biking fanatic, always have been. If I don’t have a camera in hand then getting out and about on the bike is what I enjoy doing. Currently I have an old school Giant ATX DH1 DH rig, and also a Giant STP Pro for a bit of street riding.
As well as the mountain biking, I am partial to a bit of travelling around Japan with my girlfriend Aya, some of the historical parts around Japan are insane. Went out for a weekend to a place called Nikko and the shrine built in the 1700’s was out of this world. New Zealand just doesn’t have stuff like that so it’s super cool to go and check out.
Adam Croy talked about “enthusiastic amateurs” , where do you think you sit in that scale?
Adam hit the nail on the head with what he had to say. The problem now is that with the price of SLR cameras getting much more affordable there are so many out taking photos at events now and some of the muppets I have encountered who get media credentials at events leaves me speechless at times.
I have been at the photography game now for two and a half years and would consider myself semi-pro. I am working hard to become a professional although this is not an easy thing to achieve. It is great being able to look up to guys like Adam as well as my good friend Dino Carbonare from Speedhunters, the quality of their work is nothing short of top-shelf. It is something that you can’t rush so the Mainland cheese men were very much correct!
When I go out and shoot I always try and look at things from a different angle, look for things other photographers might overlook, and just make advances in the quality of picture I take with every passing event. As Adam mentioned about the copycat photos coming up everywhere it is hard to keep things original now, as the price of good quality camera gear has dropped considerably over the last few years. This means there is a massive amount of photography out there, some good and some are straight out terrible!
I basically got into photography for keeping a nice record of the events I have seen and I am still to a large degree shooting for myself which I think is important.
I read a quote back when I started which I have never forgotten – ‘Owning a Canon doesn’t make you a photographer, it makes you a Canon user’ and I try and make sure that I put a little bit of me into every image.
Thanks for your time Aaron, I look forward to seeing what else you find on your travels.