Rinzi Ruiz: Candid Street Photography in Tokyo

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All images by Rinzi Ruiz. Used with permission.

If you go through the portfolio of Rinzi Ruiz, you’ll sort through loads of black and white street photographs. But some are in color. He became known for a blog called Street Zen, in which he posts images he makes on the street. But more than that, the dude just does some incredibly solid work.

The Phoblographer has had Rinzi on the ISO 400 podcast before, and has been familiar with his work for a while. But what street photographers will really apprecaite is his candidness. “After working at a company for 10 years one big lesson was how to live as a freelancer or I suppose some might call it unemployment.” says Rinzi–which sums up the life of a photographer being self-employed.

More of his work can be found on his website and his Instagram.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Rinzi: Looking back at my life I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures but my passion for photography started in 2008 after a well needed vacation to Guatemala. Not knowing much about digital cameras I bought a cheap point and shoot for the trip but it worked out pretty well and I came home with a lot of photos and memories. I received a lot of positive feedback from friends and it made me think about what I was doing and what I didn’t know about photography. I studied fine arts and graphics so I’ve always been a visual person but not studying photography I didn’t know much about the technical aspects of it. Curious, I began to research it online and read books I found at local stores. After reading through a few sites and sites with gear reviews I realized that my point and shoot wasn’t cutting it anymore so I bought my first DSLR and in doing that also started my gear acquisition syndrome. That DSLR was a great intro to shooting manually and using different lenses so I learned a lot from it.

Phoblographer: What made you get into street photography?

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Rinzi: While I was researching photography, a post on Photo.net came up that described what street photography was and my eyes widened and I became interested. Then I watched “Street Photography: Documenting the Human Condition” by Chris Weeks and read his ebook on Deviant Art called “Street Photography for the Purist”. This was towards the end of 2009 so there wasn’t much about street photography online compared to the year or two after so I went to the book store to look for more info.

There I found so much inspiration from photographers who’s work I began to look at such as Robert Frank, Roy DeCarava, Elliot Erwitt and Ray K. Metzker. The way their pictures made me feel and the way I connected to the way they saw the world changed the way I saw photography and changed the direction of my own journey in photography. I also saw going out and shooting the streets as good way to practice using my cameras and seeing with the different lenses I had acquired. Generally it combined two things I enjoyed which were exploring and taking pictures but I didn’t have to travel too far to do it.

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At that point in my life I was pretty stressed out from my work environment and also had found out my mother got breast cancer. I hadn’t done anything really creative in a long time either and felt the need to find myself again and do something that potentially could express some of the things I was feeling at the time. Shooting the streets and becoming a part of the street photography community really helped me during those times and they still do.

Phoblographer: You were laid off from your job and then you decided to become a photographer. What were some of the biggest lessons and the toughest things that you feel you’ve learned along the way?

Rinzi: After working at a company for 10 years one big lesson was how to live as a freelancer or I suppose some might call it unemployment. Well, it was basically was for a few years while I learned, assisted and got some experience. I was fortunate to have met photographers who encouraged me, taught me things and took me along on jobs so that I could see what it was like to be a working photographer.

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After a few bad experiences on my own I learned a huge lesson in how to say “no” and to trust my instincts about taking a potential job. Sometimes it’s not just the subject matter but the client themselves that make the experience a nightmare. I think all in all just having confidence and trusting myself in what I am capable of and what type of work I want to produce was the biggest lesson from the last few years.

Phoblographer: The majority of your work is in black and white, but you chose to do this Tokyo project in color. Why?

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Rinzi: I chose to do this Tokyo set in color because it just felt right. It produced the mood and feeling I felt when I saw those scenes that black and white wasn’t producing. It was in December of 2011 after I was laid off of work when I was there and it was during a time when I was still trying to find my voice and style so I was experimenting with different ways to process my photos. There’s a black and white Tokyo album in my Flickr stream but chose to only show a small set of what I felt were my best shots in color on my website.

Phoblographer: Lots of street photographers feel like color needs to be done right and there are many more complexities involved with the creation of images like that. What are your feelings on it?

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Rinzi: For the most part, I feel that people should do what they like, shoot in the style they like and produce work they’re happy with. But personally I don’t go too far with the processing with black and white or with color. Shooting digitally there’s so many ways to process a photo in color and there are presets and filters that make it look like a color film so it’s about consistency for me in a body of work or just a set of photographs that make them work.

Phoblographer: What often motivates you to get ready, pick up a camera, and actually shoot an image? Is it the light? The shapes? What do you often look for in a scene when you take photos?

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Rinzi: At this point I think I’ve trained my eyes to see light in a certain way so that’s usually on the top of the list and has sort of become part of how I see. There’s also certain things I see and I’m just compelled to take a photo of it. In those cases it does usually have a combination of elements such as light, shapes, subjects, story, context and emotion but once I’m out shooting I just trust my intuition and not think too much. I am becoming more and more particular with what I do take pictures of and out of those elements I would say the top 3 that would get me to pick up the camera and take the picture would be light, subject and emotion.

Phoblographer: How do you feel Tokyo differs from the more typical cities in the US like LA, NY, etc?

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Rinzi: Sure a lot of things are similar especially these days so I feel what is different are the people and culture. It more homogeneous there although there are those who want to stand out. It felt peaceful there and a bit more clean and organized. For example flying into Narita Airport and everything looks so pristine compared to flying into LAX where it feels sort of chaotic and looks dirty. I plan to return to Tokyo someday to be able to spend a longer time and see it in a different way especially with what I’ve learned about photography and myself since my last visit.

Phoblographer: What fascinates you about the streets and every day life to make you want to photograph it? Why not landscapes? Portraits? Weddings?

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Rinzi: It’s the not knowing exactly what I’ll see and photograph. The improvisation aspect of it all is a great part of it too. It’s really challenging. There’s the challenge of using available light so there are some limitations there. The challenge of framing and composing a moment in time that will never happen again. The challenge of getting something meaningful or even just good. I actually do simply enjoy taking pictures so other genres are fun for me to do to. I don’t go out and shoot landscape often but if I’m there like during a recent trip to Sedona I took landscape photos. I do like taking photos with people in it so that’s why I don’t go out to do landscape as often. Weddings and some portraits I consider work because my mind has to consider a lot of other things but the shooting the street is me time. It’s fun time. There’s no deadline and there’s no restrictions except for what I put on myself.

Phoblographer: In the past year, what do you feel is the most valuable skill that you’ve leaned as a photographer?

Rinzi: I think the most valuable skill I’ve learned is to be more specific. After a few years of experimenting, seeing in different ways, trying out things and failing, I’m more specific as to what I like and what I don’t like. Not that I don’t try new things anymore but I’m a little more confident and specific about what I’m doing.