Pierre Melion’s Documentary Photography of a Vanishing Japanese Fish Market

All images by Pierre Melion. Used with permission.

Photographer Pierre Melion is on a mission to relate the tale of a piece of Japanese culture that’s going to disappear in one way or another. The project is called the The Tsukiji Compromise and focuses on a Japanese fish market that’s being levelled to make room for an Olympic Town. Pierre’s cinematic images do a wonderful job of telling the story.

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

Pierre: The way I got into photography, was through skateboarding. When I picked up a camera for the first time, I wanted to try and capture the movement and explosiveness of skateboarding, but having no understanding of the different variables concerning image making, those images didn’t quite turn out as expected.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into documentary work?

Pierre: With photography, I like to capture things which are both factual and real. But I didn’t initially intend to pursue a path of creating documentary work, it just so happens that the way I shoot can easily be classified as documentary photography. I feel that the confines of portraying a subject in a “real” way challenges the way I incorporate subjective creativity into a factual environment or moment.

Phoblographer: So tell us about this project. What attracted you to it and made you want to document it while it’s still around? Does it have a close, emotional place in your heart?

Pierre: The Tsukiji Compromise came about as an intended project when I discovered that there were delays in the Tsukiji market’s relocation to Toyosu. As I’ve previously shot project’s on different areas concerning the fishing industry, I felt I had to take this opportunity to visit the world’s largest fish market in it’s historic state before it was too late.

Phoblographer: What photographers have influenced you and the way you work? How?

Pierre: Corey Arnolds, Ragnar Axelsson, and Sebastiao Salgado have been massive influences on my approach to photography. At first, I didn’t really enjoy shooting people as subjects, because of the subject’s awareness of the camera taking away the “realness” of the work I produced. Although, the work of these three photographers enabled me to see a side of photography where people can be incorporated as subjects without taking away the realness of the images.

Phoblographer: When you go about taking photos of people in the environment, how do they often act towards you? Are they unhappy? Do you interact with them?

Pierre: It depends. A lot of people just turn a blind eye to you when you’re shooting and carry on with what they we’re doing. Others, seem to automatically lock on to you when you have a camera, and start yelling at you to get away from their stall – I even got shoved in the back for just walking past one of the stalls which had a no photography sign, because I had a camera around my neck.

I didn’t expect the market to be a super kind and friendly place, but that’s what makes it so special for me, the fact that it’s still so raw and serves such a purpose for the people of Tokyo.

Phoblographer: So you’ve mixed analog and digital together for this project? Why? Tell us about the gear you used.

Pierre: To be completely honest, the reason why I shot both analog and digital for this project, was because I couldn’t decide which medium to use prior to shooting. I wanted to convey the essence of history and time within the market through analogue film, but still wanted to an objective perspective on such a unique space through digital.

As a result, I decided to experiment with both and see if I could create a series of images using both analog and digital, in a way that conveyed both a subjective and objective representation of Tsukiji

Phoblographer: So do you actually think that the fish market will return?

Pierre: Speaking literally, yes, it will return. What will disappear, is the true essence of the market. Tsukiji is a place where people hand down their market stalls and knowledge through younger generations. Their trade is very much based on trust, whereby customer’s purchase from individual vendors based on the relationships they’ve made. The relocation to a new site will strongly affect these variables, which can unfortunately harshly affect the magic of Tsukiji.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.