You may not know Alfie Goodrich by name, but if you live in Japan chances are you know his work. From Pocari Sweat to Ferrari, this English-born shooter has created global campaigns for some of the biggest brands in Japan and beyond. His schedule is insane, but he was kind enough to sit down and give his thoughts on photography, models, and what it means to be a creative in Japan.
CP: What does Japan offer a professional photographer that say, England doesn’t?
AG: I think it’s more like what does Japan offer a non-Japanese professional photographer, because one of the advantages for me being in Japan is my being foreign. Before 2008 and the Lehmann crash, lots of companies, magazines, and people commissioning photography would send someone from their country out to Japan to shoot an assignment. Budgets had been falling before Lehmann, but that episode changed things again and since then I have seen far more people commission local photographers here in Japan from abroad.
My Japanese isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s enough to live and work here and get the job done. That’s also attractive to overseas clients; a photographer who knows the local language. Plus, especially as far as Tokyo is concerned, I have spent a number of years walking and shooting in a lot of the city, so I know it well: the visual appeal of certain neighbourhoods as backdrops or sets for photography, where you can get specific views or scenes shot. That local knowledge is valuable for a client. I’ve even made money just location scouting for companies, without shooting for them. Local, on the ground experience is a commodity.
CP: That local experience has kept you in demand in the commercial print world for years, but you’re moving into fashion. What makes that type of photography exciting to you?
AG: I shoot all sorts of work right now – with clients ranging from Otsuka [the Pocari Sweat people], Mazda, Ferrari, Seino, Subway, a lot of inflight magazines from all over the world. But, yes, fashion is what I’d really like to concentrate on in the future. I like working with models. I work in the studio sometimes of course, but for me the most interesting fashion the stuff I shoot on location. This goes back to what I said about Tokyo being like a movie set. And it’s not just Tokyo, I’ve done location fashion shoots and fashion photography workshops in Kyushu, Tohoku, Osaka and other places. Seeing somewhere, seeing potential in it to be a location for fashion, picturing the model in the scene, pre-visualizing everything and then going out and realising it in the camera: that’s exciting and very rewarding for me and for the models. The studio is about conjuring something out of nothing. Creating a look with light and shade and four white walls and some props. It’s fun. But I have more fun taking the city that people walk through every day and pay no attention to and turning that into the set for a fashion photograph.
CP: You’re so good at finding an amazing backdrop in the everyday, so key for on-location fashion work. So… for beginning models, what do you look for?
AG: Nothing is clear-cut. There’s no definitive ‘Ten Things You Look For In A Model’ list. For me it’s all about the personality. The ability to carry off a look, come on board with a ‘story’, a scenario that the clothes and the setting conjure up. Photography is a process of story-telling. Selling clothes to people is a partly selling a feeling, a lifestyle, a story… a fantasy. So, one of the things that I truly value in a model is that ability to ‘act’ convincingly in front of the camera. A good model is a chameleon. Not to put it on in a fake sort of way, but be able to transform naturally at the flick of a switch.
CP: If you’re working with first-time models, how can they prepare for the shoot? What do you do to help them prepare on set? What should they bring? Any posing advice?
AG: I think the biggest thing with any collaborative endeavour – be it 100 people getting together to build a bridge over a river, or a model and photographer going out to shoot – is that everyone concerned is on the same page. That doesn’t mean, with the model shoot, that one needs everything set in stone and planned as much as you would if you were building that bridge.
There should be flexibility built into the shoot so people can improvise. But getting an idea of a style of shooting, a feeling, an atmosphere… that’s important. And often the best way to do that is for me to collect some images together to offer a sense of what I want to try and achieve. I used to do that with scrapbooks—now I do it with Tumblr. I collect images that I like, that have a sense or flavour of what I want to shoot. Or images that have a sense of style I think that particular model can achieve and I share them with the model. For shoots I also often put those images onto a ‘mood board‘ with other pics, of the location etc.
CP: Any additional advice you have for new models, especially for foreign women hoping to work in Japan?
AG: Try and build connections with known photographers in the city. Approaching them may not be as difficult as it might seem. If I’m not busy, I’ll go out with new models just to have some shooting practice. And the lessons I do for my students can be a good way for a model to spend a few hours getting some great shots for her folio. Building a decent folio is always hard. There have always been a lot of people out there calling themselves photographers. The digital revolution has increased that. Finding a photographer with ideas, with good work, with a following for their work online.
And don’t be afraid to find some creative people to collaborate with first without any money changing hands. If they are really creative, the investment is just your time and the result will be worth more than money.
To learn more about Alfie and his work: