On a dark and rainy night, bright and blinding lights approach a vacant lot, off a Japanese highway – just if Shibuya’s blinking neon signs decided to move themselves past you… However, it’s some proud and lonely trucker halting for a rest! Welcome to the world of Decotora, short for decorated trucks! This pretty colourful aspect of Japanese pop culture has been extensively explored by photographer Masaru Tatsuki who spent ten years with the truckers of Japan’s highways. Today PingMag walks over to Masaru’s current exhibition at Harajuku‘s Little More Chika gallery to catch up with him about his new photo book.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
To begin with, when did you start with photography?
As a child, I really wanted to make movies and after I graduated from high school, I started working for a small movie production company. Since a large number of staff were required to make one movie, I felt I wanted to express something a little different. Around that time, I went to a bookstore and found a photo book documenting cowboys: The photos portrayed eccentric Mexican cowboys and their families. It showed me a world I hadn’t known before as I was only familiar with ‘movie’ cowboys. So, I decided I would like to become a photographer, carry a camera, meet many kinds of people, talk to them and take their pictures!
And how did you get the idea of covering decorated trucks and their owners?
I found them simply interesting. It is always exciting to see these flashy trucks speeding down the highway! In the summer of 1998, I attended an event that brought together nearly a hundred of these trucks. It was really overwhelming to see them all and follow them around…
What do you mean by following them around?
Of course, a photograph is a way of capturing a moment. There must be a connection to it, or you haven’t captured anything. An example is the cowboy photo book I mentioned earlier. If the photographer just clicked the shutter, they would only be photos. But you have to get a feel for their lives and work! Photographers such as Diane Arbus or Nan Goldin gradually immersed themselves into the things they wanted to photograph, and their pictures really piece themselves into the subject. I find them very attracting: Even the ones that are not taken well are still good, so I thought I had to give that style a try.
You spent a full ten years amongst the truckers. What did you learn about their way of living?
About two or three years into the project, I realised that the trucks rather than the drivers were being overly emphasised in the photographs. Because if you don’t define your subject, the subject defines itself. So I started going to meetings where large numbers of truckers would gather. They were all very outgoing, and I gradually felt welcomed into their community. Then, I started to discover things I respected about them – and things I didn’t like. For the first time, I felt I really knew the truckers. I realised that they possess a sense of masculinity that is dying out in Japan. I could also understand their feeling of wanting to decorate the tools they use for work.
People are surprised that I spent ten years on this project, but it simply takes time to really understand something. And I wanted to really understand the things I wanted to express. That is why it took so long.
By now, you stopped taking pictures of Decotora. Is there any particular image that sticks with you?
If I had to name the most powerful one in the collection, I would say it is the one on the cover: It was raining hard that night, and the wet asphalt was reflecting the truck lights. It seemed so lonely, parked there, just like a person. I feel that photographing the decotora and their drivers will really stay with me. I learned a lot about people and photography!
Lastly, what are your next projects?
I would like to photograph the Tohoku Region: It is becoming urbanised, but the manners and landscapes remain. I find that this is a representative state of Japan today. And I am excited about starting a new project from square one.
Cover of Decotora, 1998-2007 Japanese Art Truck Scene published by Little More.
Yo! Photographer Masaru Tatsuki.
Masaru Tatsuki, thanks for introducing us to the bright-lit world of Decotora today!
Masaru Tatsuki’s “Decotora” Photo Exhibition
Venue: Little More Chika gallery, Tokyo.
Until Sunday, February 3rd.
Open: From 12 to 7pm.