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Artist Spotlight - Tanigawa Tori

By Angelyn Labadan


1. First, give us a short introduction!


Hi! I’m Tori. I’m going to be a senior at University of San Diego in San Diego, CA, USA. I study visual arts and was at TUJ for the fall semester in 2019 studying abroad. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ and spent my summers in Osaka with family. Aside from that, I’m a big fan of traveling, good food and strong coffee.

1a. Having studied abroad at TUJ for Fall 2019, did you gain any new influences or ideas for your art?

Ooh, that’s a good question. Shinya’s digital photo class forced me to put down my film camera, and up until then I hadn’t shot digitally for a fine art purpose.


I shot a series for his class in some of the love hotels in Dogenzaka, which was my first experience coordinating a staged shoot without other photographer friends giving their input as well.


That was really fun and definitely pushed me to make photos that I hadn’t previously thought were possible on a digital camera, if that makes sense. But Tokyo is so photogenic. I could find a way to make art out of anything in that city.


2. Describe briefly the work that you do.


I work mostly in analog photography. I’m a big fan of color film and am going to start exploring alternative processes this summer, like combining various chemicals with black and white prints. We’ll see where that goes. I also shoot photos for fun, like of friends and places, just to capture moments. I carry a camera with me everywhere. I paint pretty often too, but the medium I work in most right now is analog photography for sure.


3. How did you get introduced to your craft?


I got into photography as an art form my sophomore year of college. I had a professor for that class who I now work with closely who really pushes me to break boundaries with my photos. She’s incredible.


4. What themes do you pursue?


Color theory and palettes are a dominant trend throughout all of my work. Also, surrealism. That same professor I mentioned above always describes my photos as being lyrical; I think they’re also very dreamlike.

I’m starting a project for a grant this summer that is going to focus on the idea of otherness and the relationships between subject and artist.


How do we make art about a people/place/culture of which we are not a part while still respecting that otherness, of both ourselves and our subjects?


That is a big question that I work with a lot too.


5. How do you work/what is your process like?


I work entirely in the moment. I’m awful at planning. I’ll find a location for a shoot and some people to shoot with, but other than that I really don’t plan anything. It’s all in the moment based on the light, or the energy, or the colors of the place. I’m big on improvising hahaha.





6. Do you have any long-standing influences?


For painting: Rothko, Pollock, and Kusama for sure. I love abstraction and artists who push boundaries by doing things that are unconventional and raise eyebrows.


For photos, I love Annie Leibovitz, Slim Aarons, and Sarah Bahbah, who’s a more modern photographer. Actually, I think she’s only in her mid-twenties. Anyway.


7. How do you want your work to affect your audience?


I love breaking conventions and making people ask questions, making people uncomfortable. I want my work to make people think or confuse them a little. We spend so much time absorbing that is fed to us by various media outlets, and we rarely sit down and think for ourselves. I want my work to shatter that to pieces. Question your world view, be curious.


8. Can you describe your idea of artistic success?


See, here’s the thing. I’ve always held the view that once we as artists start trying to measure the success of our work based on anything other than ourselves, the purpose of making art is lost.


I make art for the sake of making art, because it’s both something I love and also something I would lose my sanity without.


Artistic success is making work you’re proud of, work you’re happy with, work that challenges you and teaches you something.


The day I start measuring the “success” of my work based on the opinions of other people or the monetary value of a piece is the day I lose my sense of self, I think.



9. What are your plans for the future?


Oh jeez. Well, this summer I’m making work with a grant I received from my school. Long term, like career wise, I want to go into graphic design, publication design, or some other field that utilizes creativity without having to rely on my fine artwork for a living. I plan to travel, though, for sure. Maybe I’ll move back to Tokyo, who knows? I’m terrible at planning.

10. Let’s talk about one of your most recent and favorite projects:

“Love Hotel Chronicles” and “Dunes”


Ooh. Okay I have two.


The first is what I called “Love Hotel Chronicles”, which I shot digitally in Hotel ZeroII in Dogenzaka. Two friends came with me: one who was also studying abroad in Tokyo last fall, and one who goes to TUJ full-time. My intention with those photos was to create something beautiful in a place where beauty is not typically found, defy the expectations of subject and place. I wanted people to see these and think “wait, she shot those in a love hotel??” I think I succeeded but draw your own conclusions.





The second project is “Dunes”, a series shot on color film in the sand dunes between San Diego and Arizona. I went out there twice with friends who are also Art Majors at USD. We brought mirrors, reflectors, and a chair and slid up and down the sand for hours. I had to get my camera cleaned out after the second trip because it was full of sand from the winds being so strong. The ideas of unconventionality and surrealism are dominant ones in this series for sure. But like I said, I just find locations for shoots and wing it from there. The best photos I’ve taken are all the ones that happen in the spur of the moment.




I love both of these projects for the resulting photos, obviously, but also because they were so, so fun. The people I shoot with are half the project, and in both cases the energy of the shoots was insane. When you bring together creative minds who all start working together, crazy things start happening—I swear the air buzzes.


Like yeah, the photos are awesome and I’m really happy with them, but the experiences of the shoots themselves make them my favorites for sure. Watching my friend talk to the woman behind the front desk at ZeroII, sinking knee deep into sand for a shot, like those memories are what make these projects special, you know?



Be sure to check out more of Tori's work via her:

Instagram | Website



Thank you Tori for taking the time to talk with us!

Artist Spotlight is a series hoping to promote local creatives from TUJ and beyond. We aim to cover a diverse range of artists from a variety of fields, so please follow us to find out about aspiring artists and more!

Contact us if you want your work to be featured or know an artist who’s a good fit to our mission and you think deserves more attention!


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