CREATE. BALANCE. IMAGERY.
Three words Nagi Sakai uses to describe a day on set with him. The Tokyo-born, Cairo-raised photographer dove into the arts at 10 years old and has been creating ever since. In the 80s, he would (like many of us) flip through his mother’s issues of Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire. “I loved how the women would look… And if there was a topless shot: Score! (laughs)” Even though he started with painting, Mr. Sakai stopped everything after crossing paths with famed Japanese fashion photographer, Naoki Ishizaka, which led him to develop his skill set into the beautiful images we see today flipping through glossies.
Mr. Sakai’s images have a very crisp and clean signature look, always playing with space and colors. Although he has photographed his fair share of supermodels (Cindy Crawford, Anne Vyalitsyna, Jessica Stam, Hilary Rhoda, Karolina Kurkova) as well as talented celebrity fashion-girls like Léa Seydoux and Milla Jovovich, he aspires to work with Malgosia Bela and shoot for Vogue Paris. “I think the day I shoot for Vogue Paris, is the day I can say I have a ‘successful career’.”
Here, Mr. Sakai shares some of his favorite images, recaps memories of a snowstorm, and talks inspiration, in an exclusive interview with Playing Fashion.
I MET NAOKI ISHIZAKA IN TOKYO
I began interning and moved up from being his 3rd assistant to his 1st over a course of 5-6 years. I was also testing and shooting in Cairo, Egypt and studied at the American University of Cairo. I would be back and forth from Cairo to Tokyo every year.
CASTING IS KEY
You can tell from my pictures, I like women. Not 16-17 year old girls. I like them strong, powerful, sexy, but also elegant, chic and sophisticated. Same for my men. Young models (male or female) still don’t understand their sexuality. For my photographs, models need to know how to move and be in the moment.
A GOOD MODEL PUTS ALL OF THEIR TRUST IN YOU
There is always a concept and direction for a story, but once we start shooting, we build on top of it. After there is a connection, I let them go loose. That is where something unexpected gets captured and that is always amazing.
ON SET, I LISTEN TO A LOT OF 80S ELECTRO ROCK:
Depeche Mode, Genesis, etc. I also love powerful hip-hop and classical music. I speak a lot with my subject when I’m shooting, so I tend to keep volumes at a normal level.
ONE OF MY MOST MEMORABLE SHOOTS WAS
around 7 years ago. We were in Lake Louis, Canada on top of a glacier, and out of nowhere a snowstorm was heading our way and we had nowhere to go. We had to ride it out and shoot in it. It was so scary, as there were holes in the glacier that can go down pretty far!
I STAY INSPIRED BY RESEARCHING
I dig very deep into 60s, 70s, and 80s era photography and watch old movies. I also find inspiration from day-to-day stuff, but you need to be attentive to recognize it.
Getting married to the love of my life in October. (smiles) Other priorities would be finding balance in my hectic schedule and to keep fine-tuning my profession.
Photography by Nagi Sakai.