Asahi Shimbun: Camera Boys and Idols in Japan
Six months ago, Pitra wrote on his experience as a photographer of JKT48 performances. As fan photographers become more common in Indonesia, that has not always been the case in Japan, where photography of idol performances are often prohibited these days. However, as reported in Asahi Shimbun Digital last week, that practice is slowly changing.
“Miracle Shot” is back: “Camera Boys” and Idols, now co-existing
“Camera Boys” who follow idols’ activities (to take pictures of them) first rose as a phenomenon in the 1980s. It has been a long time since they vanished, but because of the idol boom in recent years, they are appearing again under a somewhat different guise. How is, then, the current habitat of such “Camera Boys”?
Take-san is a known figure among idol fans. His picture of Kanna Hashimoto (16 years old), member of the Fukuoka local idol group Rev. from DVL, was a huge topic on SNS and propelled the young idol to national stardom. Fans call that picture a “Miracle Shot”.
It was 2009 when Take-san truly started his career as idol photographer. Thinking that he wanted them to gain popularity, he started posting photos of the idols he was cheering for, such as Manaminorisa and others. Eventually he became interested in Rev. from DVL and started going to their live performances. It seems that Kanna Hashimoto would make funny faces on purpose every time Take-san pointed his camera at her. He continued all the same, aiming to capture dynamic shots.
The miracle shot was taken in May 2013, and in November of the same year it spread like wildfire through the Internet. Take-san’s blog’s views climbed from 1,000-something to ten times more. TV channels and magazines rushed to request Kanna Hashimoto’s presence. Take-san continued to search for subjects to photograph. “People call them miracles, but it was not I that caused them, it is always the idols.”
“Camera Boys”, idol photographers, first rose to fame in the 1980s because of cases of the sale of risqué photos taken at idol live shows to magazines. Talent agencies began to enforce their publicity rights toward editors, and as taking photos turned taboo in live performances so the “Camera Boys” vanished from sight.
In recent years, though, idols have increased exponentially in number, changing the situation. Under permission from management, a new type of Camera Boys appeared—they would post the idols’ pictures on various SNS, in order to raise their popularity. As idol researcher Masahiro Kitagawa says, “For recent idols, who sell familiarity with the public, photos are a way of communicating with fans. The past Camera Boys were semi-professionals, and sometimes trouble would spark in the venue, but the current ones purely contribute to their idols. They have a relationship of mutual co-existence.”
Famous idol groups still mainly keep the no-photography rule except in particular events, and taking photos of Kanna Hashimoto too has become harder after her rise to fame, but in the case of idols still on the way to the top, (taking photographs) is instead welcomed. Aries Entertainment (Usa☆Usa Shojo Club, etc.) CEO Kazuaki Watanabe allows the usage of cameras in the live shows sponsored by his company. In the beginning, there were also incidents of attrition between camera boys and fans simply there to cheer, but they disappeared over time, and fans using their cellphones’ camera function increased too. The members themselves started paying more attention to cameras and their own expressions.
“The fans who like photos take cute shots of the members, and spreading them on SNS acts as PR too,” says Watanabe. In Aries Entertainment’s live shows, fans take pictures while jumping and cheering. Bashamichi-san, who was taking photos in a GIRLS4EVER show, says that “when members say they saw my pictures on the SNS, I’m happy and feel like focusing on it more and more.”
In Akihabara, Tokyo, “photo sessions” with idols are popular too. In the weekends, the venues of such events are packed with amateur photographers. Many of them, after obtaining proper permission, post the photos on their blogs. The idol Arisa Machida (19 years old) pulls up her hair, gets on her knees, and answers all the cameramen’s requests. Some fans become frequent customers too. It’s her third year of participating to such events; “it makes me happy when they tell me that I’ve started to look like an adult.” Will a “miracle” appear here too?
Original article by Motohiro Oonishi for Asahi Shimbun Digital.