“If I see life there, I like it,” says Atsushi Nishijima softly, while paging through a stack of his photography publications. Nishijima, who goes by Jima, is a New York City-based photographer whose ability to capture spontaneous moments has garnered him a list of clients ranging from Engineered Garments to Inventory Magazine to Arc’teryx Veilance to Nike. His catalogue of work roams freely from black-and-white to color, but always exudes non-scripted freedom — people with their hair down, in motion, lacking pretension. And it’s these serendipitous moments that make Jima’s work human, and powerfully engaging.
Jima’s street photography highlights a wide range of quirky people — homeless men sleeping in the afternoon, old women with bright shoes in the dead of winter, tourist families caught in the chaos of Midtown. To achieve a natural quality in his photographs, he capitalizes on fleeting moments. “Photography is about the subject, and less about me,” he says. “When I shoot on the street, I usually just have one chance — I take one shot and leave.” Though Jima has a strong aesthetic style, he acknowledges how chance plays a major role in day-to-day shooting. “I’m not always looking for the moment, usually it naturally happens.”
Photography was not always a passion for Jima. In fact, he had no interest in it until he moved to the United States after finishing high school in Shinzuoka, Japan. While pursuing a liberal arts degree, 20-year-old Jima was turned on to photography by a roommate, who encouraged him to take a darkroom class in which he studied black-and-white photography. Developing film fascinated him and, being an introverted student who was new to the country, the decision-making process was empowering. He notes, “Through photography, even though I wasn’t saying anything, the picture I decided to print is the piece I like — I didn’t need to say I like it.”