There are those who are in-tune with the details and nuances of passing everyday moments and those who simply let life breeze by. Taro Moberly is undoubtedly part of the former group. An expat from California now living in Japan, Moberly’s photography is an experiment in both gaining a greater understanding of his ancestral roots and a documentation of modernity existing in harmony with ingrained tradition, a subject that’s especially compelling in Japan. His work expertly weaves through the streets of Kyoto, chronicling significant but passing instants that would have otherwise been lost to the shuffle of time: a couple comfortably sharing an umbrella on a darkening avenue, a woman donning a traditional kimono staring down at her cell phone, falling cherry blossoms framing a stranger as he sits thoughtfully alone, to name but a few. These instances are significant not for their rarity (they happen every day) but because someone took the time to truly notice them - a skill Moberly deftly brings to each and every one of his shots.
How long have you been a photographer and what initially drew you to the profession?
That’s hard for me to answer because my journey with photography has been on and off. My interest in it started when I was in high school. As a kid my dad was into photography and I always found myself playing with his expensive cameras. I took some photography classes in high school and then I went off to university and kind of stopped with the whole photography thing for a couple of years.
Then in 2015 when I moved to Japan, I found myself picking up the camera a lot more. Obviously, being in a new place with new things to see and take photos of…photography became a very natural thing for me to do, and it's stuck ever since.
You moved to Japan from California. What was the impetus behind such a huge move and why did you choose Kyoto over other Japanese cities?
My mother's family is Japanese, so when I was young, I spent a lot of time visiting family here in Japan. My grandmother still lives nearby. I always thought, in the back of my mind, that I would like to try actually living here and not just visiting over summer vacation.
It had been a long time since I came back to visit my family in Japan, and in 2014 I came back to visit my grandmother. She’s still around now, but she was getting older at the time and we were worried that, you know, we might not be able to see her again. I came over to Japan and it rekindled my love of the country and that dream of wanting to live here. Soon after, I found an opportunity to move over by initially getting a job teaching English, which is one of the main ways that foreigners can move to Japan. Luckily enough, that job placed me really close to Kyoto which I'm fortunate for because that's where my family is based.
Why did you decide to photograph the cityscapes of Kyoto?
It was one of those things where I just wanted to take photos of things that were different at first, but then moving to Kyoto I realized that everything is different. The city around me, the people were different. Everything just seemed very photogenic no matter what it was. It could have even been someone walking down the street, a street sign, a lantern hanging in front of a restaurant. It was just so different to what I was used to that I had to document it.
I still find myself taking photos all around the city, whether it's temples, the cityscape itself or people, it’s all very interesting.
Are there certain parts of Kyoto that you find the most inspiring to photograph?
Kyoto has a very traditional background and there are some neighborhoods that really do a good job of preserving that. There are a lot of temples and architecture. Admittedly, it’s a little tourist heavy recently. Especially after COVID, there's a lot of tourism going on and it definitely caters towards that market, but it still has a very traditional sense which I find myself gravitating towards. I also enjoy the contrast between Kyoto and the rest of Japan, which is very technologically advanced, and seeing the tradition in the modern urban.
Many of your photographs from In Kyoto had been taken in the snow or rain, or when the sky was blanketed by clouds. Was this a deliberate choice?
I find myself taking more photos when the weather is bad. I don't know what originally drew me to it but having an element of rain or snow falling through the sky adds a unique texture to the photos that I really, really enjoy. Also, subject matter like people shielding themselves with umbrellas when it's raining gives the photos a sense of anonymity. You can look at a photo and think, “Oh, I could easily be in this position.”
With rain and snow, a lot of people try to shy away from this kind of weather. It’s not something you would normally want to experience. I like to put myself out there into those kinds of situations…
Giving us that cozy feeling without us having to go out there ourselves?
What does your process look like for creating these images? Do you have a certain routine?
I try to change it up every time. Usually if I'm going out into the city to take photos I don't really plan anything beforehand. It’s just kind of a matter of decisions made on a moment's notice.
I often go out without a plan and see where I end up going and what photos I end up taking. Sometimes I'll have a good day and take hundreds of photos in a day. Other days I will have walked around the entire city without even taking my camera out just because I didn't see anything that inspired me, or the conditions weren’t what I wanted. Every day is different.
Obviously if there are things going on like cherry blossoms or if there’s a snowy or rainy day there's a little bit more of an effort to go and document those things. But for the most part, I hate to say that I don’t have too much of a process. I just go with the flow and see what happens.
Are you currently working on creating images for another collection?
I try to document most of the things that happen in my life, so the pictures that I take vary based on what I'm interested in at the time. Obviously with In Kyoto, the photos showcase how I saw the city for the first five-ish years of me living there.
Recently, with COVID, I've taken more of an outdoors approach. I’ve been going to the mountains a lot more and photographing landscapes, so that’s something I've been playing around with. We’ll see what happens. I still go out and shoot in Kyoto and other cities like Osaka and Nara quite a bit so that's a continuation of course, but I like to dabble in other things as well.