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Interview with Photographer Mark Kawakami

Besides being a creative director, blogger, entrepreneur, Mark Kawakami’s photography is a favorite of speed sites of the two and four-wheel variety. In this interview Mark, tells us how he really got going with photography, why his blog focuses on the personal side of motorcycle and car builders, and who he’d love to shoot if he had a time-machine.

chris broders
Jamie O'Brien

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“From an early age I knew I was going to make a living doing art in some way. I would always be drawing something when I was growing up. As I made my way through high school I started to focus on going to art school to get my degree. So after high school I applied and got accepted to Otis Parson School Of Design in Los Angeles.”
– mark kawakami


Read the full interview with Mark Kawakami after the jump below…


More about Mark
During my time at Otis Parson Art School I worked on getting my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Communication Design. After graduating in 1990 I did various intern jobs doing graphic design work before settling into my current position as the creative director at Body Glove International. Over the last few years I created Joyrides Art Company as an outlet for creative freedom with no outside distraction or burden of having to make money from it. It was purely for the joy of meeting new people and shooting photographs of the things I like. As I continued with Joyrides I was asked to join into another venture with two of my close friends Brandon Holstein and “Denver” Dan Begakis. We started up a company called “The Speed Merchant” that produces motorcycle parts and apparel geared to the Harley Davidson and Triumph crowds. My position with The Speed Merchant is to handle the creative and marketing activities.

How did you get introduced to photography? When did it become apparent that this was your calling?
I got introduced to photography when the photographer for Body Glove left. With the position open I jumped at the opportunity to expand my creative skills to a new medium. I had a little bit of knowledge of photography from taking a class in art school, but I still had a lot to learn! At that time I was shooting slide film so I was trying to figure out how to get the right exposures and what films to use. Most of my shooting at the time was to shoot our team riders out surfing or doing lifestyle shoots on the beach. I was fortunate to have two local surf photographers help me out when I needed it.

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 Mark Kawakami

When sizing up a subject or shot, what’s the first thing you focus on?
Lighting. What time of day it is and how the subject is being lit up.

Capturing that perfect slice of time – how do you know where you need to be for a shot?
There are so many variables that go into capturing the perfect slice of time. Subject matter, lighting, angle of the shot, etc. Sometimes it’s just plain luck that plays into getting that perfect shot.

How have you evolved as a photographer from your first days at this craft?
Going digital. That’s the biggest jump in how my photographs have changed. The other part was the introduction to flash photography and my growing understanding on how to control light.

Eryk Frias

Your best shots, do they come from perfect planning or accidents?
My best shots did come from planning but it wasn’t what I originally set out to do and came out with a different look. Some of my best shots are by accident.

If you could shoot any event in the world… 
I would have loved to have shot the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship game where the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in Kings History!

“There are so many variables that go into capturing the perfect slice of time. Subject matter, lighting, angle of the shot, etc. Sometimes it’s just plain luck that plays into getting that perfect shot.”

You shoot a lot of motorcycles and cars, how did you become known for these subjects?
Early on I got a lot of support from guys like Barry Lacour (Top Shelf Customs), Chopper Dave (Chopper Dave Casting Co.) and Denver Dan (The Speed Merchant). Those three were the biggest help in the beginning and I probably got to where I am now because of them. Those guys would contact people they knew and would open the doors for me. Social media was the next major tool that helped people find me. When I started a blog it put me out there both domestically and internationally. I was blown away that I started getting contacted by people in far away places that I would never would have dreamed about being exposed to. Social media is great when used correctly.

Eric 60 Olds


Your blog is a really good read, what kind of stories are you trying to tell? 
Most motorcycle or car magazine focuses on the bikes/cars and the builds. Mostly technical information and never an in-depth interview with the builder. I wanted to capture the personal side of these guys, to hear their stories. I wanted to hear how they got into motorcycles or custom cars. What influences them and how they go about their business. I was also more focused on the guys who build stuff in their garages or have shops on a small-scale and not big multi-million dollar operations.

john edwards

Your motorcycle of choice, and can you tell me about it? 
I am currently working on an 81’ Shovelhead that I hope to have done sometime this year. It all depends on finances. It’s pretty tough to spend money on your hobbies when you have a family to support!

 Mark Kawakami
Photographer that has inspired you the most? 
There are several photographers that inspire me. Mike Balzer and John Eckmier were my early influences when I started shooting. As I started shooting custom cars, girls and choppers it was David Perry that became a big influence. Adam Wright was also influential on how I approached making my photographs available in book form and how I shot subjects in a lifestyle approach.

cheyne magnusson
Most challenging shoots?
Working with professional surfers. They hate doing photo shoots that don’t involve surfing and when the waves are firing you have zero chance of getting them to cooperate.

Favorite shoot?
My trip to Japan a few years back traveling with our surf team. I had never been out of the US that far away and it was great to see some of my own culture up close and personal. It was nice that everything was paid for so the experience didn’t cost me a dime.

There’s 30 seconds to leave for a shoot, and you can only bring one camera and lens. What do grab?
My Canon5D and EF 24-105mm Lens.


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You’ve just been given a blank check to go shoot anywhere in the world for a week – where would you go and why?
Europe. I would love to see the places of WWII and see the beaches of Normandy. It’s a huge part of our history that a great deal of soldiers lost their lives to give us our freedom that we all enjoy.

Imagine you could photograph anyone from the past – who would that be?
Hands down, Bruce Lee. His vision of breaking the rules in Martial Arts still has relevance today. He was the real deal and not just an action hero created by Hollywood.

Rusty Malinoski

What has photography taught you?
It has taught me to enjoy what I do and appreciate the friends that I have.

Best place to relax and grab some grub in your neighborhood? 
Best place to relax and grab some grub is Captain Jacks in Sunset Beach. The best crab legs and steak dinner around!

How would your friends describe you? 

“Mark is one of my best homies. His genuineness comes out in everything he does. Whether it is his photography or just in the conversations you have with him, everything is pure. He’s definitely someone I look up to and admire.”
– Andrew Quinones (Multi-Media Communications Specialist – Las Vegas, NV)

“Mark is motivated about his passions, family, work, friends and hobbies. More reliable than anyone I have ever dealt with and is extremely generous with his time, skills and knowledge. He’s one who looks out for his friends as much or more than he does for himself. Ask anyone who knows him.”

– Barry Lacour (Owner Top Shelf Customs – Huntington Beach, CA)

powerplant norton

What’s next for you? 
I’m not sure. I just focus on what I have on my plate now and not worry about what is next until I need to.

+ Source: Mark Kawakami