Naoto Akimoto lived in a homeless shelter in poverty stricken Japan

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Naoto Akimoto is featured as part of a BJP partnership with Magnum Photos after he came top-of-the-class in a Tokyo workshop with Bruce Gilden.

Gilden hosted one of three workshops in collaboration with The Nippon Photography Institute in Shibuya, Tokyo.

costing 150,000 yen (£843.71) for each participant, where he provided mentoring to develop students’ storytelling through daily shoots; with the aim of gathering a project by the end of the week. Gilden selected the final portfolio of Akimoto as the best – he won a Fujifilm camera, the Fuji X100T.

“Initially Naoto showed me quite pedestrian documentary photographs that I think he took at a homeless shelter in Yokohama,” says Gilden. “I told him that I thought he had to get much closer. When he showed up two days later with new images from the same place, the class and I were astounded.

“He had done a masterful job: he was much closer and had exposed the men’s souls. This, combined with his hard work and dedication – he was spending all night at the shelter – make quite a promising future for him.”

BJP speaks to Naoto about his Magnum workshop.

Why did you decide to sign up to the Magnum workshop?

Three years ago, I was making oil paintings while attending art college. One day, I heard about Magnum and Mr Bruce Gilden in a lecture. I was hooked.

From there, my interest in photographic expression grew and I started taking photos. I signed up quickly when I heard about the workshop in Tokyo.

Why did you choose the subject? How did you shoot?

I took photos in Kotobukicho district, in Yokohama city, about 40 minutes south of Tokyo by train. There are many people there who are homeless, on welfare or very old.

Incidents such as brawls, misbehaving alcoholics, and fire occur everyday in the town. I lived this life with them.

Many people wrongly think Japan is rich. Slums exist in this country, and their presence has been oppressed – people are indifferent to them. I wanted to live the life they lead so as to understand them, enabling me to express their feelings through pictures.

I stayed in a doya, which is the lowest kind of lodge. I could stay for 1500 yen per day (£8.43), which is fairly cheap, but the room was only about two meters long and three meters wide. It smelled awful, and the walls were very thin. Fortunately, I got along with the guy in the room next door – he let me take photos of him.

How was learning with Bruce Gilden?

I learned new ways of thinking and professional opinions. I am now clearer about what objects I want to shoot.

The best pieces of advice I received were firstly to get closer to the object​, and then closer again. Secondly, to keep shooting even when it is hard.

What are you planning next?

I will continue shooting in the city of Yokohama. I hope to make a book with these photos in the near future.

Mr Gilden showed interest in my photos, and told me he would check my photos anytime I send them to New York, so I’m looking forward to sending him photos soon.