Photojournalism with focus on social issues

Satoru Niwa has worked as a photojournalist before as well as alongside his master's degree in Visual and Media Anthropology. With his work, he wants to draw attention to urgent social issues. In his thesis, for example, he investigated socio-spatial exclusion and homelessness in his hometown Tokyo. What he gained from his studies and what he plans to do after his master's degree, he told us here.

Satoru Niwa: Photojournalist and recent graduate of the M.A. Visual and Media Anthropology.

Satoru Niwa: Photojournalist and recent graduate of the M.A. Visual and Media Anthropology.

You have just submitted your master's thesis. Congratulations! Tell us more about your topic!

Thank you so much. My topic is socio-spatial exclusion and homelessness in Tokyo. Through collaborative map-making, my thesis explores how social exclusion is embodied in urban space in the context of the Tokyo Olympics and how it affects the lives and culture of the homeless. The thesis also tries to foreground the personal identities and political constituent of those stigmatized as homeless by describing their ethnographies.

You are also working as a photographer. When did you start taking photos? And what inspires you the most?

To be precise, I am a photojournalist. I have been reporting on social issues through photography since 2010. The great thing about this job is that you get to meet a lot of people in the field that you wouldn't meet in your daily life. Many of the people I met in the field were in difficult situations, but I learned a lot from their attitude of trying to stay strong. I can say that these experiences are an asset in my life.

Why did you decide to study “M.A. Visual and Media Anthropology”?

When I worked with a world-renowned American photojournalist in 2014, I was disappointed in his unethical work practices and approach, which seemed to represent the contradictions of photojournalism and the media: excessive demand for visual aesthetics and preoccupation with commercialism. Since then, I have been exploring alternative ways of visualizing social issues differently from a photojournalistic form. During this process, I just happened to find the VMA program and decided to join it.


In your opinion, from which experiences/courses/projects during your studies will you benefit the most in your future career?

What I learned in Digital Anthropology class about how to conduct research online and show research outcomes visually will be an essential skill set for anthropologists in the Covid-19 era, and in that sense, I think the class was very meaningful.

What do you like the most about your studies/the study program in general?

Although we only had one In-House Workshop due to the pandemic, the two weeks were very fulfilling. Tackling the challenge of making a short film in a small group, I learned about the difficulties, but more importantly, the excitement and possibilities, of people from different cultures and backgrounds working together to create a product.

What’s your advice for (prospective) students who are thinking about studying Visual and Media Anthropology at HMKW? 

If you want to learn how to apply anthropological knowledge and methods to art-making or social practices, this program would be the right place. Have fun!

What are your plans for the future?

I will start my studies in a Ph.D. program in anthropology at Kyoto University this April. I think more specialized and in-depth academic knowledge will make my work more convincing. I would like to develop further what I learned in the VMA program, and continue my research and art-making.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. We wish you all the best for your PhD and future projects.