As part of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015, we will be interviewing various members of our international jury to learn more about their perspectives on contemporary photography.

Ihiro Hayami, the organizer of the Tokyo International Photography Festival, has spent his life involved with all levels of photography. Here, he offers his thoughts on the medium’s ability to transcend cultural boundaries across the world.

What first drew you to photography? Were there any moments/photographs/experiences that really “hooked” you into the field?

IH: Since my father was a photographer himself, I grew up surrounded by endless images. But while photography was always around, it didn’t come naturally to me. So, like any rebellious kid, I decided to prove that I was different from my father. I ended up walking many different paths before I settled back down into the medium. It’s a long story, but in the end, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

LC: With your long-term and varied involvement in the Tokyo photography scene (Tokyo Institute of Photography, PHaT PHOTO, RING CUBE gallery), have you found that there’s something unique about making pictures in Tokyo? Do you feel that a place strongly influences the vibe/feeling of the images made there?

IH: Tokyo is indeed a unique city. Even within Tokyo, each neighborhood shows off a very different face. Shinjuku Golden Gai is a completely different place from Ginza or Daikanyama. In each area, you will find different types of people, different stories, and completely different vibes. Some combination of the streets, the people, the air—yes, I think the atmosphere does influence what photographs are shot there.

LC: With the ever-accessible internet, some believe that regional/local differences in photographic styles are disappearing—in other words, that a “global” photographic aesthetic is emerging. Coming from Japan, do you think that’s true? Or do you still find fundamental differences between “Eastern” work and “Western” work?

IH: It’s true that the internet and globalization are influencing all of us. Every day, I see Japanese work that is influenced by Western imagery. Of course, it goes both ways—we influence each other and some kind of dialogue is always ongoing.

But to me, as a Japanese person, I find that this global dialogue is limited to very specific circles. There are so many amazing photographers who are completely unknown outside of Japan (as I’m sure there are in the West as well).

You can picture this more concretely by counting the number of books on Japanese photography that have been translated from Japanese into English (let alone French, Spanish, Arabic…). In other words, this global dialogue has so much potential to be even more enriching and exciting—if only we can dig deeper!

I feel that photography is a very powerful tool of cultural exchange. While it might not be a truly universal language, I think it gets closer than any other language that I know.

—Ihiro Hayami, interviewed by Alexander Strecker

Editors’ Note: Ihiro Hayami will be judging entries to the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015—enter now for your chance to get your work in front of Hayami and the rest of the world-class jury. There are also a host of other great awards. You can find out more about the competition on our dedicated page.