Peer POV: Oh So Sonoko!
I don’t think we knew Sonoko Tanaka’s name for the first two years our work overlapped.
It’s a small world out there but somehow if you don’t break the ice right-off-the-bat you just remain strangers. I remember specifically spotting her in the cold, sloppy mud of the 2011 Hoogerheide World Cup and thinking “ah, there’s that female photographer again!” But, to my dismay, she didn’t return my nod of recognition when we passed inside the fencing – within inches of each other.
A long time later she admitted just how “shy” she can be and it all seemed so ridiculous that we weren’t friends earlier. Sonoko has a fantastic eye and an indomitable spirit. We’ve worked alongside her in tough conditions and we’ve laughed with her over soggy pizza in a bad French restaurant. Sonoko is… just so very Sonoko.
Q: Tell us about the kind of work you do – what is Sonoko Tanaka best known for?
A: I’ve covered many international [cycling] races (especially road races and cyclocross races in Asia and Europe) and reported “the charm” of them to readers in Japan. My images are often distributed throughout the world by International photo agencies. Three Japanese monthly bicycle magazines and a newspaper are creating serial features about bike racing using my pictures. Besides race coverage, I take pictures of cycling touring, portraits, new bicycle products for media, advertisement, team… etc.
Q: How did you first get started in cycling photography? What types of work or jobs did you do before this?
A: Its a long story…..
When I was a nursing student, I enjoyed cycling on holidays with friends. After graduation, I started work as a nurse but I got bored of that job… because I felt that I was working in a small “cube (=hospital).” As a fresh nurse, there was no free time during the year… since we needed to study on our days off. So I decided to go to photo school for my next career.
I have loved photography since I was a high school student. In photo school, I began to look for “the theme” of my pictures; then I reminded myself “I like cycling!!!” So, I started to shoot cycling photography and I found a job at the editorial office of a bicycle magazine as an assistant editor. That was in 2005.
I really enjoyed that job… but I wanted to work as a photographer. And I wanted to see the Tour de France. So I packed up and headed off to the Tour de France in 2008. Finally I had decided to become a freelance photographer.
Q: Is there any aspect about being a woman photographer that is either a disadvantage or an asset in your work?
A: “Woman” or not, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just that I am small (150cm) and I don’t have big power, sometimes it makes my job a little bit hard.
Q: What are the parts of your work that you enjoy most?
A: I can travel all over the world and every time it is filled with new discoveries and encounters with wonderful friends.
Q: What are some of the obstacles or challenges of your work right now?
A: Working alone is always my big challenge. Without my friends, colleagues, and family I couldn’t continue this job.
For the expansion of my career in the near future, I need to speak English well and I want an assistant. And I always try to make friendly relationships with everybody [while on the road working].
Q: Have you ever been hurt or scared while working? If so, what happened?
A: Last year in Rwanda my moto had a crash with another moto. It was a big scare… a few days before that day, another moto driver who came from England told me “In Rwanda, there is no hospital. Do you know this means!?”
Fortunately, this crash broke only my lens. But in the moment that our moto hit another moto, I thought “Our moto would be overturned! I’m going to die!!!” It is the worst of my experiences.
Q: What is one of the best moments you ever had shooting cycling?
A: I shot a cycling race from a helicopter in the Republic of South Africa – it was so exciting!!! I cannot forget that moment. And always I’m so happy when I receive satisfaction from the riders [that I photograph].
Q: What is your favorite kind of shot?
A: I like to shoot emotional scenes and beautiful landscapes. I’m trying to focus on cycling from various viewpoints, not only in the race. I want to capture who a rider really is, what a rider is feeling, thinking, and where the race is taking place. I think it is beyond the limits of “sports photography,” but it is “cycling” – my beloved.
Q: What is your favorite lens and why?
Q: Where do you want your career to go from here?
A: I want to go to a place (the race) where I have never been; because I’ve covered many races in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Its only a few photographers that have done that. I hope those experiences will be my advantage. And I want to let my humanity mature. I’m still so inexperienced as a photographer in the world.
Q: What is one thing people do not know about Sonoko?
A: I have such a delicate heart… hehehe
Check out more of Sonoko’s work:
Cycling News 2012 a-year-in-review gallery