Shinjuku Story, a conversation with Kaz Senju

Kaz Senju has been photographing in the LGBTQ bars in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, an area he’s been going to for about 30 years. His upcoming thesis show, Shinjuku Story, will show a selection of work from this long-term project. I sat down with Kaz to talk with him about the progression of his work and his upcoming show.


Photo by Kaz Senju

Gen: So, tell me a bit about your project.

Kaz: I’ve been interviewing and photographing gay and lesbian bar owners in Tokyo in an area called Shinjuku. My project is about them and the street scenes in Tokyo, representing some of the LGBTQ community there. Within Shinjuku, there is this one district called Shinjuku Ni-chome. It’s about three Manhattan blocks in size, and within that area there are about 350 gay and lesbian bars, making it one of the most concentrated areas in the world. Most of the bars are small, about the size of a living room, although some are the size of a walk-in closet. I’ve been going there about 30 years now, and I started interviewing bar owners about three years ago. I really enjoyed getting to know them, so I kept doing this as my project.

G: How did you start going to these bars?

K: I knew I was gay when I was 12-13 years old, and when I was 16, I accidentally walked into one of the porn theaters. When I walked in, that’s when I had my first gay sexual experience. And then he showed me around a little bit, and I found out about some of the book stores that sold gay magazines. While looking at the magazines, I noticed advertisements for the bars, including ads for bars in Shinjuku Ni-chome. When I went to university near Tokyo, I took a train, went there, and started walking around. A café owner told me about other places to go so I went to the next place and after that I actually met the bar owner of one of the biggest gay bars and he asked me to work for him. So, I started working as a bartender at the Zip Bar in the Shinjuku area when I was 19. It was a really eye-opening experience for me.


Photo by Kaz Senju


Photo by Kaz Senju

G: Did you have prior connections to art before beginning to photograph?

K: I had a long career outside of photo and art. About ten years ago I decided to take a break from my job, and when I did that I wanted to take time to go back and study art and design. I began studying photography in the BFA program at Parsons. So that’s how I really started getting into photography. After that I was a studio assistant for different artists, and between this project and switching jobs I decided to finish my school with an MFA at ICP.

G: I want to ask about the magazines you discovered as a teen, and the zines you are making now.

K: During Parsons, my style was very different. I was drawn to precise photography. This reflected my personality, having been an IT department development manager. I needed every photograph to be like an excel sheet and have functions and lines. While taking a book class with Victor Sira at ICP, I really changed my attitude about how I could create an object. Creating a zine reminds me of when I was working on the computer doing software development. You make one version, find a mistake, make another one, make small improvements, go back, and make another one; the alpha release, beta release, and final release. The zine is like that too.


Photo by Kaz Senju


Photo by Kaz Senju

G: How will you incorporate video in your show?

K: I will have at least two videos in my show. One is a “movie theatre” made out of an Amazon box. The inside looks like a little movie theater, with a lot of Godzilla and monster figurines in the audience. It shows a picture of my childhood, an actual 8mm film my dad took, and it looks like I am the monster, I am the biggest one on the screen, and destroying the city. It has lots of secret meaning too. My childhood, my monster part, my character, and I mentioned earlier that I had my first gay sex at the movie theater. When I was interviewing the gay bar owners, there were a few that also said the same thing. Their first sex was at the movie theater as well.

The other one is virtual reality video. The space is so tight in Japanese gay bars and I’ve been having a hard time communicating that through the regular sized photo, so I’m bringing a 360-degree camera and taking a video of every direction in the bar and I’m editing that so people can actually experience that virtually. Those are the two video elements.


Kaz Senju’s exhibit Shinjuku Story is on view April 26th through April 30th at ICP-Bard MFA Studios in Long Island City.

Instagram: @kazviju

Opening Reception: Thursday, April 26th at 7pm

24-20 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY


Photo by Kaz Senju

Snail Mail and Dog Days

Happy Friday!!!

Not many people know this about me, but one of my favorite things is to receive cards in the mail.  Not e-cards via email, but handwritten, tangible objects,  that come in the mailbox (you know that small brass box in your lobby that you have a special key for).  Luckily I have a wonderful mother who loves to send me cards, specifically The New Yorker greeting cards featuring dogs!  Here are some of my favorites!  Enjoy!

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This is Lily Mott, a first year student in the ICP-BARD MFA program.  Today I would like to take the opportunity to introduce you guys to a process that I started using a couple years ago and how it came about.

It was probably 2 am and I had just scanned a photo that desperately wanted to print.  I rummaged through my drawers, only to be massively disappointed because I realized I was fresh out of any and all printer paper.  After pouting for a few minutes I looked down at my desk and saw a Marcel Duchamp book.  It suddenly occurred to me, that standard white printer paper is simply a suggestion, and in theory I could print on any paper material or printed matter.  Immediately I ripped a page out of my book, stuck in the printer, and BAM…

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After seeing my latest creation, I was hooked.  I began collecting old books, vintage targets, old checks, passports, etc.  You name, I guarantee I’ve tried to print on it.  Below are some of my favorite pieces from working with this process!  I hope you enjoy!

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Why Do I Make Photographs?


This is Lily, a first year in the ICP-BARD MFA program, and I will be taking over the blog this week.  Recently I was asked a seemingly simple question, Why Do You Make Photographs?  And today I would like to share my response with all of you!

Why I Make Photographs?

I make photographs because I have to.  Because life is too fleeting and ever-changing not to document it.  Because the darkroom is magic, and I like to hold magic in my hands.

I make photographs to remind myself of the good, and not let myself forget the bad.  Because people fade away, and so does my memory of them.

I make photographs because they help me remember.  Because they are tangible evidence of a life lived, and an experience shared.  Because I like to hold time in my hands.

I make photographs because eventually I will fade away, and I want the opportunity to be remembered.

I make photographs to share my pain, and to share what I see.  To share the human condition.

I make photographs to find the clarification in chaos.

I make photographs to feel alive, and to stay alive.

I make photographs in order to watch life, and to observe the way people do things.  To record the mundane, and the oddities.

I make photographs because it brings me joy.  Because it preserves my sanity.

I make photographs to see how people are surviving and because it heals.

I make photographs to make people feel, something, anything.

I make photographs so people know they are not alone, so I know I am not alone.  Because we are all in this together.

I make photographs because stopping time is magic, and I like to hold magic in my hands.

-Lily Mott