Sure, the photography business can be tough now, but imagine how tough it was when photographer Tsuneko Sasamoto began her career in Japan in the 1930s. Sasamoto, born in 1914, was honored with a Lucie Award for Lifetime Achievement on Sunday night during a ceremony at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Other Lucie Award recipients were Don McCullin, Anthony Hernandez, Rosalind Fox Solomon, sports photographer Simon Bruty, printer/photographer/musician Graham Nash, and Musee de L’Elysee, the photography museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Nathan Lyons was given this year’s “Visionary Award” posthumously.
But the biggest delight of this year’s awards ceremony was seeing the video message that Sasamoto, 102, made for the occasion. Seated at her desk in Tokyo, and speaking in Japanese, Sasamoto showed the energy that has fueled her long, and continuing, professional career. She smiled radiantly as she thanked the Lucie Foundation for the award, and vowed to savor the honor “forever.”
In presenting Sasamoto’s award, Miriam Romais, marketing and development advisor to the Center for Photography at Woodstock
and former director of En Foco, described Sasamoto as a “trailblazer, pioneer, non-conformist, independent-minded.” Romais also noted that Sasamoto was always “full of hope.” “She was often told, ‘You’re just a woman. How could you even think of becoming a photographer?” And yet she created a career in photography that spans most people’s lifetimes.”
Sasamoto began taking photos in her 20s, just as World War II was brewing. She joined the Photographic Society in Japan in 1940, becoming the country’s first female photojournalist. She photographed Japan’s war preparations and, during the US occupation after the war, she photographed strikes and protests, and got a sitting with General Douglas MacArthur. She later shot stories around the world. She had many interruptions and hardships in the course of her career but, “I didn’t stop working, because I was interested in it,” she said in a 2014 interview.
Romais went on to say:
She had no issues of carrying her camera equipment and all the bulbs necessary for each shoot—but hated having to do it in a skirt and high heels, because it got in the way of climbing ladders and always looking for better vantage points, and different angles. To make a point, she opted for bigger cameras, fearing that if she used a smaller Leica, people would think it [was] a toy and then not take her seriously.
The thing with trailblazers is, they are so busy doing, they don’t realize what a path they have carved for the rest of us. Ms. Sasamoto turned 102 last month and is still just doing her thing. She believes gender and age should have no bearing on a person’s capabilities—she didn’t let the fact she was a woman get in her way, and today she is not letting age get in her way, either.
“If I tell people I’m 100,” she says, “they’ll ask if i can still press the shutter, or still see ok. But I don’t feel any change in me, even in getting old— probably because I keep photographing. I see the movement of the world, and want to see that all the time.”
May we all be so dedicated and creative at age 102.
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