An interview with photographer Heiko Junge

I first came into contact with the Norwegian-based photographer Heiko Junge about 15 years ago. I was in Osaka to attend an outdoor concert by Shoukichi Kina and Champloose. Heiko was busy taking photos throughout the show – hundreds of photos. I had no idea who he was at the time and wondered why this foreigner was so obsessed with taking endless pictures of the same musicians. It was only afterwards that I discovered Heiko had just become Kina’s official photographer. He travelled around with the band for about three years and went with them to Atlanta for the Olympic Games and travelled on their award winning Sabani Peace Connection project – a musical voyage through the Ryukyu Islands and on to Hiroshima. In 1996 he published Borderless, a book of photos of Kina and the band. Some of his photos of Kina and Champloose from that time are included in my own book The Power of Okinawa. Heiko Junge now works as a news photographer and travels all over the world. His recent work has taken him to France, Mali, and Congo, and next month he will be photographing in Australia.

Heiko Junge snorkeling in Okinawa

Heiko and his Okinawan wife Kazuyo live in Oslo together with their two children but they make frequent trips back to Okinawa. They are currently back on the island and Heiko is enjoying kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, taking photos. A few days ago I sat down with him and asked him some questions:

How did your connection with Okinawa begin?

I was in England working and studying English in 1987 and I met Kazuyo from Okinawa. She introduced me to a lot of Japanese and Okinawan people living in London, and in 1991 I went to Okinawa for the first time. We kept in touch throughout those years from 1987 to 1991. She was in Norway many times and we travelled to China and other places. We’ve been together ever since then, so that’s almost 20 years. I’ve been here since then twice a year at least, and I also lived in Okinawa from 1994 to 1997. It’s a great place to come to and be here and to discover…and we’re still married and I’m still coming here!

How did you get the job working for Shoukichi Kina?

Somehow everything is connected but it was by chance that a Norwegian friend of mine introduced me to the manager of Shoukichi Kina, telling her about me and inviting me to come to his Chakra ‘live house’. I brought my camera and took a few pictures, and then I was invited to photograph one of the big concerts he had in Okinawa and I took a lot of pictures, on film of course at that time, and I presented the data to Kina. He was fond of what he saw and he needed a photographer so it was Kina himself who made the decision. I did that for about three years, including the Sabani Peace Connection, and the Atlanta Olympics, and a lot of touring in Japan. But unfortunately during those years he didn’t produce good albums and so I only photographed for one album – The Best of Kina Shoukichi and Champloose. It would have been nice to have produced pictures for a better album, Hinukan or whatever. Just after I finished, the Champloo! album came out. Anyway, it was a good time and I had a really good time too.

Did you become interested in Okinawan music at that time?

Luckily, I was interested in the music even earlier. I listened to Shoukichi Kina because Kazuyo had introduced me to his music. And I thought it was great. So when I met him, there was a good vibe immediately. Nothing is better than working for a person and liking the music as well, so it was actually more than a job.

What is your job in Norway now?

After three years in Okinawa I felt a little bit claustrophobic here on the island. I needed to expand my horizons. Because those years with Kina, they were quite intense, working with him all the time and travelling, and I felt it was time for me to do something else and so I moved back to Norway where I immediately started work as a news photographer. I’ve been working as a full-time staff photographer for the Norwegian news agency ever since. I’m doing well and I love my job. It takes me around the world a lot. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Japan for my work so it’s good to combine those things.

What kind of photography is best for you?

My speciality is people. Feature and news photography, but mainly to go into different kinds of environments and meet people and just to be an observer, to be there and photograph it, and interact with the people. Because, you know, being a cameraman is not just being on the outside photographing. You actually need to interact with the people. And I love the interaction and I love the different societies and people and groups that you meet.

Do you have any thoughts on Okinawa after being away and then coming back?

Okinawan people have always been thriving and they love their little islands. They seem to live a good life. But looking from the outside, I’m a little bit concerned about the future and their dependence on mainland Japan – the way they have turned Okinawa into this Disneylike showcase, this fake kind of touristy place. Look at Kokusai-dori in Naha, there’s nothing original about it anymore. And I don’t like the way the Americans behave on the island, and the way they expand with their mansions and their cars. I love Okinawa and I love coming back here but I don’t think I could manage to live here. For me it’s just too tiny. It’s like a small society and most Okinawans don’t really bother somehow to get out of this society and think about things outside. All the Okinawan people I talk to are just so satisfied with their lives here, and so they really don’t bother about Norway or Europe or the rest of the world. It’s a good thing for them but it’s not a good thing for me, if you understand what I mean.

I hope they take care of their island and they don’t destroy it, because if you get interwoven with money – and of course Okinawa is – then money decides what will happen with the island. If there is too much money involved they will destroy it sooner or later, in the future, I think. But of course the Okinawan originality and the minyo and the folk tales and so on are still around and very much alive. If you have enough young people to keep their traditions then hopefully it will continue.

Below are some of Heiko Junge’s photos from his current stay on Okinawa:

Eisa festival in Naha

Market at Heiwa-dori, Naha

Heiko with kayak

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One Comment on “An interview with photographer Heiko Junge”

  1. Izumi Nishi Says:

    I enjoyed this intriguing interview and the marvelous photos indeed. Thank you, John.


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