From photo artist to sandwich artist

Most wildlife photographers wouldn't be excited to come across a caribou hunt. But Atsushi Sugimoto isn't most nature photographers.

Most wildlife photographers wouldn’t be excited to come across a caribou hunt.

But Atsushi Sugimoto isn’t most nature photographers.

When he toured Japan with a slide show of his photos showcasing the Yukon, images of a hunt figured prominently.

“Most Japanese people hate dead bodies,” said Sugimoto, who has recently moved to the Yukon.

“But we have to kill something to eat.”

Sugimoto entitled the hunting portion of his slide show “Life Eats Life.”

The series of photos shows a herd of caribou, just off of the Dempster Highway.

Then comes a close shot of one of the animal’s heads. Only upon close inspection do you realize it’s dead.

Then there are shots of the family, from Inuvik, who did the hunting.

One shot shows a caribou loaded into the back of a pickup, with its throat slit. A young girl stands nearby holding the horns with a big smile on her face.

“Most people in Tokyo never care where the food comes from,” he said.

“But to live we need to kill something.

“And when I take photos there is a possibility of getting eaten myself,” he adds.

Sugimoto is working in the tradition of famous Japanese nature photographer Michio Hoshino.

Hoshino worked a lot in Alaska and was often compared to Ansel Adams.

In 1996, while working in Kamchatka, Russia, Hoshino was killed by a brown bear.

Sugimoto had his own close calls with bears while out hunting for photos.

One night, while camped alone, Sugimoto ducked into his tent to grab something.

When he returned to his fire, he found that some of his food had been stolen as well as his lifejacket.

But so far the most serious accident to date was when he caught a sandbar while trying to photograph a bird, and tipped his kayak.

Sugimoto lost two expensive cameras to the river.

Sugimoto has always had a fascination with the North.

But to him, the North meant the barren ice and snow of the High Arctic – where he’s traveled in search of polar bears.

In 2008, a friend suggested that he visit the Yukon to do a kayak trip.

“Before I came to the Yukon, I had thought the High Arctic was the most beautiful place,” he said.

“After I came here, my mind was changed.”

Sugimoto came back a number of times, often staying for two to three months.

He’d take off into the wilderness alone to look for animals to photograph.

Then he’d head home to Japan to make enough money to come back and do it all over again.

Last year, Sugimoto gave eight shows across Japan showcasing his work, and the Yukon.

The exhibition was named after the territory’s promotional slogan: “Yukon, larger than life.”

The exhibition is broken into three parts.

There’s Life Eats Life containing the hunting scenes.

There’s what Sugimoto calls “animal portraits.”

And there are also some beautiful landscapes.

He likes the animal photos the best, he said.

After long stretches alone in the wild, he enjoys noticing how similar animal behaviour is to our own.

He’s not as passionate about his landscapes, although many back home in Japan seem to love them, he said.

“It’s more difficult to tell a story with a landscape.”

Sugimoto is now living and working in Whitehorse and hopes to become a permanent resident in Canada.

He’s currently working at Subway, as part of the Yukon Nominee program.

“I need to be here more as a resident instead of a tourist,” he said.

“I felt that if I still continue my photography in Yukon I have to feel something more from living close to the wilderness, instead of coming for just two or three months.”

Sugimoto is a little worried about spending a whole winter in the North though.

He’s already spent time in Fairbanks in the winter while visiting a friend on another trip.

“When it gets very dark for so long, it makes me so depressed,” he said.

Sounds like a Yukoner already.

And to keep himself busy, while the rivers are frozen and he can’t travel by kayak, he plans to take up cross-country skiing.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com