Images by Tom Moran

SATORI: What was the initial inspiration behind your project?

Tom Moran: As a child in the early 90s Channel 4 started broadcasting Sumo tournaments and myself and my brother got really into Sumo, watching the tournaments every weekend and wrestling each other in the house and in the garden and anywhere else with a line we could throw each other across. Our parents took us to the Royal Albert Hall in London to see the first ever tournament held outside Japan where we saw all our heroes in the flesh. It was a real treat and something I never forgot. The interest in Sumo continued into an interest in Japanese art as a young teenager, Japanese music as an older teenager and Japanese films as young man. I managed to start travelling to Tokyo regularly for work and this opened my interest further into more aspects of the culture. I then had an agent in Japan as a photographer for a year and this allowed me to make some great connections. When Mundial Japan asked me if I’d like to shoot a football-mad Sumo wrestler for their next issue I couldn’t have been more excited!

S: Did your approach change over the course of the project? How?

TM: The idea from the beginning was to shoot on film due to the subject matter and the anticipated low light. I love when the camera starts to struggle and the way this registers on film would be much more complementary to the subject than how it would register on digital. I also wanted to observe and shoot a whole training session from start to finish before shooting the portraits of Terutsuyoshi. The ideas I had for the portraits stayed pretty much the same from planning to execution, although I wasn’t planning on him having such good keepy-up skills so those images of him balancing the ball on his head and juggling the ball in the street were a fantastic surprise!

S: Which themes run through your project? Or does it carry a central message? Were these discovered during the course of the project?

TM: I knew that with all the action and the low light there would be a lot of motion blur and this was something I wanted to avoid. While being evocative of the action and speed of a bout, my experience of Sumo as a child was that there were moments of complete stillness as you were locked together, figuring out each other’s balance points before trying to push or throw each other out of the ring. There were also split-second moments of stillness when the two bodies impact at such a force that cancels each other out, often at the start of the bout. For me the interplay of strength/speed and balance/technique are central to the appeal of Sumo and I was really focussed on trying to find these in the training session.

S: How does your project compare to your other work?

TM: It’s very different in some ways in terms of subject as most of my work has been digitally-shot fashion-based commissions or film-shot landscape/reportage for personal work. But it has been really interesting to observe the similarities in such a different project. The approach was the same as always - to plan well, think of all eventualities and picture in advance the kind of images I want from the project. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I feel good planning allows you to be more creative and free when you are shooting as you can completely immerse yourself in what you are doing without dealing with things you could have dealt with before. While shooting, the search for balance and harmony was the same as in my other work, I seem to try to search for the harmonious point in an image and rarely find it! The images are a sort of document of that search. The edit finds the images that are closest to harmony or miss it in an interesting way.

S: Have you yourself been changed by this project?

TM: I enjoyed the project so much that I have tried to embrace everything I enjoyed about it and bring it into all subsequent work, from shooting on film more often, to hand-printing my images (something I have been doing since university only for personal work), to taking themes from the sumo project and creating new work inspired by it. It has given me more confidence in my photography in general as I connected on a deeper level with my love of photography than ever before.

S: Were you deliberately trying to inspire others through your work? Bring something to their attention? Provoke, entertain, disrupt? Or was this a personal work?

TM: Of course I wanted to do a good job for Mundial Japan who commissioned it, I wanted Terutsuyoshi to be happy and proud of the images and I wanted the Sumo stable to be happy with the pictures and the experience of inviting in a photographer to one of their training sessions. But at the same time, I wanted to make some images of a subject I love that I could be proud of and I wanted to express everything I love about photography in doing that.

S: What, if anything, have you learned through this project?

TM: I have learned that to explore yourself and your chosen medium it is really beneficial to point it at things that really fascinate you. This may sound obvious, but when I work in fashion I am creating or re-creating observed moments and when I was shooting this project it was happening in front of me without my being able to control it and that was a really refreshing change. I have also learned there is a 19 stone Sumo wrestler who can do more keepy-ups than most of us!

Tom Moran is a London based photographer known for his excellent command of lighting in the studio and his ability to construct narratives and tell stories with his images. He has travelled extensively throughout his career and has won awards for his unusual landscape photography and work inspired by his many travels. Tom regularly shoots fashion editorial, look-books, commercial advertising, portraiture and personal work.

Created by Duncan Woods & Seb Camilleri