Mai Kimura: Photos for What Words Cannot Explain

Thanks to a camera, what would have gone unnoticed can live on forever.

Mai Kimura’s (@odoroyofish / @a_qu_i) photos show what you wouldn’t expect to find in them. Dirty dishes, people caught red-handed, objects that were not meant to attract attention. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to define their content with words: no one names the things that go unnoticed. 

However, Mai points her flash at all those details and moments, literally bringing them to light, making them important, lasting. In her photos, there is the closeness of everyday life and the humility of what hadn’t been expected to be important. Somehow they make us wonder, would we have paid attention to such things?


Chorareii: First, introduce yourself! 

Mai: My name is Mai Kimura, I’m from Hokkaido. Since I got my pure heart, I have been fascinated by the record of the present that can be seen through the back of the camera. When I realized that what I captured was both the past and the future, like an illusion, I couldn’t believe it!

I like walking outside, listening to music, eating. As for places, my favorites are coffee shops, second-hand stores, rivers, and forests where the air is clean. 


When I told a friend that I was going to see your exhibition, he asked me what kind of pictures you take. I think he expected me to answer “portraits of this kind of people,” “landscapes of this kind of places.” I didn’t know how to give him a quick answer. What could I have answered?

Photographs that capture true events and lovely everyday scenes that seem unreal. 

How did you start taking pictures?

A friend said to me, “The pictures you take with your iPhone are peculiar and interesting. Why don’t you try using a camera?” 

I bought a second-hand compact film camera Olympus Mju Zoom at an Internet auction. After it arrived, I carried it around with me every day.


When I look at your photos, I can truly feel as if you were always holding your camera and capturing moments that happen in your daily life. Is it like this?

It is, I always carry the camera with me. The moments I want to capture are unpredictable and sudden, so I try not to miss them. I don’t aim for them, it’s just something natural.

If you are always with your antennae up, ready to take pictures, you will probably see things that other people overlook. Is there anything we should pay more attention to?

Rather than taking pictures of what I like, I notice what I like when I take pictures. I can’t stop because that feels good and is fun!


Life and the city are full of things that people take for granted. I’m sure there are many things I’m not seeing as well. Anyway, it is the same whether they are things I care about or not. As long as I can press the shutter and get the view I want at the moment I find it, that’s all that matters. 

Your recent project is called “Word”. That’s an interesting choice for a photo project, consisting of only images. 

These are my words about the project:

We have to think about the fact that words can’t express everything.

If you put anything into words, it will become “something like that”.

Ai Nishiyama from Anagra (@anagra_tokyo), the gallery in Tokyo where I recently exhibited this project, wrote this about it: 

Mai says she has a complex about words. This is the reason for the title of this book.

I think she loves the magic that turns a moment in a very small world, so easily forgotten, into an irreplaceable treasure, the colors, shapes, and air that cannot be put into words.

Just as I can’t put a name to the feeling I get when I look at her pictures.


Had you held any other solo exhibitions or edited any other photobooks before “Word”?

I had a solo exhibition in Hokkaido in the summer of 2019. This was my first solo exhibition in Tokyo. 

Also, I had made a few zines, but this is my first photo book. It is self-published, with 140 pages of photos selected from the thousands I have taken over the past five years. 


I didn’t consciously accumulate anything that could become a work of art, it just came naturally. Just like the photos people take with their cell phones. 

Thanks to your camera and how you use its flash, I feel as if you turned elements that normally are not relevant into the main characters. Do you feel that way?

When I shine the flash, things appear clearly for a moment. When they are photographed, it is not just for a moment, but they stay that way forever.


You can see the details through photographing things you come across while walking at night or eating in a dark room. 

Today, we create and consume a lot of images through our cell phones. As you explained earlier, you started taking pictures with your iPhone before having a camera. What is different in your photos when you take them with your phone and with your camera?

I love taking pictures with my cell phone, I take lots of pictures every day. It is much faster than a camera, that speed is for me the most amazing of any functions. 


When I take pictures with a camera, I feel like I have it in my hands. I feel the exaggerated sound of the shutter or the sound of the film being fed with each shot.

It doesn’t matter what camera I use as long as the picture is good. I don’t have any particular criteria to use when taking pictures. I guess it depends on my mood.

Mai Kimura’s at the Anagra Gallery (@anagra_tokyo) during the “Word” exhibition. Photo: Yuki Aizawa.

What kind of projects do you have coming up after “Word”?

I want to collect scenery outside of Hokkaido. I want to go far away!

Follow Mai Kimura and her photo project on Instagram: @odoroyofish / @a_qu_i .

Check Mai Kimura’s Tumblr account to see more photos.

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