It took me awhile to think about what to title this interview w/ Rin Tanaka. Known for his masterpiece photo journalist publications of the phenom "My Freedamn!" books which focus on vintage clothing of past era's, rock-n-roll fashions & pop culture I figured what better way then to connect his work and title of his books to the famous Aretha Franklin song "Think Freedom"!
IP: What gave you the idea to do "My Freedamn!" and how did you come about the name?
RT: This is a long story.......when I thought about the title my favorite song, "My Generation" by The Who came to me. I changed it and the title became "My Freedamn!". I have been respecting "American Freedom Spirits" but they have been going to many "DAMM" ways unfortunately!
IP: You published your first “My Freedamn!” in 2003. What was the initial reaction to it? Were you planning others at the same time or were you waiting to see how the first one was recepted?
RT: “My Freedamn!” started as an UNDERGROUND self-publication, but I had already 10,000 fans worldwide before 2003, though my other 5 titles like "Motorcycle Jackets" by Schiffer sold 15000 copies. “My Freedamn!” 1 was quickly sold out worldwide fortunately!
IP: Did you have any idea how popular "My Freedamn!” would become?
RT: No, I was simply surprised! I couldn't understand why people loved my "DAMN" books!
IP: You almost have a cult following which you refer to as "Freedamn Heads"! You reference pop culture in almost all your books so was this some kind of grassroots following you were trying to establish similar to how The Grateful Dead developed the "Dead Heads" which you also make reference to in "My Freedamn 4" w/ the book’s cover symbolic to and featuring the Grateful Dead. I love the name "Freedom Heads", is this how the name came about and if not how so?
RT: I as a music lover had been respecting the Grateful Dead when I was a teen in the 1980’s. Actually I had learned so many unique thinking ways from them, how to find an alternative way of life? Self-publishing is one of my answers I came up w/ in my mind through my DEAD HEAD days!
IP: You’ve referred to Robert Frank who wrote “The Americans” in “My Freedamn!”. He seems to have been an inspiration to you. Can you pls talk a bit more about Robert Frank and his theories on photo journalism?
RT: Robert Frank had built a very basic method in photo journalism after WWII. So many photographers throughout the world still respect his "attitudes" including me! I hope Robert would like my books when he checks them out!
IP: Did Robert Frank influence you into the American Culture such as rock-n- roll, clothing, motorcycles & etc.?
RT: No, I received many other influences about music and fashion from other artists and books. I think I learned many "culture ideas" when I was growing up in Japan in the 1980’s and 1990’s! I also have studied so much music from my American friends in Mississippi, Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin, Detroit and NYC.....my traveled states since 1990.
IP: Your photographs & images in your books are exhilarating. I can tell w/ each shot you take there is your passion and love for what you are exposing to us “Freedamn Heads”. What else are you thinking when you are photographing these images?
RT: I self-taught myself professional photography methods. I am still learning everyday in my photo studios so there is nothing special in my photography, but simply I have been trying to get “REAL” smiles into my slide films (or digital since 2008). Also I am not an artist, but an “EDITORIAL” photographer. Most importantly for me is that my photos will finally fit into the layout of my pages.
IP: Why is "King of Vintage - Heller's Café” so Popular?
RT: Honestly, I don't know why? I do know that many fashion people are paying close attention to it as it pays reference to1910’s-1940’s Americana fashion which is becoming some of today’s fashions.
IP: I'm sure all your books you are so proud of, but which one do you feel you really hit it out of the park w/ and feel you accomplished everything you set out to do?
RT: l had so many memories during editing all of my 18 titles I’ve published since 1998, but "My Freedamn! 1" and "Harley Davidson Book Of Fashions" may be my masterpiece....
IP: Speaking of hitting it out of the ball park you’ve mentioned baseball a bit in your forewords so I gather you have a love for the game. You mention the famous Yomiuri Giants along w/ Japanese world home run king Mr. Sadaharu Oh. Have you ever thought of doing an American/Japanese Baseball Vintage Book?
RT: Yes, Mr. Sadaharu Oh was a superstar among Japanese Baseball kids in the 1970s! I learned from him to always do "120% BEST" all the time!! Sure, I still love baseball fashions. So I do hope to make a title in the near future!
IP: I think you could probably open up your fan base even more to a bigger audience & new level if you were to do a Baseball book especially here in America as this is our National Pastime. What do you think?
RT: You know, Baseball fans are not so fashion oriented so I’m not sure.....you may be correct though! So let me try in the near future if NBL will ask me to make books?
IP: Last question and I thank you so much! I recently read in the Los Angeles Times you quoted “We have no men’s vintage show in the world.” How do you feel to be doing a vintage show and in its second year? Do you feel you are putting vintage back on the map and making it popular than ever before? Is it fair to say you are a pioneer of bringing vintage back?
RT: I am so happy to have vintage MEN's Fashion event with 2500 world vintage freaks, 60% men’s / 40% women’s. I don't think I am a PIONEER, because the vintage clothing business had already started in the 1970’s.
"Freedamn Heads".....keep on keepin on!!!