Memories of Akira Sato

Mieko Wikstrom in conversation with Michael Hoppen
Feb 2, 2015

Mieko Wikstrom was the model and muse of Akira Sato for many years. Last year saw her visit the gallery and talk through some of her memories from a seismic time in Japanese photography, from the famous Vivo photography group to tales from behind the camera. 

Below is a extract from that conversation...

When did you last see him?


I saw him the morning of his death. There on the last day.

The studio in the beginning was at Vivo (in Skiggi?) but then you know he was just a young photographer starting - there were six people in Vivo…

They shared a studio and they were just a group because each individual they didn't make any sense.


Did you model for any of the other Vivo photographers?


No - occasionally for other magazines but mainly Sato.


It was very interesting to us Vivo - they are so important but no one seems to have shown Sato san.


Because this six people all have very different characters


But all very important - the story we heard was that in early 70', Sato was attacked.


No he went in 62 to NY and he was attacked in 63 and after that he did not come to Japan immediately - he went around Europe.


Was he very affected by that?


Very very - eventually he came back and he stopped taking the Woman - he stopped taking photos but travelled a lot in Europe, to Sweden and because of this, he loved the Scandinavian light.


Because Kawada san told us that Sato made up the name Vivo.


Yes - you know what is the meaning? It is Esperanto. (Life)

 Vivo was very important for everybody.

 Who is left now - not much.

 Hosoe - Tomatsu dies - Kawada is alive…


Did he set up all of the scenes before hand or did he improvise?


Ah he thought them out before but then worked them out at the time - sometimes at 4.00 in the morning…


The Sunset series where was this taken?


It was taken down on a little town by the beach. This was the one - it got him a hit in the world - he got it in New York - Germany somewhere and afterward in posters.


So what is this outside Tokyo? It looks like the pyramids, very exotic looking…


No no it was the seaside… Yes it was like pyramid in an outside theatre


Do you know what any of his influences were apart from the friends around him?


He was very fond of Irving Penn


And after this book came out he continued to make pictures…. Like this (looking at his Swedish images)


Yes - all the time

 This was after he had accident - in New York - actually he was very risky? Every morning when he woke up - he had a lisp


What actually happened in new York


He was walking on the street on third avenue… at quite a right time, in the day time… some youngster came with bat… he was really really…




He had a coma nearly one month…


So after that for about a year he was travelling Europe - he could not come back to Japan immediately - he has to you know adjust, work through it… he has been around Europe for about a year and then eventually came back.


And he was quiet changed?


At this time he was totally changed by the experience… Then he started coming, at that time we were still in Stockhom. It became life long.

The light was so fascinating for him. So when he came it was the, what do you call it, white night… you know the Summer


Which has inspired so many…


Yes after the sunset the sky you know does not get dark… its not the sudden dark, its very slow….very very long time - so many colours!


So he was inspired?


Very very much so… then he starts thinking, he just starts coming every year. For about twelve years he came.


It must have been incredible energy - all the different members of Vivo and all attracted and working together


Yes - I don't know how many million hours I spent in the Vivo studios.

I was, you know, his woman, his muse - absolutely.


Then you know it was a wonderful feeling when through the camera we are fighting, we are in love. We you know, it was a wonderful wonderful feeling.


He is much less know than some of the other members of Vivo - you know there is a lot of material about Kawada and Hosoe but actually Sato is quite a mystery.


Yes he was quite a reserved person and he never promoted himself. He is there but he does not say anything, he just absorbs it all.


It is sad in a way - he was very talented and everyone who talks of him talks with great fondness and respect…


Yes when he came back from Europe to Japan he never had the fashion photograph… never never, then he was very close to the Nikon club and been taking care of that side.


He loved that Scandinavia and Sweden, that pureness... that cleaness.


Did he collaborate with other artists ever? Apart from Vivo which was a loose association


No, he was a lone wolf… a lonely wolf

 He was the very contrast of Hosoe. The opposite.


In what way?


Socialising Hosoe was quite clever, very good at talking with the people, socialising and you know promoting himself. Akira was the exact opposite.


Was Sato an assistant for anyone prior to him starting work?


Akira? no, he was a lone wolf ,Tomoky was Sato sans assistant. Nobody from Vivo has been somebodies assistant.