In 2019, Yoko Ueki, the CEO of UEKI Steel Material Co. of Japan, saw an opportunity to once again mix the old with the new. Her idea was to incorporate traditional Kumiko woodcraft techniques with the laser-cutting technology of the German industrial machine manufacturer, TRUMPF Group, to create new and exciting works of industrial art. UEKI’s maasa line of custom products ranges from custom lanterns to wall decor and jewelry, and much more. Last December, the BrandsOnSpeed advertising agency reached out to Darien Robertson, a portrait photographer based in Fukuoka, Japan, for stills for Issue 17 of TRUe magazine. The images were for a feature on how UEKI Steel was utilizing the TRUMPF laser-cutting machine in its maasa line.
The TRUMPF Group headquarters is located in Ditzingen, Germany. TRUe is the print and digital customer magazine of TRUMPF.
Darien previously worked with TRUMPF Group in 2021, capturing the installation of TRUMPF machinery in a brand new factory in Japan. He also photographed an Area Sales Specialist for the client’s Annual Report. In 2022, Darien had an additional project for TRUMPF and BrandsOnSpeed, where he photographed the cover of Issue 16 of TRUe, featuring Canycom Inc.’s chairman. The assignment included a number of stills of the factory and the manufacturing process, using TRUMPF’s machines.
The BrandsOnSpeed agency, which designs TRUe magazine, is based in Stuttgart, Germany. For preplanning, Darien communicated with the agency remotely via email and Microsoft Teams.
It took about a month of preplanning before the shoot to coordinate with TRUMPF representatives based in eastern Japan as well as the representatives of Ueki Steel Materials, including the CEO. Many plates were spinning at once, but we made it work!
The images showcased both the advanced machinery produced by the TRUMPF Group and the products that can be created using this cutting-edge technology.
We wanted to show how ‘tradition meets innovation’ in Ueki Steel’s use of the TRUMPF laser-cutter to create their Maasa product line. To me, the TRUMPF brand identity is built on how hands-on they are with their customers, and also how assured they are in the precision and ability of their machines.
The photoshoot took place on January 10th, 2023, at UEKI Steel’s factory in Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan.
It was a slightly warmer-than-normal day for that time of year, which helped with the energy and mood on set! Tochigi is slightly off the beaten path, roughly 2 hours north of Tokyo.
The subjects of the feature were Yoko Ueki, the CEO of UEKI Steel, and Hideo Nakamura, director of business development.
When I arrived, I had the chance to meet the two subjects. They gave me a quick tour of the facility to see the laser-cutting machine and then the maasa showroom with their beautiful, precision-cut products on display. They were attentive and took directions incredibly well, even though it was done via a translator. They did their best to accommodate me and we got some lovely images!
I originally studied photojournalism before any other type of photography, so I utilize much of what I learned in my corporate reportage and portrait work. Being able to take very natural photos of people in their natural habitat, and curating photos to tell a story, both mesh well with my style of work.
Hana Oyama, the Section Manager of Marketing for the TRUMPF Group, and several other representatives from TRUMPF joined Darien and the subjects on set. Most of the photos were taken in the product showroom, and several on the factory floor. Darien was on location for approximately two hours, including scouting and shooting.
At first, I felt a little nervous because of the language barrier (I speak some Japanese, but I’m not exactly fluent), but that melted away as soon as I picked up the camera. According to the people I’ve worked with I have a very warm and friendly countenance, and I make people feel at ease when they’re on set, which I’m glad for! I’d also like to credit my smile for helping my subjects feel encouraged during a session.
While standing in front of the TRUMPF laser-cutter, a joke was uttered that got some laughs from both Ms. Ueki and Mr. Nakamura. Sadly the joke was in Japanese and a bit too quick to make out — but because I was focused, I captured one of my favorite images of the entire shoot!
From Fukuoka, where Darien is based, to the UEKI factory in Tochigi is roughly 800 miles. Because of the distance, he had to pack light, and due to budget restrictions, he did not have the option to rent additional gear local to Tochigi. But for Darien, this was no obstacle!
I left behind my strobes and opted to work with a single speedlight. I’ve photographed factory floors before and I’m not afraid of high ISO, so I had a very good idea of what I was in for, and what I was capable of. The last shot of the day of the CEO required the use of my speedlight; the sun starts going down very early that time of year. The softbox couldn’t be maneuvered inside the showroom, so I shot it bare bulb and absolutely loved the results.
See more of Darien’s work on his website.
Read more articles about Portrait photography.