Butter Presents

Atsuko Tanaka

We spoke with photographer Atsuko Tanaka who we are collaborating with for our upcoming collection of Shorts & T-Shirts.

Atsuko was born in Tokyo. She moved to the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager, and studied photography in Los Angeles before relocating to New York City, where she quickly gained recognition for her images of hip-hop artists. Equipped with a distinct sensibility that captured subtle expressions and moods of her subjects, it didn't take long before Atsuko found herself shooting the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, as well as album cover art for popular Japanese artists. 

While continuing to photograph celebrities, artists and street fashion for both American and Japanese media, in 2006 Atsuko was named one of the "100 Most Respected Japanese in the World" by Newsweek Japan.

In fall 2011, Atsuko moved her base back to Tokyo after two decades in the States. She still frequently travels abroad for work and inspiration.

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Hi Atsuko! Thank you for doing an interview with us - we’re very thankful and excited to collaborate with you and your work. Firstly, are you able to give our readers a brief introduction on yourself and your work?

Hi everyone! My name is Atsuko. I was born and raised in Tokyo. Moved to U.S in '91 and lived there for 2 years. I photographed many Hip Hop artists while I was in NY.

You have done countless photoshoots with amazing arrays of artists, is there any artist/musician that stands out in terms of your interaction or memory working with them?

There are some and the shoot with Mr. LL Cool J is one of them. We were doing the shoot in Soho and since I wanted to take pictures in many different backgrounds, I made him walk around so much.

He was getting tired and wanted to go where people at, but I wanted to shoot where there were no people. And in seconds, I lost him! The magazine editor and his publicist came back and asked me where he went and I was like I have no idea! I was so worried but luckily we found him and he was interacting with his fans. I was so relieved (laughs) !


LL Cool J, photographed by Atsuko Tanaka

...as time goes by, I would appreciate more and more for every opportunities I got and made me realize how valuable each moments were. They’re my heroes so I’m just honored and grateful.

Atsuko Tanaka

Jay-Z, photographed by Atsuko Tanaka

In our featured collection, you photographed the likes of Mobb Deep, Erykah Badu, Foxy Brown, Method Man & Redman - how would you describe your memories working with these legends?

Back then, I was just enjoying taking pictures of them, but as time goes by, I would appreciate more and more for every opportunities I got and made me realize how valuable each moments were. They’re my heroes so I’m just honored and grateful.

Unfortunately due to the current restrictions with what’s going on in the world, obviously we would’ve loved you to be here celebrating the launch - but when you’re able to, what food item from our menu would you like to try?

I think I would try your ramen!

Also, are there any Australian-based artists/musicians you’d like to shoot one day

Unfortunately, I don’t really know much Australian-based artists, but I would love to know! I’d love to work with people have creative mind and I think it will be nice to do the shoots in beautiful nature.


What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

I think it would be better to know what kind of subject matter you’d enjoy shooting, so when people see your work, they know what you’re doing. Also try to find your own style to make a difference from other photographers. Leave
memos about each photo shoot, write anything about it, because you will forget later. Archive your work nicely is important too, you never know when you will need them.

Thank you Atsuko for taking the time to do this interview with us, we’d love to hear if you have any upcoming work we can expect from you in the near future, that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m working on something new, will update in my Instagram when it’s ready. I released my first photo book about Japanese rappers this summer, called “SHOSHINSHOMEI” and I wanna do the 2nd one about Asian Hip Hop - it’s my next mission. Hopefully we can travel abroad safely without any worries soon!

Interview by W. Sean Alcantara


Redman & Method Man, photographed by Atsuko Tanaka


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