Typically, when 63-year-old Richard Shimizu leaves his house, he’s loaded with two fully-charged cameras, a smartphone and a backup cell phone.
The retired Long Beach native, recognizable by his big black frames, has more endurance than people half his age. If event photography was a competitive sport, he would easily take the prize.
“Taking photos is my equivalent of golf or fishing,” he says. “I’d recommend this to anybody.”
Since he started documenting the Long Beach music and art scene about four years ago, he’s shot hundreds of local acts, amounting to tens of thousands of shots in his hard drive. To his Facebook friends, he acts akin to a correspondent. On a typical day, his rounds include up to four events, mostly live music, and liveblogs from the venue. On an average night he stays up until 3 a.m. editing and posting photos from the night. It’s a hobby that’s taken a life of its own.
“The whole reason I take pictures is not so much just to take pictures,” he says. “It’s about the people more than anything.”
The first time I noticed Richard, it was several months ago at DiPiazza’s open mic. He was pacing around and double-fisting, in his usual fashion, a Panasonic point-and-shoot camera in each hand (he takes photos on one while shooting video on the other). A few weeks later, though we had exchanged few words up to this point, he handed me a stack of pictures that he’d taken of me on and off stage. He would say little to nothing, kind smile on his face, and move on to the next.
My initial perplexity and gratitude gave way to curiosity about this shy gentleman who seemed to be quietly omnipresent in the local music scene. So last week I invited him over to my apartment for some coffee and chat. He showed up several minutes early, carrying a plastic bag of spring rolls, Vietnamese noodles and a six pack. He didn’t touch any of it. Always giving, this guy.
Richard retired four years ago from a lifelong career working with a series of telephone companies, where he specialized in business systems, and according to him, climbing poles.
“It was something at the time that didn’t require any particular degree of intelligence,” he says, laughing. “It was a lot of fun.”
The third-generation Japanese American grew up in north Long Beach in the ’50s and graduated from Polytechnic High School. He enrolled in Long Beach City College then later Cal State Long Beach to avoid the draft to Vietnam.
“Not that I’m not patriotic, but I just didn’t like jungles and being shot at for some reason,” he says with a laugh.
He says he’s never been creatively inclined, but I’ve learned that when he’s talking about himself you should take it with a grain of salt — he’s self-deprecating to a fault. He describes himself as a terrible student, but he is rather a big history buff. About an hour into our conversation, I can tell he’s feeling loose and in his element when he goes off on a long tangent.
“You know that I’m not Japanese, right?” He has strong suspicions that his lineage goes back to the native islanders before the country was formed. Not as intellectual but can put up a hell of a fight, he says.
He took up photography in the early ’90s, mostly for competitive sports events and air rifle clubs. Bumping into an artist cousin who asked him to show her around Long Beach prompted him to start exploring his hometown’s burgeoning art and music scene.
“I’ve been living here all my life, but I was always thinking, the city’s dead, there’s nothing going on,” he says. “But all of this stuff is right under your nose.”