My first encounter with E-WAX was through the THESOLOIST grocerystore website and social media accounts. He was the store manager and was always featured wearing the latest delivery of shop gear. I was intrigued to say the least, so I followed his account(s) for a few years until one day I realized he was living in the United States. He had moved to New York. E-WAX then began showcasing a unique street photography streak with images capturing New York-American life.
During his growth in street photography, he was quietly working on notable projects with major brands including hand illustrated graphic tees with THESOLOIST and abstract paintings utilized on garments for Missoni Man. I had always admired his personal style and ability to create an objectively fresh stylistic expression of himself, but more-so admired his modest approach to work and his art.
There was still plenty of mystery though. How does one so expertly position themselves as E-WAX has? I emailed him and learned his early-life and upbringing is more stimulating than I could have imagined.
As product-people, photographers, designers, whatever-- we should all take cues from E-WAX. Less selfies, more projects. Less humble brags and more of the work you claim to do in your IG bio. I'd like to think E-WAX is still underground, but that might be underestimating his success thus far. Eiji Kudo is E-WAX.
Can you talk a bit about your childhood? Where did you grow up and when did you get into photography, art and fashion?
I grew up in London for about 8 years and then came back to Japan when I was around 11 or 12 years old. I really wanted to be a football player. I tried hard to be a football player until I was 21 years old. I did a few professional tryouts but it didn't work out, so I then decided to quit football. At that time my mom was hospitalized so my dad and I were taking care of my mom and staying at the hospital everyday. Once you’re at the hospital and spending 24 hours there, it’s really boring and you actually don't have anything to do. So, I started looking around the hospital to find a cute nurse to date, but I still had plenty of time there so I started drawing some shapes and patterns in my mom’s room. Then one day my mom said to me "Eiji, you should do that more seriously." That's how I started painting. A few months later my mom died with cancer and after all that happened I decided to move to Tokyo to do more art stuff. One day my iPhone suddenly broke and as I’m not good at using computers, I didn't do any of those back up things so I ended up with 0 photos and of course my moms memory too... I was really shocked and just couldn't believe it all could disappear in a second. So I’m really stressed out about digital things. My best friend, Yusuke Abe is a photographer and he gave me a film camera which was a Leica Minilux, so from there I started taking pictures. That was when I was 22 years old.
I’ve read you’ve lived in London during childhood, how did you end up there?
Well, I moved to London when I was 3 years old because of my dad’s work. He is a musician known as K.U.D.O and he was part of the label called Major Force and he worked with U.N.K.L.E (James Lavelle) from Mo' Wax and a lot of other musicians.
You worked at THESOLOIST grocerystore and have also collaborated with Takahiro Miyashita on various projects, how did you meet Miyashita and come to work with him?
I first met Takahiro in London when I was 6 years old. My family, James’ family and Takahiro were eating dinner together. I remember playing with Takahiro at the restaurant. Fifteen years later, before I moved to Tokyo, I had a chance to show my drawings to Takahiro so I brought my drawing book to his apartment and knocked on the door. I remember my hand was shaking because I was 15 and I actually i don’t remember how he looked.After I showed my stuff he said to me "I am gonna open a flagship store so come to Tokyo and be the shop manager.” I was really surprised what he said that and at first I thought it was a joke but he was serious. He did everything for me that allowed me to move to Tokyo-- even finding my apartment. Through working at grocerystore I worked with Takahiro as a painter too. I made t-shirts with him and some one-off things and did an exhibition there too. It was all very natural. If i didn't meet Takahiro that day I wouldn’t be who I am right now and I wouldn't be here in New York. That 4 years at TheSoloist was everything for me. He taught me a lot of things. It means a lot.
When you Google “E-WAX”, it suggests correcting to “emulsifying wax” instead. Where did the name E-WAX come from?
When I started painting I wanted a cool name that everyone could remember. So E was simply from my name Eiji, and WAX was from Mo' Wax records that my dad worked with.
You currently live in New York City, what’s your morning routine like? Any cafe’s on your commute?
Well, I’m a night guy so I sleep around 5 or 6am in the morning so I actually wake up at 12 or 1pm and make a cup of coffee by myself. Then I get out and go to the coffee shop and get another coffee and stay there for an hour or two. I like staying at the cafe and just looking outside thinking nothing. But I always bring my camera with me so I think I’m looking and waiting for some good situations. That time at the cafe is very important for me, I think.
Your photography is sharp, both in terms of composition and quality but also in terms of your subtle commentary and ability to capture very human moments. What draws you to street photography in NYC?
I think I’m drawn to the "people” (mainly woman), "things" and "shapes" on the street. Everything is interesting for me. There’s too much to write down but when I look at woman I like seeing their blowing hair, skirt, legs, how they walk, how they sit, cross their legs, etc...
Most of your photography is film, what’s your camera of choice?
I mainly use a Nikon FM3A and the sub is Minolta Hi-Matic AF.
I feel really happy about that. I mean, I'm always doing the same thing as usual, making art. It's just a different material.
Any big projects coming up that you’re excited about? Where can people see more of your work?
I recently had a show at Nepenthes NY and another in February. I'm preparing for that.
See more photography and work from E-WAX here: @loveisnextdoor