Jon Ellis, of I Wrote This For You, is one of those people whom you never expect to meet. But there he is. At the end of the table sipping his Guinness with a polite smile on his face. He wears dark clothing and knows way more about goth music than you ever will, though in fact he is quite a polite (that may just be a British affectation) affable and colorful character, despite seeming to dwell in a monochrome reality. Once you sit down and commit to having a conversation with him you realize that he is relentlessly intelligent, very well read, an unapologetic vegan and of of the nicest guys to have a couple of pints with any day of the week.
Our conversation moved about like an apoplectic cuttlefish from music (his band is called Muff Punch) to scuba diving (he is an avid diver) and from computer privacy (a programmer by day) to photography (a Paparazzo by night).
Fragments of Tokyo – Interview with Jon Ellis
HESO: What is Fragments of Tokyo?
Jon Ellis: Fragments of Tokyo is a collaborative annual exhibition. The idea grew out of a desire to put something, that was mostly happening on the internet, back into the real world context of a gallery.
The name itself is a reflection of the need to bring together four very different styles of photography under a single moniker. The only common aspect of all our work was that we all shoot in Tokyo, and obviously no photograph of Tokyo can take in more than a fragment…
H: Who are involved?
JE: The four members are Toshiya Watanabe, Thomas Orand, Dairou Koga, and myself. In order, an ad agency art director, a refuse collector, a book seller, and a programmer. Two Japanese, a Frenchman, and an Englishman…it sounds like the start of a ‘walk into a bar’ joke.
H: What is your process of creating images?
JE: While we do sometime meet up and shoot together, mostly each of us works better alone. My personal process is an odd mix of order and chaos. Photography is something that I do for enjoyment (rather than employment) and therefore tends to fill up inconsistently sized and spaced holes of my time. The pictures for last years Fragments of Tokyo were mostly not shot with the show in mind. As a series they were shot over several nights out in Shibuya; some ‘dutch courage’ snatched street shots, and other interesting piece of light that just drifted past. In reality the series didn’t exist until I’d pulled the shots together from my archives.
This year has been rather different. Rather than shoot and try to find the series, I’ve had a specific vision of the shots in the series. Having a specific set of images in mind has made the experience more stressful, but has also made me focus and a try a little harder to define a style.
H: Living in the biggest metropolitan area in the world, what do you draw on for inspiration?
JE: For my latest project the shape and form of the city. Tokyo isn’t a particularly green city, which removes, what would be for me, the obvious inspiration of nature, or the interaction of nature and the city. Taking pictures of people requires a kind of serendipity and dedication of which I’m apparently incapable. This leaves the architecture, the buildings, and structures.
Beyond that, it’s mostly just a desire to deconstruct the everyday jumble of the city, to break it down into neater, more ordered pieces that keeps me shooting.
H: Being that, as you said, Tokyo isn’t a particularly green city, where do you go to meditate?
JE: A small, grey box, into which no thoughts can flow, that exists in a corner of my mind.
H: What projects are you working on currently?
JE: My current biggest project is to relocate to the other end of Eurasia. That is taking up most of my time and energy. In the background there is also a long running project to document some small fraction of Tokyo’s system of railways and stations. It’s one of those project that may never end, or see the light of day!
Another other long running project is a collaboration with a friend in South Africa. Together we create a blog called ‘I wrote this for you‘. Every entry is one of my photographs and a short form story. It has been running for something like four years, and have become quite popular. Iain Thomas, the writer, gave a short talk on short form storytelling at TEDx in Johannesburg.
H: Will you give us a tasty recipe?
JE: Saute a finely chopped onion in some olive oil, with a bay leaf, and twenty whole peppercorns. When the onion is soft, add a whole, chopped, head of celery, leaves and all. Add 300 – 400g of brown lentils (preferably soaked over night), salt, and cover with water. Keep an eye on the pot, and add more water as needed. When the lentils are soft (takes 20 – 40mins depending on how long the lentils soaked), blitz it with a hand blender until it’s silky.
Goes best with good, dark, german bread.
H: Yum, maybe the next recipe for Eat Me Drink Me. Thanks Jon & good luck with your exhibition and current projects. Fragments of Tokyo 2011 will run from 3.14.2011 (Monday) ~ 3.20.2001 (Sunday) at Gallery Place M in Shunjuku. Check out the map.