HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Tag: Analog Photography

The Lost Interview - Junku Nishimura

Lost Interview Series – Photographer Junku Nishimura

The first time I saw the photography of Junku Nishimura I became transported to a different place, like a poor man’s Arthur Dent, though not so much gone on an actual trip as merely dumbstruck, mouth agape, thoughtless and wearing a frayed robe and suddenly wondering where my towel was. It is not as if I was perusing these 35mm film images on stark white walls at a local gallery printed large on 16 x 20′ Ilford Multigrade FB Warmtone Fiber Base Paper, no, I was looking at his flickr stream a few thousand miles away on a crappy laptop and sipping on a lukewarm mug of coffee, thinking how I wished things were different, that I wished I could wander around Junku’s old school Japan with him, hitting the pachinko parlor and the bathhouse, the strip joint and pull up a chair next to him at whatever local divebar he frequents and pound on the counter pouring out stories and fish tales over medium quality whisky and cannisters of film. Sufficiently drunk, we would then venture off to find some spicy kimchi ramen or hit the Karato Ichiba fish market in Shimonoseki for some baby blowfish tempura, anago nigiri, and ice cold Asahi. Not being there I have to imagine it through Junku’s masterful eye, so I project his vision onto what my brain thinks it knows about the reality of people and places that exists independently of myself, to which I have been only a handful of times. My hitchhiker’s guide spits out a series of gritty, vaseline-coated images from the early 70s, a fractured compendium of gangsters and bathhouses, bars and kimono-clad wenches, stray cats and random urban landscapes. The truth is not far off. He would be having hundreds of conversations with all of these people, the photographs coming naturally, not interfering with the human connection. Because to look at Junku’s photography, that is what one finds, humanity, in all its mundane frailty and strength, the perpetually imperfect moment perfectly captured.

Lost Interview Series – Photographer Junku Nishimura

HESO: Who are you and where are you from? Give us some background please.

Junku Nishimura: I was born in a small coal-mining town called Mine-City (Me-nay), Yamaguchi in 1967. I lived there until I graduated from a high school and then studied at a university in Kyoto. After working as a club DJ as well as a construction worker and dish washer for a couple of years, I was hired by a concrete material company and worked for 18 years (6 years in Sapporo, 12 years in Nagoya). During this period, I happened to get a Leica and started to devote myself in photography. Since retired, I am fully engaged in it.

HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?

Junku: I was seven or eight when I first took a picture of a plastic model tank that I made with my parents’ camera. My mother helped me to get a sharp focus. I happened to find the camera in storage at home a few years ago. It was a Minolta HI-MATIC E. My first camera was like a cheap copy of Canon 110ED. I used it when I was a high school kid, but not really crazy about photography at that time.

HESO: Your photos have a very distinct look. Often very crisp and sharp yet there is a grainy feel as well. Are you a mathematical photographer or do you just shoot?

Junku: Thanks. Although my photographs might look completely intuitive and spontaneous, I consider myself quite conscious about exposure. As a user of a Leica M5, I have explored the best combinations of aperture and shutter speeds to create the contrast that I intend. Leica is not easy to handle in terms of exposure, but worth struggling for.

HESO: Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa. Or is it not important? Explain.

Junku: Regarding processing, I prefer analog. There is a very personal reason why I use films. I like the whole process of printing. When listening to my favorite music, soaking a paper in liquid in a little darkroom of my apartment, I feel the same tranquility as when I concentrate on fishing in the ocean. Both require sincere focus to get the “it“ moment. It is not easy, but truly rewarding.

Sound and smell bring back memories and inspire images. For me, music is my inspiration. Click To Tweet

HESO: You get up in the morning, pick up your camera, where are you going?

Junku: I usually go to the market. Fish market is always first.

HESO: Who are your favorite photographers?

Junku: Isao Yamaguchi and Katsumi Watanabe. Yamaguchi took pictures of coal mines in Kyushu. He was a coal miner himself. Watanabe captured vivid images of Shinjuku, selling food on the street. I am overwhelmed enormously by works of people who are deeply rooted in where they belong to. There are such photographers in Okinawa including Mao Ishikawa.

HESO: You mention that you are the “most funkiest funk-old school unknown-dj in the world.” Does music influence your photography? What are some of your favorite styles of music and musicians?

Junku: I might have been the “most funkiest DJ” (lol) when I used to steal the DJ booth at night clubs, but now I should be modest to say “once-the-funkiest.” Sound and smell bring back memories and inspire images. For me, music is my inspiration. Like many other Japanese, I think of an old downtown like Golden-gai of Shinjuku when I listen to 70’s to 80’s Japanese folk songs. When traveling overseas, I shot scenes inspired by folk music of the county, for example, Trot in Korea, Isaan in Thailand and Spanglish Hip-Hop in Spanish Harlem. Personally I love R&B and Hip-Hop from late 70’s to mid-80’s. I was working in my darkroom listening to DeBarge last night. On a side note, I read the Okino interview on HESO a while ago. Once when I was a DJ at a club and he was the manager, I let him stay with me in my cheap apartment. Kyoto, 23 years ago :).

HESO: Very cool. What do you do when you are not working?

Junku: I used to go fishing and camping when I owned a car. Recently, I am making mixtapes, reading, and studying Korean while I am not working. Other than that, just drinking.

HESO: What is your favorite food? If you could eat with anyone, alive or dead, in any time period in history, in any place, who, when and where?

Junku: I am not picky and enjoy anything, but rice is something special to maintain my strength. For the other question, I am thinking of a black woman’s small diner in the last scene of a Norman Jewison film In the Heat of the Night. In the middle of nowhere Deep South, around the season for cotton crops, with young Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier, it would be nice to have hogshead cheese and Hoppin’ John that Mama Kariba cooked, with a cheap bottle of bourbon.

HESO: Junku, if you want to mention anything else about yourself, your work or a charitable cause you work with—anything—please do so here. Thank you for your time.

Junku: I will be based back in my home town from next year on and engaged in growing rice. If you feel tired from city life, come visit me at www.junkunishimura.com Yoroshiku desu

Junku

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael Nguyen

A Floating World in Bloom – Interview with Michael Nguyen

I first met Michael Nguyen on a beautiful spring day in Tokyo, the flowers in bloom. We were in a Shibuya park on Meiji Dori, where an anti-nuke rally climaxed in a costumed hippie drum offensive, bursting in the dappled light. If I remember correctly, Mike had a can of beer and a cigarette (he likes his tobacco, lights it with a Zippo with a dazzling flair that would make a seamus smile). It didn’t take long to establish friendship: he was a Gaucho and so was I, alumni of University of California at Santa Barbara, meaning we’d both known Paradise as younger men and that this heady knowledge acquired as twenty-year-olds had affected our lifelong trajectories. I’ve only known Mike for about two years but judging by his photography, I can see he’s never discarded the pleasures introduced in Santa Barbara. It’s nice to see that he’s still trailing after beautiful manifestations, glad he sees fit to share his gleaning with the rest of us. Mike’s wonderfully eccentric street tableaux aside, he’s well-known among his peers for his bathing beauties—what has been called his “babe in the onsen” motif, but really that is simplifying and involves not a little envy. There is an element in fantasy in such an intimate, sensual image. After all, most of us photographers are not Lothario types, and an attractive woman will not be seduced by the size of our lens. Something more is at work, something mysterious, which I suppose is a secret, and a well-guarded one.

We at HESO then are proud to present a sample of Michael’s work—his women, and because it’s spring, his flowers, for what better way to illustrate the ephemeral beauty that breaks our hearts, then to complement these lithe, youthful figures with the ambassadors of spring, in which we are reminded we have yet another chance to set things right.

A Floating World in Bloom – Interview with Michael Nguyen

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael NguyenHESO: Why photography? Why not painting? Or music? Or triathlons?

Michael Nguyen: If you have ever heard me at karaoke then you would know why not music. Photography and painting do not necessarily really differ in terms of how we experience time and space, but the creation phase is different. Painting starts out in the light and develops gradually, but remains visible the entire time. A photo captures a scene all at once and is then developed over time in a dark laboratory. Digital is changing all of that, but that’s another story. Photography for me is the best means of expressing and hanging on to those little fleeting splinters of life we experience each day.

HESO: How did you get into photography? I believe you majored in it at UC Santa Barbara. Do you think studying the subject at university has made you a better photographer?

MN: I was a graphic design major actually. I started taking photography classes in college and fell in love with the zen state of mind in the darkroom. I can’t say I really learned much in college, nothing I couldn’t have learned by going to galleries myself and looking at books and hanging out with other photographers.

HESO: Which cameras do you prefer? And why? Does shooting with film matter?

MN: Ah, the obligatory gear porn question. I suppose it depends on what I shoot. For street photography I have my Leica M6 with a 50mm Sumicron, which is good for much single-subject shots. For portraits and landscape I have my Rolleiflex Sl66 for the slower process and higher film resolution, basically a Hassy with bellows that allows me to play around with the focal plane. I haven’t seen anyone else using one. To keep the film vs digital debate succinct, I’m of the opinion that from a personal expression point-of-view, the process does matter and the process of shooting film slows things down and allows one to think with deeper clarity. It doesn’t help that I’m a sentimental motherfucker who clings to bygone things. The well-worn cliche here being if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There was nothing wrong with film photography when digital came along. Which isn’t to say that digital is bad or anything per se–it makes commercial work more efficient and streamlined, but it hasn’t added anything to the art form.

HESO: Though we are featuring a series of flowers and feminine beauty, you’re a bit of a street photographer as well. What is it you’re looking for on the street?

MN: Other than the typical “I wanna capture the fleeting moments of life” schpiel, street photography is my way of sticking it to the man so to speak. Like poker, the house always wins. Every now and then the perfect hand comes and you happen to bet big and take down the house. Most of the time we take shitty snapshots of mundane objects, but when that perfect moment comes where you’re at the right place at the right time and had the right settings on your camera, and, well, that time is beautiful.

HESO: Do you enjoy shooting in Japan better than elsewhere? How is it different than shooting in the States?

MN: Difficult to answer really. It wasn’t until I got to Japan that I took it seriously. So I can’t say I’ve had a good attempt at really shooting in other places. I did recently go to Spain however and found the light there to feel harsh and low, quite challenging.

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael NguyenHESO: What is the most difficult aspect of being a photographer today?

MN: Coming up with something groundbreaking and new since everything seems like its been done. Cliche is the enemy.

HESO: So much good photography in my experience is due the serendipitous moment. Share with us a story of accidental good fortune.

MN: In life anyway, accidental is the only kind of good fortune I get. As far as photography, I can’t go as far as to say I’ve had any true serendipitous moments. You always try to be in the place with the best possibility of seeing something interesting and be prepared as best as you can. Photography isn’t a terrible John Cusack movie.

HESO: Flowers, youth, the elegant form of the female nude… what else do you find beautiful in this world?

MN: That’s just about it! Haha. With the sensory overload in this day and age I’ve become so jaded and numb that anything that stimulates any kind of emotion, good or bad, is beautiful in this world. Being rather immature for my age however, beauty remains a superficial thing unfortunately…

HESO: Your photos presented herein are just lovely. Any chance they’ll become part and parcel of a more comprehensive project on beauty?

MN: Ideally yes. but again like I mentioned earlier its really hard not to do cliche and redundant things, so who knows. I’m torn between just getting out there or hold out till I have something mind blowing. waiting for that epiphany.

HESO: You are somewhat notorious among your friends for the ‘babe in the onsen’ motif, but a lot of the ribbing is just jealousy. They would love to imitate you if only they could! Any tips for guys on making their beautiful girlfriends comfortable enough to pose in such intimate circumstances?

MN: Lots of booze! Seriously though, women tend to be insecure creatures. Reassuring them of how sexy they are and showing your passion in having them as such an integral part of your vision is key. Everyone just wants to feel needed and loved.

See more of Michael’s work here.

Placebo with Zakuro © Ontoshiki

Interview with Tokyo Photographer Ontoshiki

In the old days, when a man was building his credibility as an artist, he did so rather anonymously. There might be a break here or there in this or that magazine or fashion catalogue but it would be difficult for this person to build a public name outside the small circle of his metropolitan environs. There was no forum for strangers to witness the flourishing of an individual’s sensibility. The support network could be minimal, the journey, lonely.

I’ve never met the man who goes by the mysterious name of Ontoshiki but that doesn’t mean I don’t know him. I first discovered him a little more than a year ago on flickr. I can’t remember exactly what shot it was but I think it might have been from his Tohoku series, which Ontoshiki visited shortly after the devastating March 11th quake. Amidst the destruction are solitary shots of people. What are they doing here? Looking through the ruins? Contemplating how life could ever be the same again? I learned quickly his Tohoku work is in no way emblematic of his oeuvre— Ontoshiki is not a photojournalist— but is consistent with his strong feelings regarding mood and emotion.

I am of the camp that the photos we take are like the results of a Rorschach test, giving ourselves away, what we feel about love, humanity, even political and spiritual viewpoints. You can tell from a man’s photographs whether you’d like the man himself. After all, it’s not just the way he sees the world— every photograph is an appreciation of a certain moment that is then publicized to express selfhood. A photo then is not just saying, “Look at this!” but is whispering in your ear, “This is me…”

That said I know I’d like Ontoshiki the man. Beyond technical commonalities (like me he seems to shoot mostly in color with film cameras) it’s his unmistakable interest in beauty and humanism that makes him simpatico. Yes, he photographs beautiful women but he is careful to allow them their sense of mystery. When I peruse his many photos of women I’m not just looking at their finery and appreciating their feminine charms; I’m also sensing their autonomy (as opposed to being mere sex objects). All too often fashion photography feels reductive (it is after all selling something) but Ontoshiki allows his subjects their vulnerability. Moodiness has precedence over glamour. This emphasis is something you rarely find in photos of beautiful women.

I suppose it works here because Ontoshiki is coming at photography with his dual interest in self-expression and aesthetic appreciation. Some people want to make perfectly abstract photos of buildings. Others find their eye in war zones. And then some just adore beautiful women. In his own words, Ontoshiki writes that sensuality “in photography is tantamount to having an intimate dance with a woman; timing, technique, intricate body movements…shooting someone for an extended period gives me a feeling of palpable intimacy.” It’s not a job then, it’s a life.

A Lust Restrained © Ontoshiki

A Lust Restrained © Ontoshiki

HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?

Ontoshiki: I’ve been shooting since I was a teen. I was born in Malaysia but my ancestor’s roots are from China. When I was 9 years old, my family immigrated to Australia so I was raised and educated there. 

In 2005, I made a big decision to quit a decent job (in the Australian government) and I eventually arrived in Tokyo. With a constant stream of culture, interesting faces and beautiful scenes happening right in front of my eyes, I felt like I needed something with a little more control in order to document these fascinating visuals. A year later, after being inspired by film photographers I came across, I ventured into film photography and immediately fell in love with the Pentacon 6 and a cheap plastic Holga. I eventually opted for the 6×6 format Hasselblad and the 35mm format Minolta. 

I don’t have any formal education but I will be going to Paris, France to study at SPEOS school of photography to eventually to work on meaningful long-term documentary projects which focus on community and inherent social issues.

HESO: You get up in the morning, look out the window, what do you see?

Ontoshiki: I’m not a morning person so maybe I see the world a little differently, moving in time-lapse. I feel like I’m a goldfish swimming around in a fishbowl watching the world go by. Going back in history, the last 50 years has changed more significantly than the last 1000 years. This phenomenon is known as “the quickening” and I believe this is a sign that the world is on the verge of major social, economic, political and spiritual change. We are living in an upside-down world full of misinformation. I used to be nihilistic and live in a world of existential ennui, but photography has given me meaning. When I quit my job many years ago and moved to Japan, I wasn’t sure what I was doing: perhaps it was to escape the my life back then. Picking up photography has given me a tool to explore my inner and outer Universes for truth, connect the dots of life and to understand the synchronicities that has led me to this point.

Secret Kyoto © Ontoshiki

Secret Kyoto © Ontoshiki

HESO: You have a very distinct portfolio, full of color and ranging across a variety of subject matter, from classic traditional to edgy counterculture. There is a sense of discipline and order underlying many of your images, yet, strictly speaking, they are not all in focus. What is your main objective in photographing something?

Ontoshiki: Quite the contrary, I really think my portfolio lacks order or discipline. If there were elements of any, perhaps the discipline and order may have come from the educational system in Malaysia. In Australia, the education system was free-flowing, interactive and students were allowed their own voice.

In terms of what I shoot, as with any rookie photographer or painter, I started out shooting scenes from daily life, flowers, stills, people but nothing out of the ordinary. To draw an analogy, it was akin to being born but without your vocal chords developed. You are but a newborn watching and observing, listening and learning but once you are ready, you gradually develop a voice. Now that I am ready, I want to communicate to people the way I see the world and the sights and sounds that have influenced and inspired me.

Lately, I’m sometimes paid to shoot things I/m not particularly interested in. but I do it in order to financially support my other photographic endeavors. Photography is not a “cheap thrill” but I’ll try not to sell myself out and focus on the subjects that interest me.

HESO: Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa? Or is it not important? Explain.

Ontoshiki: For personal work, portraiture, street and documentary, I definitely prefer shooting film especially in black and white — the tones and highlights are incomparable to a straight digital black and white conversion which is often flat, lacks contrast and depth. I shoot digital for assignments and editorials due to cost, speed and convenience.

Feline Fatale © Ontoshiki

Feline Fatale © Ontoshiki

HESO: You possess a knack for extracting color out of a scene. Yet you also have a very large, and quite masterful collection of black and white photographs. What do you feel is the main difference between the two and how do you approach shooting color as opposed to shooting black and white?

Ontoshiki: I love the masters of paintings: van Gogh, Monet, Degas; film: Wong Kar Wai, Ridley Scott, Tim Burton; contemporary photographers: Eugenio Recuenco, Damon Loble, Michelangelo di Battista, Elizaveta Porodina. Their colors are punchy, mood strong, voyeuristic, mysterious, yet the look is still dreamy and organic. If I can get anywhere close to a combination of their styles, I will be on the right track.

If I honestly critique myself, I am not afraid to admit that my digital work “sucks”. I am an amateur with artificial lighting and photoshop post-processing. On the other hand, I feel that my black and white film work is closer to where I want to be. I remember the story of the Master sushi chef who’s been making the same sushi for over 25 years and when asked if he were happy with his sushi, he promptly replied “My sushi is still not good.” On that timeline, I am only in my 3rd to 4th year since I was reborn photographically.

HESO: You have many photos of far-off people in some kind of cityscape. Do you prefer to shoot landscapes or vistas or people? A combination of both? Are these scenes candid or contrived? Do you use models or random strangers? If the latter, do you ask permission?

Ontoshiki: Initially, when I started photographing the streets and people, I would shoot them in the distance. Over the years, I learnt how to get closer and fill the frame and I think that is very much also a reflection of how I am a little less afraid of making the commitment to get closer to someone on a personal level. I suppose you could say that photography has granted me a sort of quasi-intimate relationship with the people I shoot.

Do I ask permission? I do a bit of both, obviously with my street photos they are all random strangers sometimes I stop to ask but most times I shoot them going about their daily business. I recently try to venture into places and go to events where I can likely meet interesting personalities but sometimes I am lucky enough to meet people and subjects serendipitously. In fact, one of the most interesting shoots Ive had done in my life I unexpectedly met at a bar in Shibuya. He is a prominent franchise owner in the U.S. who was in Japan to franchise his business but he was also here to learn the art of “kinbaku” which is the art of rope tying bondage. We got to talking, agreed on a price and I ended up doing a photoshoot for him at the studio of infamous “shibari” rope master, Steve Osada. On another day, I did a photoshoot of him, his girlfriend and two other guys having a four-some. Needless to say, that was the weirdest shooting experiences I’ve ever been involved with and Im not sure if Id do it again to be honest 😉 …oh, just for the record, I didn’t participate.

HESO: Hah! Who are your favorite photographers? Any images in particular stick out to you?

Ontoshiki: I’d like to pay homage to the masters: Helmut Newton, Nobuyoshi Araki, Eugene Smith, James Nachtwey, Daido Moriyama.

A few years ago around the time I started on my photography journey my good friend Mika who’s a professional photographer took me to an exhibition at a small gallery in Ginza to see the work of fetish photographer “Yasuji Watanabe”. It’s hard to explain but at the time, I was rather stoic about the experience. I know looking back, that deep down inside the images really grabbed me, yet I didn’t know how to react or what I wanted to do with it because I was still in my photographic womb. I realize now a seed was planted within me and a few years on, I am taking my first steps on the path to photographing themes of beauty, sensualism, fetishism and erotica. I would say that I have found the voice resonating deep within me which lay dormant at the time.

If You Stole My Sunset © Ontoshiki

If You Stole My Sunset © Ontoshiki

HESO: What do you do when you are not working?

Ontoshiki: I’ve been occupied with…spirituality, yoga, street photography, mixed martial arts, urban exploration, blogging, working on my website and venturing to places in order to meet new people for my photography projects.

HESO: How has the tragedy of 3/11 affected you? Those around you? Friends and family? What do you feel you have done to help? What needs to be done?

Ontoshiki: What have I done to help? Not enough. I was lucky enough to join the crew of JTI Foundation and Fukushima Future on their projects in Tohoku and Fukushima. I really wish I had more time, money and resources but what I did documenting the tragedy was for very selfish reasons. However, through this experience I was able to communicate my voice and viewers who came across my photos could feel hope and compassion among all the devastation. I would definitely like to go up there again if I have a chance to see the positive progress and to document happier moments.

As tragic as it was, it really helped me to understand myself better as a person. I am a selfish and complicated person by nature yet I feel theres a compassionate humanitarian part of me which is dying to be released from its shackles. I know one day I will find that altruistic part of me and pull him out of that deep, dark abyss.

My family and friends, much like everyone else were obviously concerned about what was happening in Japan. Watching the situation unfold on TV where “bad news is good news” is never easy on the families of people affected. At the same time, I don’t thing it was a stretch to say that Fukushima was minutes from the worst nuclear disaster in history.

HESO: Ontoshiki, if you want to mention anything else about yourself, your work or a charitable cause you work with—anything—please do so here.

Ontoshiki: Firstly, I’d like to thank the team at HESO, you Manny, Sean and to everyone who follows my work. Find me on my Facebook page and drop me a message.

This interview is part of HESO Magazine’s ongoing Summer Interview Series, where we interview photographers, musicians and artists about their work and what they think about the world of 2012. We may ask them similar questions, but the answers have been anything but the same old canned responses. Check out the entire series here.

Modern Japan with Bronica Zenza

Modern Japan with Bronica Zenza

In part V of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan via the Bronica Zenza (ゼンザブロニカ?), a Japanese brand of medium format roll-film cameras, a single-lens reflex model first appearing in 1958. Partially named after the company’s founder, Zenzaburo Yoshino, and reputedly derived from Zenzaburo Brownie Camera. The Bronica Z and successor Bronicas, using Nikkor lenses, are all cult classics. Bronicas are workhorse cameras for wedding and portrait photographers and secondhand Bronica cameras are still widely used by professional and serious amateur photographers, due to superior image quality over smaller film and digital sensor formats as well as affordability.

After the death of Zenzaburo Yoshino in 1988, Bronica was acquired by the lens manufacturer Tamron which discontinued the brand’s single-lens reflex models (SQ, ETR and GS) in October 2004. Bronica’s last model, the RF645 rangefinder camera, was discontinued in October 2005.

Modern Japan with Bronica Zenza

The Modern Japan Gallery

Fan faces at Fujirock (Manny Santiago)

Modern Japan with Horizon S3

In part IV of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan via the Horizon S3 Pro Panoramic. The Horizon is a mechanical swing-lens panoramic camera manufactured by Krasnogorskiy Zavod in Krasnogorsk, Russia, known for their range of Zenit cameras.

The Horizon was produced in two formats: the 205pc, which took 50.5×110 mm wide frames on 120 film, and the 202, which took 24×58 mm wide frames on perforated 35 mm film. The 202 has been superseded by the S3pro, a redesigned and improved camera with silent rotation and more exposure times.

An older version called the Horizont, produced in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, had an all-metal, rectangular body and a removable viewfinder. The technology of the “202” is basically the same, but the body covering is plastic, and has an integrated viewfinder, making it larger. Additionally, the 202 features a slow-speed shutter mechanism, with exposure times of 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 of a second; the S3-Pro has exposure times of 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 second, slower rotation than the 202, and silent rotation. It has been appropriated by Lomo.

Modern Japan with Horizon S3

The Modern Japan Gallery

I Wrote This For You

I Wrote This For You

I Wrote This For You

A Man Walks Into A Bar...

It goes like the joke: A guy walks into a bar in Tokyo, orders a beer and looks around for people, mostly men, fondling, mostly large, black, analog, cameras. Eyes peer up over pint glasses as the man approaches with his own large, black, analog camera and sets it and the beer down with satisfying clunks on the wet, cigarette ash strewn tabletop. He takes off a scarf and a jacket, maybe a hat, shakes some hands, smiles and eyes the people’s cameras he doesn’t know. He is lucky to have gotten a seat–these Friday Night Meetings can get crowded. He sits, smiles and sighs, and fingering the shutter on his camera, takes a long pull from the pint glass. He is thinking of two things: ordering the next pint and whose 503cw Hasselblad with the extension tubes–transforming it from a stealthy jaguar to a jungle panther with x-ray vision–is that next to that frosty half drunk pint of Guinness?

This is how I meet Jon Ellis, fresh off the Fragments of Tokyo exhibition, inconspicuously, over pints at the local pub. I had been coming to these meetings for well over a year and one day he just showed up. A man walks into a bar. A man who likes to walk around Shinjuku taking photos of buildings. A man who is a vegan. This man–it wasn’t until almost a year later, at the same table, that he made an offhand comment about a site he regularly contributed to winning an award, the url of which he would not share. Laughing over a pint, he added nebulously that if I tried hard I might be able to find it. Of course now I see the irony. Please Find This, he was urging me. I might have mentioned sometime the next week that I was able to find it. Or I might not have.

One learns that with Jon, it is not what you say, it is what you do. Meanwhile, what Jon was doing was shooting, all over Tokyo (and beyond), often alone, mostly on outings with his better half, providing a powerful visual accompaniment to Iain Thomas’ simple, sincere words. Once you learn that this site exists, that this sort of thing is going on in some corner of the inter-webs, that someone is taking the time to be honest and beautiful without advertising the hell out of it, it makes the cheap facade of e-commerce fade away and somehow means more that you found out about it naturally. You are hooked. A man walks into a bar. Your life is different. Better. Another round.

Recent Kyoto denizen and Pop Zeitgeist writer Sean Lotman had a chance to sit down with Jon and chat about the forthcoming book from I Wrote This For You. The following conversation flowed nicely over a pint or two.

I Wrote This For You

Sean Lotman: Can you tell us about the project?

Jon Ellis: I Wrote This For You was started in 2007 by Iain Thomas as an experiment in minimal short story writing blog. Each entry consists of short piece of writing and a photograph. As Iain has elucidated elsewhere, the brevity and fragmentary nature of the writing, in combination with imagery, lets the audience read more into the pieces than is necessarily said. It’s impossible to write for everyone, but given a starting point most people can write themselves into the framework of a story.

We’ve always felt that self-promotion risked pulling in a wave of people that would depart as quickly as they arrived. Letting things happen seems to mean that we’ve ended up with a more impassioned, and somehow, meaningful, readership.

Sean: It’s interesting that you and Iain have never met. How then did the project come together in the first place?

Jon: Originally Iain was taking the photographs and doing the writing. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that he isn’t really a photographer…which prompted me to offer to provide the photographs. All of which happened in an IRC chat related to a website that we had both frequented for many years.

It’s interesting that people latch on to the two of us never having met, but it has never really been an issue for either of us. We communicate pretty naturally over chat or mail, and have never really felt that meeting up would push things forward. We’ve had the occasional video chat, but on the whole we’ve been laid back about just putting the entries out there and letting things happen.

Sean: You have hundreds of entries posted on I Wrote This For You. What was the selection process for the book’s final draft?

Jon: There are over a thousand entries, which made selection difficult. Over the years we’ve kept track of entries that have been popular, entries that we personally like. Additionally we’ve asked the reader is there are any entries that they’d especially like to see ‘make the cut’.

In general I'd say that Iain writes what he wants, and similarly I shoot what I want. Click To Tweet

I Wrote This For You

I Wrote This For You Book Cover

Iain also divided up the book into several different sections; Sun, Moon, Stars, Rain. The different chapters, in his words, “chart the different phases of the ways humans relate to each other.”

In the end we still had too much material to include in a reasonably priced book. At which point we surrendered ourselves into the hands of the publishers and asked for help. It was probably the only way for us to move forward at that point–after spending several weeks going through lists of entries, it’s hard to see what’s working and what isn’t. As we’d already got things down to a set that we liked, it was easier to let someone else wield the knife!

Sean: I want to mention an interesting aspect of the collaboration. Until recently, the majority of the photographs came from Japan, where you lived for ten years (Jon has recently moved to Hamburg, Germany). Japan has a very precise locative sense of place. But Iain is striving to speak for the universal language of love and loss, a transnational voice for sure. Yet these distinct points-of-view seem to enhance each other’s power. Do you think the fascination people have with (your photos of) Japan paired with Iain’s text will change now that you’ve moved from an exotic culture with unintelligible Kanji characters everywhere (stores advertising sales for laxatives look like the most beautiful calligraphy to the untrained western eye) to a more recognizable Euro-centric aesthetic?

Jon: Perhaps I’m blind to it, but I don’t actually see that “strong sense of place” come through in the photographs. That said, if people do experience the images as being distinctly “elsewhere” then it plays well into the idea that it gives their imagination extra room to roam.

In a more general sense, for me I Wrote This For You has ended up being a form of photographic notebook. My photography tends to develop through experimentation. There are a lot of dead-ends, angles that never get followed up, themes that I get caught up in for a few months, and the occasional set of images that come together into a project. It’s therefore a struggle for me to see any great patterns, as that isn’t how I’ve approached producing the images.

Sean: On the same note, your photography, in its lines, shapes, and forms, often suggest a very precise way of looking at the world, while the words Iain writes to accompany them are often emotional, suggesting intangible feelings that are messy, confusing and formless. Is this collaboration then a kind of balance of opposing qualities building symmetry?

Jon: Having said that, now I have to backtrack a little! The fascination with geometry is one theme that runs through a lot of my images. It’s certainly true that I got a little obsessive with trying to simplify the geometric confusion of Tokyo. This is somehow balanced (in my head) by another part of me that seems to revel in compounding the confusion to the point of abstracting it a way.

As for the balance in the collaboration, you may have latched onto one of the reasons for it’s enduring popularity. Perhaps the readers find themselves seeing the order in the geometry in opposition to the confusion of the narrative scaffolding of the words. If this is the case it’s certainly not by design!

Sean: It’s often very difficult for artists to collaborate, much less two artists with ostensibly divergent aesthetics. Do you ever request of Iain rewrites of his prose that you think might enhance the photograph or is your relationship mostly “hands off?”

I Wrote This For You

This is my skin. It keeps out the rain and words I'd rather not hear like "I'm tired" or "I'm fine" or "We need to talk." This is my skin and it's thick. This is not your skin. Yet you are still under it.

Jon: Our working style is very much hands off. Mostly we work by me providing a set of images for Iain, who does all the hard work of getting things posted. There are cases where the image will inspire the post, there are times when something that Iain has already written will match up with a particular image, and there are times when the readers are left making the association for themselves.

Over the time of the collaboration I’ve sometimes tried to game the process, by sending images that expressed a distinct situation / emotion. The resultant entry has almost never come out as I expected, which makes me unaccountably happy.

There have been times when I’ve asked Iain to use an image to address certain issues (these are almost always environmental, and specifically related to the state of the oceans…), and there are times when Iain has used the blog as a means of address issues that are important to him.

In general I’d say that Iain writes what he wants, and similarly I shoot what I want.

Sean: The blog that features your work is enviably popular. How did I Wrote This For You become such a phenomenon?

Jon: It has been an entirely organic process. The sub-title of the blog is Please Find This and we’ve tried to make it the case that people do actually find it in as personal way as possible. Any promotion has been done rather quietly (being careful not to intrude too much into the flow of entries) and generally by the readers themselves. A lot of the entries end up being re-blogged / re-tweeted, which provides a fairly regular stream of new readers wondering about the backstory.

Periodically there are guerilla actions, with readers leaving references to the blog on notice board, as bookmarks, on banknotes(!), drinks coasters, or just randomly placed post-its. Conceptually this is all about the readers writing their own narrative.

We’ve always felt that self-promotion risked pulling in a wave of people that would depart as quickly as they arrived. Letting things happen seems to mean that we’ve ended up with a more impassioned, and somehow, meaningful, readership.

Sean: Of course nothing trumps a hard copy of the book, but it seems a nice fit for the tablet-happy reader. Do you expect the book will thrive on reading devices?

Jon: There have been several attempts to get the book published over the years, and for a multitude of reasons it hasn’t, until now, worked out. The main motivation has always been to produce a physical book. Happily we’ve ended up working with a publisher (ireadiwrite) that convinced us that we should move beyond the seeming contradiction of turning a blog into ebook, and therefore there will be a tablet friendly version.

Sean: Pardon the phrasing of the question, but I am from Los Angeles: will there be a sequel or two?

Jon: The next thing that we’d like to get out there is an enhanced version of the ebook. Over the years there have been all sort of interesting side-projects, songs based on entries, user submitted images, videos, etc. There will probably readings of some of the entries. If we can work out the logistics maybe even user submitted readings.

There is certainly enough material to do another book, but we probably need to see how this one does, and go from there. Putting the book together took a fair amount of time and effort, which we both had to steal from our professional and personal lives.

Sean: Is there anything you would like to add regarding the book, your photography, or life in general?

Jon: One of the reasons this project has the longevity that it has is that we’ve never presumed to make it do more than it does: regularly post a short piece of writing and an image. I’m hoping that the book doesn’t really change that dynamic too much.

Photographically and in general I’m working through a transition from the hectic intensity of life in Tokyo, to a more sedate, northern European, existence. It is, of course, not obvious what this will yield, but I’m enjoying finding out.

Alan Dejecacion for HESO Magazine

HESO Photo of the Week from Alan Dejecacion

Alan Dejecacion for HESO Magazine

Rihoko at Yoshi's ©2011 Alan Dejecacion

Alan Dejecacion is an editorial and documentary photographer from San Francisco, California. See more of his images here.

The last year or so I’ve really been enjoying working on street portraits. I always carry a camera whenever I step out and have been fortunate enough to meet some really interesting characters; family is always around so I’ve been documenting them also. Basically looking for trouble, the truth, and a fun time. Thanks very much for dropping by.

-Alan

All images ©2011 Alan Dejecacion

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