HESO Magazine

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

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Daily Life Hums Along in Tokyo

Street Photography Examined

“What happens when you interrogate yourself? What happens when you begin to call into question the tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions and begin then to become a different kind of person?”

–Dr. Cornell West

I have long tried to get at the underlying philosophy of Street Photography. What is it exactly that makes a normal and decent human being (wait, I’m talking about photographers, i.e. not normal, decent, nor probably human) strap on a camera and and carry ten to twenty pounds of lenses, film (or ahem…memory cards) and other essentials around in a bag to take pictures of perfect strangers on the streets of anytown, anycountry, earth?

Because it’s expensive, it’s intrusive, and well, there is something there that bothers me. Is street photography an ethic, a lifestyle, or merely a moment? Is it exploitative to photograph people without explicit permission? What do you do when people say NO! What if means a paycheck? Do it anyway? Or figure out a work-around?

  • Expense

Unless you are a Paparazzi trying to get a Lindsay Lohan nipslip, hack Scarlett Johansson’s phone, or you are on the ground with MSF in Mogadishu, your brand of Street Photography probably doesn’t pay all that well. Sure you may get a lot of attention on Flickr and Facebook and your Google analytics is off the chart for your hardcore, gritty, high contrast portrayal of Seoul, New York or Sydney, but how many jobs have you gotten from it? So, it’s a very expensive hobby and more likely a way to bond with other street photographers in the area. Either way, you’re in the red. And if you shoot digital, doubly so. Why? because digital photography costs more. A lot more. Ask your Macbook.

  • Intrusion

Most photographers worth their salt know that within the public domain anything goes. Almost. In the United States, legally you can take a photo of anything happening anywhere outside. Basically. Unless it happens to be a potential terrorist target. Like a building. Or a bridge. That would make New York–and in the You-Are-Either-With-Us-Or-Against-Us modern age, most modern cities–a photography-free zone. In Japan, shooting with a tripod requires a similar permit as that of a commercial shoot and will be vigorously challenged by any and all senior citizen security guards with no real authority. Police across the globe can be vague about legalities, insulting, and even violent toward photographers who are demonstrating their right to record. And the average citizens you turn your lens on can all too quickly turn very ugly. Why is taking a photograph of people in public illegal in certain countries? Why is it that some people tend to hide or become aggressive when their pictures are taken? Is it the paranoid thought that this could end up making them look bad on the internet somewhere? The primitive fear that it may capture a part of their soul, never to be returned? Or something altogether different? Rather is it a moral question? Or a civil liberties issue? What about Google Earth? Satellites in general?

  • The Kernel of Doubt

Photojournalists help us see the world while reporting the news. War photographers risk their lives in the understanding that they can take a bullet for being in the middle of the action. Artists help us make sense of the chaos that clashes all around us. What is the legacy of the street photographer? What does he or she get from loitering in crowded public spaces in countries with low crime rates reeling off frame after frame of girls holding umbrellas? Chain-smoking touts with Bowie hair? Homeless in parks? What is the impetus for standing around holding a machine to your eye and clicking a button to record a fraction of the present, only to go home, unload the camera in the dark, develop, fix, water bath, hang, dry, cut and sleeve the negatives, to eventually hold them up to the light and print one, two or maybe five images? What process is served? What do we get from recording one particular moment in a sea of infinite times? Is this system an analog memory backup? Or do we merely seek kudos from peers and fans? Is the world so big and flush with memorable scenes that in order to grasp at understanding it we need to try to catalog its chaos?

Or is it capturing a specific scene? For many westerners, the neon lights and bleached blonde kewpie-doll gyaru’s of Shibuya seems to possess some kind of neo-modern allure. What Koichi Iwabuchi, says of “western observers of Japan…shared ontological assumptions about the West and the exotic but inferior Other, Japan. They were fascinated with some exotic parts of Japan, and lamented the loss of ‘authentic’ Japanese tradition in the process of modernisation.” Are we post-racist or is this still relevant?

  • Street Photography Examined

Can you define it? Or define what it isn’t? Is it color? Or black and white? Grain or noise? Sex? Exoticism? And why am I so addicted to it? Why does it make me feel guilty? And similarly so satisfied?

Ultimately if I am not hurting anyone, does it matter?

Great Society for Hundred-Percenters

Great Society for Hundred-Percenters

What is it about storytellers’ imagination that it is inspired by the dystopian rather than the utopian? Dystopian novels are intriguing, for sure, and they reconfigure our social, political, and economic failings in a contextualized environment. They are literary caveats, Cassandra-like parables about what our world could become if we give in to our fears and loathings. But what about the utopian novel? What about wondering the best possible world for mankind? Is this more difficult, if not impossible to fathom– a better, fairer society which functions smoothly and generously? Or is this more of the province of activists than authors?

Great Society for Hundred-Percenters

Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (Houghton Mifflin, 1888)

Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (Houghton Mifflin, 1888)

Unfortunately, you’ve probably never heard of Edward Bellamy, nor his utopian novel, Looking Backward, originally published way back in 1888, at the height of the Gilded Age. At the time, however, it was a blockbuster hit, outselling every novel of the 19th century (with the notable exception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and leading to the burgeoning of dozens of progressive organizations. American history books tend to gloss over the 1890s, as the leitmotif of the decade was one of contentiousness, an uprising of labor against management, and for many on the front lines of the picket wars, the dogeared book tucked in their breast pocket was not Marx’s manifesto, but a “time travel” novel.

The story’s premise is simple: the year is 1887 and Julian West, a handsome, wealthy thirty-year-old engaged to a prominent Boston belle, is your 19th century version of the trust-fund loafer, whittling his time in clubs with brandy and cigars, oblivious to the misery of the working class poor and exasperated that the construction on his conjugal chateau has been disturbed by yet another labor strike. West’s troubles are tame in relation to the wage-slave factory hand, but he struggles with insomnia and has a hypnotist put him to sleep in a hermetically sealed underground chamber. This sleep unit survives a house fire in which West is presumed dead. More than a century later, in the year 2000, in the process of renovation, his chamber is discovered by the family now living on the grounds and West is revived, Lazarus-like, in a truly brave new world.

The family are the Leetes, the Dr., his wife, and their lovely daughter, Edith, and they are emblematic of contemporary folk– educated, generous, and incredulous at how people lived in utter desperation in the past. But what of the present? Bellamy’s Great Society is most specific on socio-economic changes rather than physical manifestations. It’s not so much the Jetsons as it is the Castros: a nation in which all industries are connected with the government, in which there is no cash (only debit cards) and where all workers, from the president to the pear-picker make do on the same salary.

Of course, this reads fundamentally like communism, but in this novel life functions more like Scandinavian egalitarianism than Soviet orthodoxy. This is a free society, in which, “every man for himself in accordance with his natural aptitude, the utmost pains being taken to enable him to find out what his natural aptitude really is.” In West’s age (and which continues in our time as well), the failure of the economic system to effectively “ develop and utilize the natural aptitudes of men for industries and intellectual avocations was one of the great wastes and causes of unhappiness.” Moreover, “mercenary considerations, tempting men to pursue money-making occupations for which they were unfit… were responsible for another vast perversion of talent.”

With full equality a reality, men (and women!) can pursue ideal career goals that stimulate their intellect, rather than work a miserable profession to procure bling trophies of first place rat race finish lines. Click To Tweet

With full equality a reality, men (and women!) can pursue ideal career goals that stimulate their intellect, rather than work a miserable profession to procure bling trophies of first place rat race finish lines. Families in Bellamy’s utopia live modestly but comfortably, private life luxuries sacrificed for a more extravagant public good, in which there are great collective dining and music halls, where all are welcome.

The novel is more closely a dialogue between the retired Dr. Leete and Julian West, naturally skeptical at first, but who comes around to understanding socialized paradigms as the natural inevitability of common sense, that, “it is the worst thing about any system which divides men, or allows them to be divided, into classes and castes, that it weakens the sense of a common humanity.”

It is often the case that we cannot see the forest for the trees, so that whatever present system we live (and loathe) under, it is difficult for most of us to contemplate any other way of life. But Dr. Leete’s (as a proxy for Bellamy) explication of 19th century’s business model’s prepositional “wastes” (of mistaken undertakings, from competition and mutual hostility, by periodical gluts and crises, from idle capital and labor at all times) is as true today as they were in the days of child labor and sharecropper farms. The system was “as absurd economically as it was morally abominable. Selfishness was their only science, and in industrial production selfishness is suicide.”

Through the tweaking of “certain fatal defects and prodigious imbecilities of private enterprise,” America’s economic system became more proficient and productive and, most importantly, less unequal. Higher achievement or excellence in performance is not rewarded remuneratively but with the bestowal of honor and the satisfaction of advancing the cause of humanity. In Bellamy’s imagined America, everyone contributes and no one starves, as “that the right of man to maintenance at the nation’s table depends on the fact that he is a man, and not on the amount of health and strength he may have, so long as he does his best.”

Great Society for Hundred-Percenters

Edward Bellamy – The Man & Moustache Himself

Julian West is eventually won over by the idea of social progress and in a dream-within-a-dream sequence that or may not have happened (no spoilers from me!), he wakes up back in his Boston bed of 1887, still an entitled scion, but no longer immune to the heartbreaking struggles of the majority of his brethren. The precariousness of their cutthroat existence moves him to intolerable emotions and he cannot not live sensibly with his class of men, their gentlemen’s clubs and servants and supercilious privilege. The epoch he was born into, and all he took for granted, had evolved into a living nightmare.

Bellamy is more of a conceptualist than a storyteller, and his writing can be clunky and his narrative guilty of melodrama especial to the time. But Upton Sinclair’s writing shares these same faults, but we remember (and some of us actually read) The Jungle, but not Looking Backward. Is this because Sinclair’s work led to government reform of a specific industry, while on the other hand implementing the ideas of Looking Backward would have involved total restructuring of our economic system as well as evolving from our materialistic habits? Bellamy’s seminal work is not an easy read, but it must be read by activists, artists, and anyone who believes that our society can, should and will be improved. In a short book review, you can just touch tip of the iceberg that might sink this ship of fools we’ve been riding directionless all too many generations.

The world we live in today is a far cry from Edward Bellamy’s epic vision. And it is easy to get down on the future with seemingly contemporary unwinnable crises, those of corporate oligarchies, environmental disaster, nuclear apocalypse, and longterm recession. Yet in Bellamy’s time of the 19th century, two thirds of the world was colonized by another, women were second-class citizens, children worked in factories, and no social safety net existed anywhere. Many fought, and much blood was spilled, to make common sense that much more common. Tens of thousands had martyred themselves to make the world a much more equitable place than it was in the so-called “good old days” of 1887. It is fitting then to finish the review with one of the twentieth century’s greatest martyrs, Martin Luther King Jr., who once put it best, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." – Benjamin Franklin

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." - Benjamin Franklin

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa

The former villa of the silent actor Denjirō Ōkōchi (大河内 傳次郎 — 1896-1962)–most famous for starring in Akira Kurosawa`s Sanshiro Sugata, among many others and at his peak, was one of the top jidaigeki stars–lies lost in the back of Arashiyama’s bamboo groves. Called Ōkōchi Sansō (meaning Ōkōchi mountain villa) Ōkōchi’s estate consists of several ornate gardens, living quarters and tea houses, all lost along a narrow path that winds circuitously through natural settings that appear wild, yet are meticulously kept by a regular team of professional landscapers. This is near the apex of the Japanese gardener trope–the private sector of gardening versus the Emperor’s gardeners… If you`re looking for an escape from the masses of tourists wandering around the backstreets of Tenryuji Zen Buddhist Shrine, the villa`s immaculately manicured gardens could be the middle way for you.

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa Observation Platform Overlooking Kyoto

On humid summer days when the crowds are at a maximum and every corner of the shaded bamboo path are fraught with screams, follow the call of the cicada up the wide path into the deeper shade. It looks private on purpose, to drive away the tourist hordes. There always seems to be a work truck parked out front and the confusing entrance (located around a bend) is not altogether inviting. The 1000 cost of admission is high enough to keep the kids out and allows for the expanse of Mt. Ogura to open up and swallow you whole. Just behind Tenryūji Temple and Sagano Chikurin Komichi bamboo groves in Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, wandering through the ornate gardens will provide snatches of Mt. Hiei and the Hozu River gorge. Taking a moment out at the Okochi Sanso Villa Observation Platform overlooking the hustle of downtown Kyoto gives one perspective on the tranquility of the scene. Taking your time and strolling without desire increases the profound sense of benevolence that shrouds you in. Relaxing in the lower garden with the matcha and a sweet snack, done properly, will perhaps provide a memory of meditating monks from the collective unconscious to arise and permeate the day.

The Japanese government declared Daijōkaku (the main house), the Jibutsudō (a Buddhist shrine), the Chashitsu (tea house), and the Chūmon (the middle gate) as tangible cultural properties (tōroku yūkei bunkazai) in 2003. A particular highlight is getting there via the special Sagano Scenic Railway at Torokko Arashima Station. Although the closest station is Arashiyama on the Keifuku Electric Railroad Arashiyama Main Line, this sojourn is not about convenience or getting in and out. It is about the journey itself.

The 1000 yen admission includes matcha green tea and an odd little snack. Open from 9:00 to 17:00.

Touristy, but fun, the Dong Hua Men Market in Beijing tempts you to go outside your safe food zone

Beijing Food Markets

Touristy, but fun, the Dong Hua Men Market in Beijing tempts you to go outside your safe food zone

Deep-fried Silkworms are full of protein and the cheapest fare available at the Dong Hua Men Night Market

If memorable for anything other than pure commerce, smog and the Great Wall, China has great food markets where one can find anything–seriously–anything and beyond. Both on major thoroughfares and hidden in and around the back alley hutong which populate the crowded capital, the best of Beijing is not to be had in touristy restaurants, but rather, as is usual across Asia, on the street. During a recent trip to Beijing I happened on two of the most interesting, crowded and completely different markets which mark the bustling metropolis as a gastronomer’s paradise: the relatively expensive and touristy Dong Hua Men Night Market and the locals only Sihuan Day Market, both located within one kilometer of one another, yet residing worlds apart.

Beijing Food Markets

The Dong Hua Men Night Market is located adjacent to the Forbidden City off Wangfujing road in the heart of the tourist center, hence the high(er) prices than one might pay for a meal at any one of the great local restaurants specializing in downhome Beijing fare. Known for its relatively exotic fare it attracts gastronomers ranging from the merely curious to the adventurous. Starting at five for the simplistic silkworm skewers add ranging up to fifty yuan for the tasteless snakeskin, it is a smörgåsbord of visually interesting yet generally tasteless–due to everything being deep-fried in the same salty wok oil–exoticisms. Though fun to take part in the boisterous atmosphere of the overwhelmingly red-clad touts (whose English ranges from the straightforward “Money!” to the ubiquitous “You snake buy now!”) the enjoyment stops when realizing a more satisfying and delicious meal can be had for pennies just a few subway stops north near the Xihai lake district of Xinjiekou’s Sihuan day market.

Sihuan Market in central Beijing (Manny Santiago)

Parking lot at Sihuan Market in central Beijing

Sihuan day market is, touristically, relatively unknown, yet situated smack in the middle of the capital, down a lonely hutong alleyway just northwest of the rear exit of the Forbidden City. It’s worth going to if only for the fact that you are unlikely to find another foreign face in the entire place. what you are going to find is a surfeit of inexpensive fruits, vegetables, teas, tofu products, noodles, meats, warm and delicious pancakes and breads, as well as an entire section of “off brand” electronics, clothes, shoes and locally produced artisanal goods. Despite the sweat and grime one might object to surrounding the market itself it is well worth a few hours of aimless wandering. I found myself laden with two heavy bags of fresh fruit, dried dates, readily edible vegetables, hot and fresh egg pancakes and a coconut milkshake, all for under five dollars. Hands down best bang for your Chinese buck.

Delhi On The Corner - Pop Zeitgeist by Sean Lotman

The Delhi on the Corner

I asked my soul: What is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its life.

–The poet Ghalib quoted in Khushwant Singh’s Delhi: a Novel

It was almost ten years ago but I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget the first time I arrived in Delhi. This was back in the day before they opened the modern, antiseptic terminal that handles international traffic. My flight had landed at three in the morning–I remember broken windows, shitty lighting and bad vibes. And being mobbed coming out of customs by desperate taxi drivers, winding up in a 3-wheeler tuktuk and the long drive into the city, indigents burning campfires on the roadside, farm animals wandering in the traffic lanes, and even in this witching hour, an incessant noise, the undisciplined application of vehicular horns. After checking into my hotel, I can recall my deep reluctance to leave the room, burning with regret over my decision to travel India for six weeks.

The Delhi on the Corner

In the last decade, I’ve flown into Delhi six times. Delhi is not the destination, of course; India is. For many of us, Delhi is more of a way station or a bazaar; it’s where the traveler stocks up on the necessities overlooked in his haste packing his bags. Most of us pick up our ongoing rail tickets on the day of arrival. No one loves Delhi but deep down, I think most of us like it. Because it’s where we say “Hello, India,” and when we’re done, “Farewell.”

Was Delhi really more desperate ten years ago or have I become so acclimatized that Delhi’s chaos is now a variety of normalcy, albeit an extreme version? Click To Tweet

Unfortunately for the city, if one googles “Delhi” the autofill names “Delhi gang rape” as its first search suggestion. This is not accidental. Delhi’s history goes back a thousand years to when it was known as Qila Rai Pithora. It has experienced many incarnations, eight cities, through the centuries: Siri, Tughluqabad, Jahanpanah, Firozabad, Purana Qila, and Shahjahanabad. Prior to New Delhi being built by the British Raj, Turks, Afghans, and Mongol hordes crisscrossing the continents in search of blood and booty laid waste to Delhi, starving its citizens, purging its enemies, torching its temples. The thing about the city today is that outside the wealthy suburbs and the business-leisure downtown district of Connaught Place, much of the Delhi’s crumbling architecture appears lately pillaged, though this ‘rustic’ aesthetic is more to do with neglect than the barbarians’ wake.

Most travelers enter India via Delhi and its airport and the transition is startling, even for the seasoned hand. Of course this is what you’re in for: different cultures play by different rules and you’re supposed to be learning about yourself in this (mis)adventure. When dealing with the insufferable crowds, traffic, shysters, bureaucracy, your character is tested. Moreover, you can’t help but think hey, for all the snafus at home, it’s not the disarray Delhi labors under. One is reminded that things in your real life aren’t so bad. At the same time, you try not to die here, as this is a city of djinns, and you really don’t want your own ghost marooned in such a sloppy megalopolis.

Delhi On The Corner - Pop Zeitgeist by Sean LotmanBut we should be little bit fair to Delhi. It has its sites. To name but a few: the Red Fort, Shah Jahan’s magnificent sandstone citadel; the Jama Masjid a beautiful seventeenth century mosque located in the medieval atmosphere of Old Delhi; the crooked, phallic 12th century Qutub Minar; not to mention the many museums (including one for toilets) and bazaars.

Having spent so much time in Delhi over the years, I don’t often go sightseeing. Instead I wander Paharganj, the main bazaar near New Delhi Train Station. It’s where I always stay when I’m in town and though it has its share of backpackers there are enough gray-haired hippies who remember the old days, trumping us young ones with their acid-laced anecdotes. In Paharganj, I have my restaurants, food stands, chai stalls, and rooftop lounge patios that I patronize. First meal whenever I’m in town is a rava onion masala dosa at Sonu Chat House, a no-frills joint where you share your tables with strangers and the food is cheap, good, and safe. If it’s dusk I like to go to the rooftop of the Hare Krishna restaurant. I don’t go for the fare (terrible except the ginger-honey-lemon tea) but the city looks beautiful in the gloaming light. Sometimes there are birds-of-prey hovering over the mess. The decay looks poetic and beautiful in magic hour light—I’d take a sunset over Delhi than Geneva anytime. There is a sense of relief as night falls. That those of us appreciating the coming darkness have survived. Because that’s what most of us do in Delhi, residents and visitors, we just try to make it through the day in one piece.

I’ve been going to India for ten years and in that time I’ve seen Delhi undergo some significant change. Much of it still looks like the aftermath of a catastrophe, but no question emerging middle-class wealth has led to some gentrification downtown. There are more cars and motorbikes on the road, more cameras and mobiles in people’s hands. A lot of the changes, including the new airport terminal, were done when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games a few years back. In my own Delhi world, they paved the road in the main bazaar and kicked the street merchants and mendicants out of Connaught. India is learning well from us in its process of Westernization: it’s not just transitioning to a hyper-consumerist society, but filtering the underclass out of its presentation of a competent, happy place. I could be wrong and many Indians are ascending socio-economic ladders, but in this country cynicism is a survivor’s tool. Or maybe it’s mostly the same as it ever was and it’s my memory playing tricks on me. Was Delhi really more desperate ten years ago or have I become so acclimatized that Delhi’s chaos is now a variety of normalcy, albeit an extreme version?

Delhi On The Corner - Pop Zeitgeist by Sean LotmanThis past month I came to India to visit Gujarat, specifically the Kutch region, in the dusty, desert frontier near southern Pakistan. For all my time spent in India it was a challenging experience and though I managed to stay active and accomplish what I’d set out to do I was debilitated by all sorts of physical complaints. Some threshold was breached halfway through the journey. In the midst of an agonizing health crisis I asked myself, “What am I still doing here in India?” I vowed that this was it, the last hurrah.

A week later, when I returned to Delhi on an overnight train from Ahmedabad, among the many unions striking that day were the taxi and tuktuk workers and I was stuck taking a cycle-rickshaw to Paharganj. The pockmarked road was a disgrace. “India!” I cursed. I’d planned some excursions into the city, but with the strike going I decided to remain in the New Delhi area until my flight left that night. I had my dosa at Sonu Chat House and read my novel in the park in Connaught Place. At dusk, I went to the roof of the Hare Krishna and had my tea and watched the sun fall beyond the serrated edge of my sight and I realized that my resolution of moving on would come to naught. Like a family member or a difficult friend you’ve known for years, I love India even if I don’t like it very much. Sooner or later, I’d stand on this same Delhi rooftop, feeling grateful to be alive, asking myself, “What am I still doing here in India?” My tea finished, I would once more begin the long process answering this incomprehensible question.

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.

Japandroids at SXSW

Japandroids – Shugo Tokumaru – Harouki Zombie at SXSW

South By Southwest is much more than music. It’s a festival that’s takes over the heart of Austin, Texas, centered around the Austin convention center, and is going on now (March 8-17). Imagine a 10-day TedTalks presentation with both feature-length and short-film, conventions, tradeshows, interactive technologies, all converging in one of the best foodie cities in the Americas. It, in the words of the SXSW site, “offer(s) the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies.” Plus lots of great food. And beer.

Three great reasons to go:

Japandroids – Shugo Tokumaru – Harouki Zombie at SXSW

Japandroids:

03/12 The JanSport Bonfire Sessions @ Viceland (401 Cesar Chavez St) – 11 PM
03/13 Vans SXSW Showcase @ The Mohawk (912 Red River St) – 7:30 PM

Japandroids at SXSW

Japandroids at SXSW

Shugo Tokumaru:

3/12 Terrorbird Party @ Red 7 (611 E 7th St) – 4:40 PM
3/13 SXSW Day Stage @ Austin Convention Center (500 E Cesar Chavez St) – 12 PM
3/14 Brooklyn Vegan Party @ 603 Red River – 1:30 PM
3/14 We Listen For You & Sonablast Party (1106 E 11th St) @ 3 PM
3/14 Polyvinyl Records Showcase @ Red Eyed Fly (715 Red River St) – 11 PM

Shugo Tokumaru at SXSW

Shugo Tokumaru at SXSW

Harouki Zombie:

3/13 Saddle Creek Records Showcase @ The Parish Underground (214 E 6th St) – 1 AM
3/14 Polyvinyl Records Showcase @ Red Eyed Fly (715 Red River St) – 10 PM

Harouki Zombie at SXSW

Harouki Zombie at SXSW

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