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Tag: Jon Ellis

Hamburg Fog - Jon Ellis©

Hamburg Fog – Jon Ellis

Hamburg Fog - Jon Ellis©

Hamburg Fog – Jon Ellis©

This, from Jon Ellis of It’ll All End In Tears, his second Photo of the Week, is excellent. Previous work viewable here and especially here. Tschus.

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.

Ship Loading Cranes © Jon Ellis

HESO Photo of the Week by Jon Ellis

Ship Loading Cranes © Jon Ellis

Ship Loading Cranes © Jon Ellis

Ship Loading Cranes in Hamburg by Jon Ellis who solves the world’s problems here. Longtime denizen of Tokyo suburbs, now roaming the shipping ports somewhere between Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, he dives, shoots film and despite having a secret love of mirrored architecture, dislikes the Sony Center. He says:

“Attempting to carry on the architecture project in Hamburg feels wrong. Or at least i’m not inspired by it yet. Perhaps Tokyo really is some sort of magical city for photography. Certain it is hard to match for density and (architectural) diversity.

The River Elbe running through Hamburg, with all the associated docks, container ships, cruise liners, etc. is far more interesting than the buildings (which isn’t to say that the buildings are uninteresting, they’re just of a different scale / diversity / number). Unfortunately said river is also proving rather difficult to engage with: access is difficult, and short of actually living down by the water, so is timing.”

For his part in Fragments of Tokyo he has been featured here before.

Critical State ©Tommy Oshima

Creative Ways to Donate to Tohoku Quake Tsunami Relief Effort

Video © Atomicboyx of the children’s relief organization KID’S EARTH FUND

As of this writing (March 22, 2011) the Japanese National Police Agency has 9,199 confirmed deaths, 13,786 people missing as well as more than 125,000 buildings destroyed in the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and the ongoing Fukushima Nuclear Plant Incident. The World Bank has estimated the damage, between US$122 billion and $235 billion, could take five years to rebuild. No longer should we ask ourselves should I stay or should I go? Rather we should ask, no matter where we may be, what can I do to help?

Here are a few ways people both inside and outside of Japan are helping.

Jennifer Schwartz Gallery talks about Life Support Japan, the effort by photographers and galleries worldwide to raise money for the hundreds of thousands directly affected. Proceeds from the silent auction were donated to Direct Relief International and Habitat for Humanity Japan.

The Life Support Japan auction has ended but that was just the beginning. A number of Tokyo-based photographers have taken the auction idea into their own hands and are publicizing their donated prints via Flickr Charity Print Auction Group. It’s a great way to support the relief effort and commemorate the process with a high quality print for your wall.

©John Nelson

©John Nelson

John Nelson is auctioning the above print (among others) of his photography with all proceeds to be donated to charity. Bid here.

Critical State ©Tommy Oshima

Critical State ©Tommy Oshima

Tokyo-based photographer Tommy Oshima is auctioning the above “Critical State”. Bid here.

Hello ©Erika Pham

Hello ©Erika Pham

Tokyo-based photographer Erika Pham is auctioning the above print of her exceptional photography. Bid here.

A Picture Is All You Are To Me ©Uchijin

A Picture Is All You Are To Me ©Uchijin

Tokyo-based photographer Uchujin has updates from inside Tokyo and is auctioning the above print of “A Picture Is All You Are To Me ” as well. Bid here.

Crying ©Sean Wood

Crying ©Sean Wood

Tokyo-based photographer Sean Wood is auctioning a print of the above “Crying”. Bid here.

Mannequin ©Jon Ellis

Mannequin ©Jon Ellis

Tokyo_based photographer Jon Ellis is auctioning a print of the above”Mannequin” from the recent Fragments of Tokyo 2011 exhibition. Bid here.

Kamikura shrine, adorned in Cherry Blossoms ©Manny Santiago

Kamikura shrine, adorned in Cherry Blossoms ©Manny Santiago

Manny is auctioning the above print Kamikura shrine, adorned in Cherry Blossoms. Bid here.

Nippon Kizuna Artwork by Justin Sereni

Nippon Kizuna Artwork by Justin Sereni

James Hadfield of Time Out Tokyo writes that “one of the most globe-straddling offerings to date comes courtesy of an international group of Tokyo-based artists, plus a London music writer who had the misfortune (or is it good luck?) to arrive in town the day before the quake hit. Nihon Kizuna collects 50 tracks, many of them unreleased exclusives, from heavyweight electronica producers and avant rockers such as Kode 9, The Qemists, Ernest Gonzales, Daisuke Tanabe and Slugabed. Clocking in at over 3 hours, it raised more than $5,000 on its first day of sale alone.”

Price: £10/$15/1,500 yen/12 euros or more
Available from: Bandcamp, Japanese iTunes Store (from Monday 21)
Proceeds to: Japanese Red Cross Society


Fragments of Tokyo

Fragments of Tokyo

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.

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