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Tag: Modern Japan

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.

Modern Japan with a Makina

Modern Japan with a Makina

In part VI of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan with a Plaubel Makina, a series of medium format press cameras with leaf shutters and rangefinder focusing with collapsible bellows. The original Makina was manufactured by Plaubel & Co. in Germany from 1912 to 1953. Plaubel was later sold to Doi Group, which designed new Makina cameras that sold from 1978 to the 1980s. The Japanese-made Plaubel Makina was a major redesign with Nikkor lenses and integrated metering. It was manufactured first by Copal and later by Mamiya.

Models 67 and 670 have Nikkor 80mm f/2.8 lenses. Both models take ten 6×7cm exposures on 120 rollfilm, while the 670 model also accepts 220 rollfilm (20 exposures per roll). Model W67 is similar to the 670 model, but with a wide-angle Nikkor 55 mm lens (roughly equivalent to a 28 mm lens in 135 format). The 55 mm was considered one of the sharpest and most flare-free of any produced during the analogue photography era. The 69W Proshift has a 47 mm Schneider Super-Angulon and makes eight 6×9cm exposures per roll of 120 film. The lens is mounted on a sliding flange which allowed for perspective control in the same manner as shifting the front standard of view camera.

Modern Japan with a Makina

The Modern Japan Gallery

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

Modern Japan with a Nikon N80

Modern Japan with a Nikon N80

In part III of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan via the Nikon N80 Film Camera manufactured for amateur photographers with advanced skills from January 2000 worldwide. The successor to the F70 it was based on a stripped down version of the F100.

Three versions of the F80 are available, the F80, the F80D which has a different back that can imprint date information on the frame and the F80S which can also imprint exposure data between frames in addition to the date information. Using the exposure data imprint function will slow the F80 varying on film speed and temperature. So why the hell would you want that?

The F80 was chosen by Nikon to be the basis for the popular Nikon D100 digital SLR. The chassis was also used by Fujifilm as the basis for the FinePix S2 Pro and S3 Pro, and by Eastman Kodak for the Kodak DCS Pro 14n and DCS Pro SLR/n. It was the SLR film camera precursor to the DSLR, the infamous “missing link” in the chain from analog to digital.

Rumors were abound during 2005 that Nikon would make a successor to the F80, and discontinue most other film cameras apart from the F6 and the F80 replacement. Early in 2006 Nikon announced that they intend to drop production of all film cameras apart from the F6 and FM10.

Modern Japan with a Nikon N80

The Modern Japan Gallery

Modern Japan with Holga 120S

Modern Japan with Holga 120S

In part II of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan via the Holga 120S. The Holga is a medium format 120 film camera, made in Hong Kong, known for its low-fidelity aesthetic. The Holga 120S – The original Holga, since discontinued. Fixed shutter speed, adjustable focus, plastic 60mm f/8 meniscus lens, two-position f-stop switch, hot shoe, and 6×4.5 cm film mask.

Most Holga cameras use a single-piece plastic meniscus lens with a focal length of 60 millimeters and utilize a zone-focus system that can adjust from about 1 meter (3 feet) to infinity. Like any simple meniscus lens, the Holga lens exhibits soft focus and chromatic aberration. Other Holga variants, denoted either by the letter ‘G’ in their model name, or the name WOCA, feature a simple glass lens, but are otherwise identical in construction. The manufacturer has since outsourced supply of the varying plastic and glass lenses to contractors in Japan and China

There is an aperture setting switch on the camera with two positions indicated by pictorial ideograms: sunny and cloudy, with a nominal value of f/11 and f/8, respectively. Due to a manufacturing oversight, this switch has no effect on pre-2009 production cameras, and the actual aperture is around f/13, giving the Holga just one aperture. The problem is reported as having been fixed in cameras post-2009, providing two working aperture settings of f/13 and f/20, and earlier cameras are modifiable to provide two usable settings. Apertures of f/10 and f/13 work well for ISO200 speed films, while settings of f/13 and f/19 tend to suit faster films of around ISO400.

The Holga was originally designed to accept either a 6×4.5 format or a 6×6 (square) format. However, once the camera went into production, vignetting (darkening of the corners of the finished photograph) occurred when the camera was modified to a 6×6 format. Hence, early Holgas had their film size switches tightly fixed to shoot only 6×4.5 format. Many owners removed both this restriction and the 6×4.5 film mask as well, finding the resultant vignetting a desirable effect.[6] Later Holgas such as the 120N come with two masks for both the 6×4.5 and 6×6 format. Holgas can even be modified to use 35mm film.

The Holga has one shutter speed – approximately 1/100th of a second. The camera can shoot 16 exposures per 120 roll in 6×4.5 cm format or 12 exposures in 6×6 format. Film is advanced by a knob on the top of the camera, and frame numbers printed on the backing paper of the film can be viewed through a red window on the back of the Holga. The number of frames chosen is indicated by the black arrow.

The Holga’s low-cost construction and simple meniscus lens often yields pictures that display vignetting, blur, light leaks, and other distortions. The camera’s limitations have brought it a cult following among some photographers, and Holga photos have won awards and competitions in art and news photography.

The Holga camera was designed by T. M. Lee in 1981. It first appeared outside China in 1982 in Hong Kong. At the time, 120 roll film in black-and-white was the most widely available film in mainland China. The Holga was intended to provide an inexpensive mass-market camera for working-class Chinese in order to record family portraits and events. However, the rapid adoption of the 35mm film format, due to new foreign camera and film imports, virtually eliminated the consumer market for 120 roll film in China. Seeking new markets, the manufacturer sought to distribute the Holga outside mainland China.

Within a few years after the Holga’s introduction to foreign markets, some photographers began using the Holga for its surrealistic, impressionistic scenes for landscape, still life, portrait, and especially street photography. These owners prized the Holga for its lack of precision, light leaks, and inexpensive qualities, which forced the photographer to concentrate on innovation and creative vision in place of increasingly expensive camera technology. In this respect, the Holga became the successor to the Diana and other toy cameras previously used in such work. A Holga photograph by photojournalist David Burnett of former vice-president Al Gore during a 2000 campaign appearance earned a top prize in a 2001 White House News Photographers’ Association Eyes of History award ceremony.

Recently the Holga has experienced renewed consumer interest outside China due to the increasing popularity of toy cameras, and a continuing counterculture response to the increasing complexity of modern cameras.

Modern Japan with Holga 120S

The Modern Japan Gallery

Modern Japan with a Lomo LC-A

Modern Japan with a Lomo LC-A

Modern Japan with a Lomo LC-A

In part I of the series Manny Santiago looks at Modern Japan via the Lomo LC-A. The LOMO LC-A (Lomo Kompakt Automat) is a fixed lens, 35 mm film, leaf shutter, zone focus, compact camera introduced in 1984. The design is based on the Cosina CX-2, the main difference being that the lens bezel is fixed (unlike the rotating one of the CX-2). The original LC-A lens was manufactured by LOMO in Russia. This changed in 2007 and lenses on subsequent models have been made in China. Some LC-As were sold badged as Zenith, or Zenit, a trademark of KMZ (Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works).

The only automatic function offered by the LC-A is exposure. All other functions — winding, rewinding, focus — are done manually. Aperture could also be set manually, through a lever system, though exposure is completely automatic when the camera is set to “A”. The shutter speed is fixed at 1⁄60 s and ranges from 2 minutes to 1⁄500 s. The aperture range is f/2.8 to f/16. The automatic exposure system compensates for changes in light levels after the shutter is opened by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed. This, in conjunction with the rear-curtain flash-sync, results in interesting effects with flash photography in low ambient light levels.

The lens is focused by selecting one of four zones (0.8 m, 1.5 m, 3 m or ∞). Setting it to ∞ in low light settings allows for long exposures. When cross-processing slide film, these long exposures can result in extraordinarily strange color effects, one of the reasons the LC-A became such a cult camera.

The Modern Japan Gallery

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