July 2009
2009, Jul 27
What’s up with Tokyo? First impressions of the photo culture

I moved to Tokyo a little over six months ago. This seems like a good time to write down my initial thoughts about the local photography scene, especially while I’ve enjoyed things so much. On the whole, things in Tokyo are very stimulating, and while I miss plenty of things about the Bay Area I’m glad I came.

Good stuff


The sheer number of people who are heavily involved in photography is probably the best thing about Tokyo. I’ve had personal interactions with Brian, Fukuyama san, GOM, Patrick, Philip, Jim, John, Jono, Takahashi san and the staff at Tosei sha, Tim, Yamashita san and a bunch of other people. I don’t know very much about photography, and hanging out with these people is a good way for me to learn more. I never felt as close to a other photographers in San Francisco as I do here—although that’s definitely not all SF’s fault. The number of people who shoot film, process it themselves and print it at home is a good indication of the real energy behind photography here.


There are probably around 30 or so galleries dedicated to photography, the majority of which change their shows every week (!). It’s safe to say that during any given month, there are at least 100 photography shows in Tokyo. This is obviously overwhelming, and I’ve long given up on trying to monitor the listings on Tokyo Art Beat in any meaningful way, but the fact that you can see all kinds of photography at any time (usually for free) is a real treat.


Beyond the absurd number of galleries in Tokyo, it’s a great city for looking at photography books. (To be fair, I should say that Japan is a great country for photography book publishing—it’s important to realize that Tokyo does not equal Japan, and Japan does not equal Tokyo.) There are specialized places like Sokyu sha, but any regular chain bookstore will carry a good number of interesting photography titles and magazines as well. In most places in Tokyo, you’re probably never far from a book browsing respite.


This is obvious, no? Being home to many of the most notable camera companies in history, as well as many avid photographers, Japan has a tremendous influx of camera gear. As the most bustling city in Japan, it is probably not a stretch to say that you could find any camera gear imaginable in Tokyo.

Not so good stuff


There had to be a catch somewhere, right? Tokyo is EXPENSIVE. In photography this comes across in the price of books, gear and photo paper. Beyond these explicit costs, though, the overall cost of living makes stuff like rent and transportation much higher than “normal.” A bike definitely helps there, but no one picks up photography (especially film) as a money-saving hobby…

Half frame nonsense

This is just a pet peeve, but so many places have difficulty printing half frame film, let alone making a CD out of it! When I did get prints they costed twice the price I was quoted. This is strange given that in the US, Walgreen’s will do their usual bang-up job for $5 no questions asked.

As a city for photography, I don’t think Tokyo will disappoint you. At least not for the first six months.


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2009, Jul 20

I’m currently traveling around Japan for about 5 weeks or so, starting with Hokkaido and making my way down to Tottori. I have queued up a few posts here, and also at Fervor de Tokio, where you can see some snapshots rolling in over the course of the summer.

So there will be some things coming through, but, you know, there won’t be any of the high quality, lightning-fast, on-the-scene-in-Tokyo posts that you’ve come to expect from this blog. (that is a joke)


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2009, Jul 16
Blog detritus

  • These photos by Mark King remind me of AMERICA.
  • A couple of weeks ago I went to an interesting exhibition at the NOW IDeA by UTRECHT space. I was impressed by the photos of Seth High, whose website doesn’t at all reflect his hilarious and skillful photography. I hope to write more later about Seth and the extensive crew of photographers—dead, alive, real, not real, whatever—with which he works.
  • Much more than Sokyu-sha, NOW IDeA is filled with zines and small publications from all over the world. I was unimpressed with a small book called Tokyo is Dreaming, which only contains photographs of people asleep, in Tokyo. This project would be equivalent to something like Los Angeles is Eating Tacos or San Francisco is Drinking Tecate. Of course, there are plenty of interesting ways to take pictures of people asleep in Tokyo, eating tacos in Los Angeles, or drinking Tecate in San Francisco, but I don’t think this one hit the mark. It feels like the photographer was content enough to get a sleeping person in the frame, press the button and bounce!
  • I picked upbriefly held the new Olympus PEN at Yodobashi. It feels very good in the hand, and the shutter makes a satisfying sound. It also costs around $1000, so unless you already have a bunch of M-mount lenses (I don’t), it may not be worth the expense. I think the old Pen F still looks better, it’s more angular and the leather patch on the left is more dramatic.


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    2009, Jul 14
    Excerpt of an interview with Garry Winogrand

    D: How would you prefer to describe yourself?

    W: I’m a photographer, a still photographer. That’s it.

    D: If you don’t like “street photographer,” how do you respond to that other ætiresome phrase’, “snapshot aesthetic”?

    W: I knew that was coming. That’s another stupidity. The people who use the term don’t even know the meaning. They use it to refer to photographs they believe are loosely organized, or casually made, whatever you want to call it. Whatever terms you like. The fact is, when they’re talking about snapshots they’re talking about the family album picture, which is one of the most precisely made photographs. Everybody’s fifteen feet away and smiling. The sun is over the viewer’s shoulder. That’s when the picture is taken, always. It’s one of the most carefully made photographs that ever happened. People are just dumb. They misunderstand.

    D: That’s an interesting point, particularly coming from someone who takes — or rather, composes and then snaps— lightning-fast shots.

    W: I’ll say this, I’m pretty fast with a camera when I have to be. However, I think it’s irrelevant. I mean, what if I said that every photograph I made was set up? From the photograph, you can’t prove otherwise. You don’t know anything from the photograph about how it was made, really. But every photograph could be set up. If one could imagine it, one could set it up. The whole discussion is a way of not talking about photographs.

    The entire interview is worth reading. Also I’ve linked this before, but this 12 minute video about Winogrand might be the best “video about a photographer” out there. His strong personality comes through, and the footage of him taking pictures is actually interesting. “Actually” because most videos where someone follows a photographer around bore me to tears…


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    2009, Jul 12

    Korea, long story

    So hey, that’s my shot. Pro forma, I even submitted it to Fecal Face.

    I’m getting really tired of color though. Most of the color stuff I shot in Korea didn’t look good at all, especially when I compared it to black and white shots I had taken of the same thing. Maybe I’d get better results if I bit the bullet and used Portra or even Superia instead of the dirt cheap Centuria, but at this point I don’t care about it enough. I’m about to take a big trip and I think all my 35mm film is going to be black and white.


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    2009, Jul 12
    All the young…

    PUSEYE is a blog that I found a while ago which only posts work from new photographers. Maybe the stuff they were posting before was better, or maybe I got old, but I visited lately and felt bored—everything looked the same. I generally like Ye Rin Mok, but I didn’t even notice that she was featured on the site because the selection of her work made her look like everyone else. You could call the work featured on the site “lifestyle” photography, although I think maybe that internet discussion has come and gone. I hope so at least, I can’t see it being very interesting.

    a portrait of Shaun White by Ye Rin Mok (not featured on PUSEYE)

    Still, the words “hard-flash color aesthetic” came up in conversation lately, and it provoked noteworthy responses. If we don’t use this are we dead? How long is this going to be hot for? Jurgen Teller is doing well for himself by using white backgrounds…

    PUSEYE is an effort to curate Flickr. I think it’s impressive that you can find so many people who are using this style. What does that mean? Who’s real and who’s posing? Who’s using the style to break with it? Or is this really the shape of things to come for the next X years? I’m more than positive that it is always the right time to destroy a style. We’re sitting here in front of our computers, waiting for you to do it!


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    2009, Jul 08
    More economical than Szarkowski

    The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.

    Robert Adams, from “Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area,” as cited by Szarkowski.


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    2009, Jul 08
    Three selections from John Szarkowski’s “Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide”

    Szarkowski is an exemplary writer for his sincere effort to be clearly understood. I think these efforts are most visible where he meditates on the most basic qualities of photography. He may not use a “basic” style, but it is rewarding to stick with him.

    Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one’s cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.

    By means of photography one can in a minute reject as unsatisfactory ninety-nine configurations of facts and elect as right the hundredth. The choice is based on tradition and intuition – knowledge and ego – as it is in any art, but the ease of execution and the richness of the possibilities in photography both serve to put a premium on good intuition. The photographer’s problem is perhaps too complex to be dealt with rationally.

    The photographer cannot freely redispose the elements of his subject matter, as a painter can, to construct a picture that fits his prior conception of the subject. Instead, he discovers his subject within the possibilities proposed by his medium.



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    2009, Jul 02
    A trip to Ricoh Ring Cube

    Ricoh’s “Ring Cube” occupies two floors of a building in Ginza [link to map], which happens to be the place to go in Tokyo if you’re looking for old-school camera shops. That’s not really my thing but here’s a page with relevant information if you’re interested. All of the major Japanese camera manufacturers have a branded “gallery” or “salon” or… “ring cube” in Tokyo, as a place to show photographs and also show off their latest wares. The top floor of Ring Cube is a small museum which displays every camera Ricoh has ever manufactured.


    Ricoh made a lot of TLR cameras

    This reminded me of “Tokyo Olympiad

    The amazingly small Ricoh Auto Half series. I forgot to take a picture of the great ads for these cameras which are displayed just to the side

    One of many 110 format cameras, but this one stood out to me

    I am pretty sure this camera was in the house growing up, although I also think I was not allowed to use it

    A sacred place. WALL OF GR SERIES CAMERAS

    A blue GRD?

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    2009, Jul 01
    “What kind of pictures do you take?”

    Photographers—how do you answer this question?

    Currently, my response begins with a look upwards, a breath, and “well, it’s hard to explain…” (“????????…”)

    Photography’s meaning, if it has any, is transmitted through representation. When the answer to this question—which is inevitable, by the way—can’t be something tangible like “flowers” or “street” or “landscape,” the problem we face is one of translation. But more than bridging two spoken languages, this translation is doubly difficult: how to represent a different language of representation?

    This makes transmission almost impossible, especially when we assume the other party expects an answer of two, maybe three words. If only we could show them our photos! Then they would understand! (Perhaps)

    John Szarkowski’s Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide is remarkable for the precision with which he has attempted to make this translation.


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