All posts filed under: Photojournalism

Mukojima, the Tokyo geisha town

Somewhere in the middle of Tokyo’s older quarter, near Asakusa but slightly too far from a subway station to make it easy to access, is the quiet district of Mukojima. Hidden in the nondescript grey and brown buildings are the homes, restaurants, and training houses for Tokyo’s geisha. Here it is not uncommon to see a fully garbed geisha or maiko quietly having coffee in the homely kissaten (cafes), or crossing the street to go from one interminable location to another – a sight that is typically thought to exist only in Kyoto. It’s an undiscovered part of Tokyo that has quietly come along through the ages without invasion from the eyes of tourists. Here’s a few photos from a story I shot around the area, some of them are from the street, others are portraits of some of the subjects interviewed for the article. Hope you enjoy them!        

The Captain

This is Captain Toyohiko Tomioka, the captain of the Tokyo Fire Department’s Hyper Rescue Squad, which is the most elite emergency response squad in the country. Considering these guys have to be in a state of constant readiness due to the fact that a devastating earthquake could strike Tokyo at anytime, Tomioka’s men are certainly the best of the best. Their headquarters are in Tokyo but they are on call to respond to any crisis that requires their expertise around the entire nation. March 11, 2011 – Japan gets hit by the triple body blow of a magnitude 9+ earthquake, devastating tsunami and a nuclear disaster. If ever there was a need for these guys it was right then. Tomioka and his squad are the first on the scene at the stricken Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, which had reported problems with shutting down and was now experiencing overheating. Everyone knew the situation was bad, but at that time no one knew exactly how bad. Tomioka’s team undertook the dangerous job of pouring seawater into the …

New Years Resolutions

Hey guys, just wanted to share a small side project that I did over the new year’s break with you. Kind of wanted to do something that involved new years some how so I went out on the cold winter streets with a clipboard, a brush and some paper and asked people to write a single kanji that signified their hopes and dreams for the year of the dragon. Lots of people refused, but some were quite obliging, and I have to hand it to Ikuo and Kiko, who after writing their own kanji helped me flag down other people. If you live in Japan you’ll be well familiar with kanji but for those who have no idea, kanji is the pictograph-style writing system that is used in Japan and wider parts of Asia. The great thing about kanji is that while each single character can have several different meanings, the overall ‘feel’ of the character can be understood very easily. Thus, a writing a single character doesn’t simply mean one thing – the viewer …

AERA End of Year Party

This year I had the great privilege to start shooting for AERA, which is a weekly magazine who are said to be extremely picky about their photographers.  They’re part of the Asahi Shimbun publishing company, but the AERA section deals with more focused issues than the newspaper, and has a stable of very talented photographers, of which I’ve somehow managed to become a part of.  Was kind of a reality check when I went in earlier this year to show the photo editor my portfolio. After glancing through my book he gives me an hour-long critique/lecture on areas that need improvement, and what I should do to make my book look better for prospective clients down the road. After all that, he looks me in the eye and says: “You could be first class if you really wanted to be. Try harder.” Talk about tough love.  Inspirational though. Then he seems to remember that I’m not here for a portfolio review. “So why did you come here?” he asks. After sitting through an hour of …

Honda Keisuke – Soccer

Earlier this year I had the rare privilege to photograph a very well known Japanese footballista , Honda Keisuke. He’s a superstar in Japan, scoring goals in the South Africa world cup, and since I’m a huge fan of the current Japanese national football team it was a real pleasure to meet him. As is generally the case with a person of this celebrity, his time was initially quite limited but once he warmed up and started chatting he seemed to forget about the time and we ended up hanging around for about an hour. Pretty neat, and the ability to openly engage with your subject is one of the main reasons I really love doing portrait photography.  Not everyday I get to explain to a famous Japanese soccer player how I ended up doing magazine photography in Japan (a story for this blog some day, to be sure). Lighting wise: We were stuck in a really small conference room with the blue colored walls that you can see. Luckily, blue happens to be the …

Portrait shooting for AERA

I shot these portraits of powerful women for Japanese magazine AERA, which is like a monthly special-edition version of Asahi Shimbun, one of the major newspapers here.  They were doing a special on girls-only universities in Tokyo and wanted to feature some alumni with interviews and a photo. Here are a couple of shots that turned out pretty well, and I’m always happy when they run full-bleed. Gear-wise I used my usual assortment of SB-900, SB-80DXs and the old Apollo 24″ softbox as the main-light.  The fill-light depends on the situation – in the one directly below of television announcer Takanishi Mika the fill was a bare SB-900 with the little diffusor flap pulled down. It works surprisingly well when there are no pesky surfaces to reflect the hard specular nature of the flash.  In most other cases (especially indoor) I use a shoot-thru umbrella (Westcott 46″) to fill those shadows in.  Nothing extraneous needed here, most of these ladies aren’t too used to having a portrait shot of them so any setup too restricting/intimidating …

Yoshioka Tatsuya – Peaceboat NGO founder

The other day (quite a while ago now – I’ve been a bit slack with the blog lately), I had the pleasure of photographing Yoshioka Tatsuya, who is the founder and top man at the NGO Peaceboat.  This was a particular pleasure for me to photograph as I had joined on a week long volunteer program organized by Peaceboat in May and had Yoshioka-san give us an inspirational speech on the last day.  He’s a very eloquent, passionate man in both English and Japanese and it’s evident that he cares very much about helping his compatriots up north in Japan. So without and further ado here’s the portrait: For people interested in the how and the where, I photographed him in the usual conference/meeting room which thankfully had bare white walls. I used a Nikon SB-900 in an Orbis ring flash for the main light , another Nikon SB-80DX with the snoot far camera right, and another Nikon SB80DX in a short snoot camera left for the rim light.  I hope I managed to capture …

Aiko

Well, wow, I got a pretty big response for the PMS project on Facebook and email – so I’m going to go ahead with that it seems. Looking for ladies willing to be subjects for this – drop me a line in the Contact section or in the comments! This shot below is of my girlfriend’s grandmother taken while we were visiting Hawaii in March.  She’s a sweet chatty, generous old lady that loves to tell stories. She has a great bar fridge full of Pepsi which is awesome for me and she likes to sit in her favorite chair and drink coffee and chat.  Her husband passed away last year, which was a very sad time for the lady and her family. Like a lot of older people she gets forgetful sometimes and loses track of things.  Not sure whether it’s Alzheimer’s but it’s a bit of a worry. I photographed her at her old family home which is near Haleiwa, which is one of the coolest places to shoot I’ve ever been in. I also …

Volunteers

A series of portraits I did of Group 24 (24班), which is the group that I was the leader of during our week of volunteering in Ishinomaki-city, Miyagi prefecture. 16% of the people in Ishinomaki volunteering over Golden Week were internationals.  Some had flown in especially to help. It’s a good indication of the fondness that Japan is held in the hearts of the international community.  Our group was comprised of 2 Japanese, 2 Australians, 1 Canadian and 1 American. 360 new volunteers went up during Golden Week to swell the numbers of volunteers to around 600.  People fear the numbers will drop dramatically as people in Tokyo gradually begin to forget. For the camera nuts, I shot this with a combination of LED light panels and headlights with an 135mm @ f/2.  The location was inside a damaged bar that we had just finished cleaning on the very final day of our volunteering. For those interested in spending a week helping out up north contact Peace Boat’s office at (03) 3363-8047 or e-mail meri@peaceboat.gr.jp. http://peaceboat.org/relief/    

Volunteering up in Ishinomaki-shi – Part 2

For part 1 of this blog post click here: While in Ishinomaki we had the unique (as far as I know) opportunity to visit the suburb of Ibarazu. It was unique in the fact that we were sent there not to clean up mud but to pick up fish. A lot of fish. Ibarazu is a small part of Ishinomaki situated near one of the largest fish markets in Miyagi. When the tsunami came through the area, hundreds of tons of fish for sale were swept away, and mostly ended up in Ibarazu. These fish had been sitting there, rain and shine, for 2 months, despite the best efforts of the township to clean their streets up.  That’s where we came in. The fact that there was plenty left over for us to pick up is a good indication of the sheer volume that was simply just lying around. Needless to say, the smell was incredible. Fish had clumped together in schools and putrefied in ways beyond belief. Some were dried out from sitting in …