I present to you another portrait in my GAIJIN series!
This time we have James H Catchpole – otherwise known as Mr Ok Jazz – he’s an extremely cool guy and a treasure trove of information about all of the underground, obscure live jazz houses dotted around and about Tokyo. He should be – he’s been living here since his university days at Waseda and has been constantly exploring and documenting jazz bars and cafes all over Tokyo for more than a decade. Whether you’re in the mood to hear some live experimental jazz, blues, soul or whatever – go to his website for a comprehensive list of major and minor jazz sites around Tokyo. The list he has built and is still building is quite extraordinary.
As well as maintaining this blog, James also does fixing and consulting for foreign TV productions in Japan, and also hosts a weekly radio program on Inter FM 76.1 – which, in my opinion, is the only channel worth listening to in Tokyo.
Follow James for all things jazz and Tokyo-related on Twitter at @MrOKJazzTokyo, and definitely check out his (under renovation) homepage here, for a step into the deep, deep rabbithole that is the Tokyo live jazz scene.
We made this shot in Samurai, otherwise known as the Maneki Neko (lucky cat figurine) bar in Shinjuku. It’s an old hangout of James and he gets along well with the owner. Of course, it’s featured on James’ website and he describes the place perfectly when he says “…the Samurai is a treasure. When you enter to the left off the elevator you immediately are taken into another era, face to face with a 5-foot manneke-neko (招き猫`lucky cat figurine`). These cat figurines are omnipresent at the entrance to Japanese eateries and shops, beckoning in customers with a raised paw. Inside the Samurai are more than 2500 of these lucky cat figurines spread throughout the interior, hanging from the walls, piled in cabinets, in paintings and in photos. Some frowning, some scowling, some with a serene smile..it’s an awesome site. Hanging on the walls are scrolls of haiku calligraphy, adding to the mysterious atmosphere.” The rest of the description on James’ website is here, and if it doesn’t make you want to go, then you have no sense of awesomeness and possibly need to rethink your life.
As for how I made this shot, the above, final shot was composited from three separate shots. I probably could have done it all in one go, but I didn’t have enough speedlights and I like to make things difficult for myself. To illuminate James himself, I used three speedlights – the main light had a Lumiquest Softbox III attached and gelled full CTO to mimic the tungsten lighting in the venue. A similarly gelled Orbis was used as fill light to bring detail out of the hands and suit. A fluorescent green gelled light in a 4 inch shortsnoot gave the left side of James’ suit and face a little separation from the background. Why green? Well, there’s some strong fluorescent lighting in the back of the frame, and that’s enough motivation to use a green tint as a wraparound light on James. Using yet another orange colored light for separation would have been fatally dull, and robbed much of the three-dimensionality from his face.
Afterwards all I had left was to shoot some plates of the scene with my camera locked down on a tripod, so I could blend them into the one frame to better represent what the scene before my eyes. The first one below is exposed for just ambient light, and the second one below is light with a red gelled strobe to just subtly bring out the two customers left of frame, just so the eye has something the wander over when not looking at James. The frames were blended very simply in Photoshop using layer masks, and a little dodging and burning to various areas of the frame hopefully ensures that the eye is directed to all of the right places. And that’s pretty much it!
If you’re a gaijin in Japan doing cool or interesting things for the love of living here, or if you know someone who would be a great fit for this project, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Here’s an outtake that I wasn’t too happy with, but it shows you another angle of Samurai. It really is an awesome place, go check it out!