Late last year Tokyo based magazine Rockin’ On tapped me to photograph J-rock phenomenon Uverworld for an 8 page spread about their new album. We were to have an hour to fill those pages with some kind of shots, so we looked around Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhood Daikanyama for a good pot we could use. Luckily there was a nice photogenic abandoned lot right by their studio which we could use with impunity. Side note: it doesn’t matter who you’re photographing in Tokyo, if you choose your spot unwisely, some rentacop with no real authority will come up to you and tell you that you can’t shoot there.
Anyway the guys were really nice, even being fine with me blanking on their names halfway through (6 new names all at one time is a LOT for me), and the lead singer Takuya seemed quite interested in me, grilling me with questions about my home country Australia while we were taking photos. Hope you enjoy the photos!
Just a photo of a guy cutting through Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. Sensoji and its surrounds have become quite a tourist destination, to the point that navigating the shopping areas as a local can become somewhat of an ordeal. It’s worth remembering that the temple regains its solemnity and tranquility in the early hours of the morning, when the selfie stick toting hordes of tourists are still in bed.
Recently I was asked to photograph a portrait of renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for the third time, and it was to be at his office in Gaienmae again too. I definitely wanted to try something different to the first two times I had photographed him, and also wanted to have him pictured with bamboo, which is a medium he draws a lot of inspiration from. We shot at a bamboo grove at a shrine across the road from his office (which he helped design, incidentally), and he was a wonderful subject as always, barely batting an eyelid when I asked him to pop his head in between the two stalks of bamboo.
Kengo Kuma is the man behind the design of the 2020 Olympic Stadium currently being built in Gaien. Hope I get to sit in it in 2020!
So I got a Leica M10 recently, and I’ve begun taking it everywhere in a way that I never used to do with my Sony or Nikons. The only other camera I used to take on walks was the Fuji XT-1, but the image quality was appalling at times, especially these days. Anyway here’s a photo of the under construction Olympic Stadium in Gaien, designed by Kengo Kuma, who I’ve photographed before.
Shot with the 28mm Summicron, an awesome lens!
Being a photographer in Tokyo is enough of a treat by itself, but sometimes I am privileged to go to other countries to take photos. This particular time I was sent to Hyundai/Genesis’s research and development lab in Korea. I had never been to Korea before so it was very refreshing navigating in a country where language was once again a barrier. The lab was about 90 minutes out from Seoul but I managed to get there without issues, and on time too! Once there I was treated with great hospitality and the design directors SangYup Lee and Luc Donkerwolke were very generous with their time.
It was all in all a very tiring day as I flew over without an assistant, but after I got back to my hotel in Seoul, I had randomly stumbled across some of the best fried chicken I’d ever had in my life. So needless to say I’m very keen to go back to Korea and explore more!
Enjoy the photos!
I did a collaborative shoot with master shibari, or kinbaku practitioner Hajime Kinoko and the lovely model Kasumi (who I have photographed before here). Shibari, or the Japanese art of erotic rope binding, is a really big subculture here, and one that I have been meaning to dop my toe into a little more, hopefully I can find more people willing to work with me.
For this shot I used a 4×5 Tachihara film camera, because these cameras are really awesome and should be used more. I wrote about the process of shooting 4×5 at length in a previous blog post here.
Anyway enjoy the photos! And probably don’t open these at work! (Unless nudity is allowed at work, in which case we’re all jealous)
Happy New Year from this Tokyo photographer!
As is tradition I make a New Year’s Poster based on the Chinese Zodiac with some of my good friends. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, and last year I didn’t manage to get out to enough movies to watch anything super inspirational for the poster, but I did manage to binge the whole series of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix while I was on business trips in my hotel rooms, and I loved it. This year’s poster is (very loosely) based on that series and features four eco-warriors (top: Drone Pilot/Photographer Hamish Campbell, right: Fashion Creator Yuka, bottom: My Wife Asuka and left: Makeup Artist Maiko Mita) set against industry, greed and environmental destruction, as represented by the pig general at the very top; me.
Credit must go to Yuka, who did an absolutely incredible job of coordinating these amazing costumes out of flea market goods. Maiko as usual did a stellar job of turning me into a menacing deformed pig, and thanks to Hamish for stepping behind the camera when it was my turn to be photographed, as well as letting me use his house in order to photograph all the ice, stone and wind elements that were needed. Of course, I couldn’t do anything of this without the support of my amazing and beautiful wife, who was 9 months pregnant at the time that we photographed this poster. We’re still waiting for the baby to pop, but it’s not going to be hard to imagine that 2019 will be a busy one. Hopefully it will also be a productive one!
Further up the coast of Ehime, there is an old town with a wonderful set of meandering old roads and historic buildings called Uchiko. Uchiko by itself is one of those little country Japanese towns that is insanely Instagrammable – it’s charming, old and clean, dotted with trendy shops, cafes and hostels – just right for a stroll in a kimono.
The highlight of the town however, is the old candle industry here that is originally what put Uchiko on the map in the first place. In the olden days, candles were made out of beeswax or paraffin; materials which when burnt produced a lot of smoke and unpleasant odor. The people of Uchiko however, discovered a way to make candle wax out of the haze tree, which is a very labor intensive process however the result is a pristine white candle that when burnt produces a pure bright flame with no smoke or odor.
These candles were exhibited at the Paris expo in 1900 (or thereabouts, I actually can’t remember) and instantly became a smash hit, making Uchiko candles a household name and making the small Shikoku town very prosperous indeed, as international orders flooded in for these amazing odorless, smokeless candles.
These days of course, candles are less of a household item and more of a mood setter, and demand for them is a shadow of what it was, however the Omori Candle workshop is still making candles of all shapes and sizes, and has been for six generations. A lot of the candles are sold to burn at Buddhist altars, however there are plenty of candles for everyday use, if you’re in the market for some fancy lighting during a blackout (which almost never happens in Japan). So if you’re ever in the town of Uchiko, pop in to the Omori candle workshop to see how they are made, and down the road you’ll be able to see the massive compound where haze trees were processed into wax, which is an absolutely fascinating process.
The next day we drove back up the western coast of Shikoku to the prefecture of Ehime, where I first started my journey. On the way back up we stopped at the town of Seiyo, where we visited a gentleman called Okuno-san who is a Japanese cooper. Being a cooper in Japan is an essential job even today, and involves making a variety of large and small buckets and barrels for pickling or making rice for sushi. Unfortunately most buckets these days are dirt cheap plastic ones made in China, so fewer and fewer artisans are able to stay in work.
If making a perfectly round seamless bucket out of wooden slats sounds hard, that’s because it is. Large blocks of wood have to be chopped down to smaller blocks of wood, which then have to be painstakingly shaved down to whatever dimensions your bucket will have. After that, they need to be further shaved to have a convex and and concave surface so as to fit with the twenty or so other pieces that will make up the finished product. To this end, a bucket artisan has a dizzying array of chisels, saws and kanna (Japanese wood planes) in order to achieve delicate rounded shapes needed to form a perfect circle.
Once your slats are ready you then fit them together, and if you’ve done your job well the bucket will be watertight, hopefully. Lastly, the rough edges are shaved and polished away so it resembles a single piece of wood.
Okuno-san is a retired businessman whose wife’s father was a traditional cooper – he says he learned about the craft from him, as well as inherited all of the tools, which are especially hard to come by these days. He’s the last such craftsman in the area, and the buckets he makes are beautiful in form and function.
In the previous post I detailed how we stayed in a lovely guest house called Kuro Usagi in Kochi prefecture, and also how they brew their own potent form of bathtub rice wine called doburoku. Well, during dinner we managed to sample a few pitchers of the stuff and things got somewhat blurry after all that, although I do remember yelling at Rod from Shikoku Tours about how Dragonball Z is to Japanese pop culture like Shakespeare was to the English language. I don’t think he understood or accepted my position.
I do remember waking up the next morning at 6am feeling awful, and upon staggering to the car we then proceeded to drive two hours through an interminable stretch of mountain roads whose twists and turns threatened to make me hurl on more than one occasion. I’m not sure how Rod managed to keep us on the road, as he had had quite as much as I had the previous night, but thanks to him we arrived at our next location largely unscathed, albeit much grayer in the face.
Our next location was actually another brewery ensconced in the hills of Kochi prefecture, called Mutemuka. They are quite famous in their area for the unusual types of distilled liquor (known as shochu) they produce, a notable example of which is the chestnut shochu. Being savagely hungover as I was, I declined to sample the wonderful product, however the marvelous old wooden construction of the distillery, plus the crisp mountain air served to perk me right up, and I was happily snapping photos of the place.
Due to the hungover nature of the entire group, we decided to take it easy that afternoon, and whiled away several hours at a delightful public hot spring, before taking a jaunt to the Shimanto river, whereupon Rod promptly stripped down and jumped into the river. We also saw some of the traditional riverboats taking a leisurely dusk cruise with tourists on board. It was quite a tranquil scene. Alas, that night we were to leave Kochi and drive up to Ehime prefecture for the last leg of our long journey, but I will always have fond remembrances of my first visit to Kochi and I definitely can’t wait to be back for another photoshoot!