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Portraits from the Archives: Horicho

Now then, welcome to instalment number 2 of semi-regular blog posts from yours truly destined to stop within two weeks. This is the part where I realize that I really have nothing to add to the dialogue so I’m just going to pour out an unedited stream of consciousness, mould it vaguely into some kind of motivational diatribe and occasionally throw in not-so-subtle epithets like GEAR BAD PHOTOGRAPHER EYE BRAIN THINKY GOOD. Having read a fair share of photoblogrographer’s blogs in my time this really seems like the way to go in order to achieve fame and the everlasting adoration of all the Internets and that is certainly something that I want because I have a warehouse full of cleverly designed camera-themed print t-shirts that I really need to sell.

So anyway given that I’ve run out of things in my navel to gaze at, I’ll just get straight to the pictures today.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (3)

Portraits being my main thing, I generally try to get around town photographing the most interesting people I can get my camera lens trained onto. I treat it like collecting baseball cards. Most of the time you don’t get anything good. But sometimes you luck out and you come across some really interesting and rare cards that not only make your collection look big, but also gives it value. These are the types of interesting portraits that I’m hanging out to photograph.

Now interesting people can be divided into three categories – there are people who do really cool or interesting things with their life, which gives some kind of context in which to base my portrait around. There are those who just look cool, for whatever reason. And then there are those who look freaking cool and do interesting, rare things with their life. Speaking as a person wot likes fotos, when you’ve got a subject who has that winning combination of cool visual aesthetic/amazing context/cool location in front of your camera then you’ve basically hit the jackpot, portrait-wise. It’s the photo equivalent being invited to the all-female nude slumber party at the Playboy mansion. There are so many things you want to try, and so little time to do it all.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (45)Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (7)

Case in point, the tattooed chaps you see here. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and photograph these really amazing locations and people for a book about traditional Japanese tattoo (or Wabori). The book is sensibly enough named ‘Wabori’ and is still available through Kingyo press by the way.

Anyway, as Wabori has a widespread (and deserved) image of being closely linked to the Yakuza underworld, these Wabori practitioners don’t really openly advertise their shops and opening hours, that sort of thing. Straightaway, this fact alone gives me a big photographer stiffy (insert telescoping lens joke here). In all seriousness though it’s exciting for me to shoot inside a place not many people get to see, mainly because I’m a curious person and also because it makes my photos look better – always a good thing in this business.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (9) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (43)

Second thing that really gets my juices flowing – I get to photograph masters of their craft. Call me an idiot romantic, but virtuosity means a lot to me. When I see someone who’s really really really good at what they do, I get a warm tingly feeling inside. Sure, it may be the syphilis but who’s keeping track. Either way, I love meeting talented people and photographing them, especially if what they do is getting rarer and rarer these days. I really feel like documenting these fading crafts lends some meaning to my superfluous and otherwise insignificant existence on this ball of rock hurtling through the trackless black wasteland of our Universe. I don’t know where the existential crisis suddenly came from but I’m happy to blame it on the syphilis again.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (18) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (28)

Finally, there’s always something about Yakuza gang members covered with freakin tattoos that’s always looked cool to me. Don’t know what it is but for some reason it’s just really fun to photograph, and not at all intimidating. Add that to the beautifully cluttered interiors of these Wabori studios and you’ve got a photoshoot that really just does all the work for you, and I’m definitely all about that. Of course, as I mentioned in my last post my immediate reaction upon seeing a cool location like this is to revert to copying Dan Winters, heck, basically anything makes me revert to copying Dan Winters. However possibly because I’m not as good as him, I always end up with some other stuff that just looks like I photographed it. I wonder…maybe if I find out what gear he uses and just buy all of that stuff it will solve my problems once and for all! It’s definitely worth a try.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed my masterclass on shooting portraits. To sum up my main points: don’t rely on your own skill to make interesting photos, just make sure your subjects and locations are interesting enough that you can’t go wrong even if your camera is set to P-mode and you haven’t taken the lens cap off. This really is the key to everlasting success as a foto graffa and by sharing these secrets I’m sure I’m angering the whole professional community but what can I say, I aim to be informative and interesting.

Join me in six months time for my next blog post, which will be a long form Haiku about how I imagine Dan Winters smells after a shower. Expect gratuitous use of the word sandalwood.

Now then, who wants to buy some T-shirts?

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (47) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (46)   Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (51)