In my opinion, one of the finest and most influential photographers of the 20th century was the Japanese master of black-and-whites semi-surreals, Shoji Ueda
His canvases were the wonderful textures and lines of the dunes of the Sanin region of Shimane and his home prefecture of Tottori. His subjects included his wife and children, often nude, but he also played with hats and canes and country skies in a way that remind me strongly of the surreal work of Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali.
His use of angles and depth give the viewer the experience that his land is quite literally the end of the earth, a magical and lonely place where his nudes are truly alone, where his lines are untouched in the sand.
The images above are mine, images where the stark simplicity owe much to the likes of Ueda. The first three were taken in Kagoshima, the fourth is Tokyo and he final image is in Toronto, Ontario.
Once upon a time, very early into my time taking photographs, I won a little contest put on by the local university in Kagoshima. A few weeks after submitting my image, I was invited to the school on a weekend morning. I entered a fairly nondescript corner room half full of Japanese, with the rest of the numbers made up of a healthy mix of foreigners from around the world, many of them studying medicine on exchange.
The winners had been told they had been shortlisted but it wasn’t until I arrived that I realised they had printed my photo in large format along the front wall, where it was hanging prominently. This was originally taken on Provia slide film, still months away from my first digital camera that would change the my world (and my bottom line). It looked dreamy to me and after recovering from seeing my own work so beautifully featured (and in such full size) I was even more stunned to find that the crowd were talking about the image as if I were a professional exhibitor. I was too embarrassed to tell people it was my photo, so I slinked around the room surreptitiously listening to half conversations. In the end I was called to the front to accept my award, a small cash prize and publication in a local magazine.
Besides being a great moment in my early days of shooting, it was also an important lesson about reading the fine print and the rights of a photographer. I found out later that the film I submitted, like all others sent to the university, became the property of the school with the stroke of the pen that was my signature on the application form. A good lesson to learn early on.
This is a b&w redux, a scan of the original colour print I was eventually given after pleading over the phone for at least a single copy of “my image”. The boy in centre is my nephew Harutaka, still so dear to me now, alongside his little friends at a preschool festival in the south of Kagoshima.
You can see the original colour image here
I’m very inspired by the Japanese photographer Moriyama Daido (森山 大道 ). His immediacy, his self-professed lack of technical expertise in a traditional sense, his wonderfully artistic eye and carefree approach to street photography really resonates with me.
There is a wonderful quote about Moriyama by the perhaps more renowned Japanese erotic photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who said,
“The photographer has been a slave to the camera for a long time. Good camera, good lens, Leica, etc – these were the masters of the photographers. But in a way, Daido Moriyama is a photographer who started to make the camera his slave. Photography is not about the camera. Of course we need the camera. If you want to write a romantic love letter, we need some tool to write it with. But anything – a pencil or ballpoint pen – is fine.”
He is in his seventies now and is currently featured at the Tate Modern alongside William Klein if you are lucky enough to be anywhere near London before January 20th.
The featured shot above is mine, taken in the south of Kagoshima City in 2007, as the late afternoon sun shone through an auto repair shop at the end of the working day.