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
This is one of a large set of images that I took during my last year living in Japan. Looking back at them now, I can see how introspective many of them are, and some of them seem infused with a sentimental or bittersweet melancholy. Having spent the better part of six years in Japan and being acutely aware of my imminent departure and the parting of ways from so many beloved friends and family, I suppose it was understandable. I named this after one of my favourite artists, Seattle troubadour Damien Jurado for his music which, for me, emulates so many of the same qualities that I mentioned above.
For those wondering, the image is a macro detail of a plastic bench at the stop where I used to take the tram in South Kagoshima. The scratches accumulated over time as generations of children’s school bags and office worker’s briefcases left their mark. I think the macro detail has always added to a certain element of mystery to the image that has always made it one of most lasting and most popular.
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.
I love to work with flat walls like this as my canvas. This spot was a discovery walking home from work in Japan one day under an overpass. I thought, how perfect a symbol of the Japanese ideal of purity and cleanliness that not only was the underside of the overpass cleaned regularly, but a mop was also placed there permanently as a daily reminder. Simple yet elegant in its own way.
This is my first foray into photoblogging beyond my usual dayjob over at flickr. I live in Vancouver Canada and very much appreciate comments and discussion. Feel free to repost images but please link back to this original site I hope you enjoy your visit and look forward to hearing from you.
The image above was taken in Kagoshima Japan in 2006. I took it with a fairly primitive point and shoot, my first digital camera, downtown in a shopping arcade called Tenmonkan. It came right from gut, an instinct shot, and to this day I can still remember my heart pounding as I pushed the button to release the shutter. It was the first image that I was truly proud of, and marked the moment I knew I was hooked on photography.
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