Monthly Archives: May 2008

Hashiguchi-san’s workshop

It’s clear that George (I discovered it’s actually Joji-san!) is something of a guru for Japanese photo buffs. Today he ran a workshop for local amateurs, and his soft spoken fatherly manner comes across to me like therapy session leader. He has everyone talk about their personal feelings etc about things. Amongst the adults and the teenagers, there is a little girl of 8 who also shows her pics. Kirari is quite a little firecracker, very bold and not at all your typical shy Japanese kid. Here she is telling George where it’s at:workshop.jpgThen she gets me to teach her how to count to at least one hundred and ten in English before she gets bored and rips my sun glasses off my head and does a performance of her own.. kirari.jpgGeorge suggests that I give them some critique while he works one end, so I jump in with a stand-in translator and go for it. In amongst all the ordinary stuff there are some gems, and some surprising pics. It is all film (or analog as they like to call it) which is great for people to learn first, but perhaps it also leaves them at the mercy of the run of the mill commercial printers seeing as they are just sending the images thru retail shops. Hmm, maybe I should take this up with George over dinner. If I remember. Lunch with Naomi who has shown up, a quick visit to her family home and meet her Mum, who at 78 looks like 60. Then it’s taxi back to hotel. I am sure all of you readers who have been to Japan know the japanese taxi obsessiveness, but I still get taken aback when I get into a white lace covered taxi driven by a white gloved chauffeur. Wonder how long it would stay white in Jakarta…dsc_8715.jpg

the big day

Yesterday was the the big day for the festival. It started off with my co-exhibitor, George Hashiguchi, and I being interviewed for local tv at our exhibition. George is a soft spoken die hard documentarian who has spent years doing portraits around the world. He has done a huge series on Japanese teenagers, including portraits of some of them 10 years on. A man with a quiet sense of humor and ‘dead pan’ eye is the only way I can describe it. p1020570.jpgI get to do my little song and dance too for the tv:p1020563.jpgmeanwhile Akutagawa-san (Jin) does some documentary work:p1020573.jpgwhile the actress Akiko-san is taking in George’s portraits.. p1020577.jpgIn the evening there is a big do: George has been getting his presentation straight for about four hours in the afternoon (something on his powerpoint program messed up) plus rehearsals. A 7:35 I go on stage and deliver my long and windy speech about the philosophy of why I take pictures: zzzzzzzzzz. I have cruelly interspersed my speech with home made idioms that has my poor translator in knots – she is very concerned to get the exact meaning across. Everybody is polite and claps. What follows is fun, the composer Mera-san created a piano and recorder piece, kind of Japanese-Balinese Zenish-piano drama to go with a slide show of the Bali work that I am showing. It is really touching, and for 20 minutes I look at my pictures in a different way. Although it is nothing like gamelan music which was the background sound when I was shooting the images, there is no disconnect – it is all rather sweet actually. Then George shows his 45 minute “stills movie” including a series of portraits of teenagers in different parts of Japan, each one shown ten years later. very interesting. The subjects short monologues are read by Akiko-san, who has a wonderful voice and a great sense of timing that seems to work so well in Japanese, which always sounds to me like premeditated hesitation followed by short bursts of highly concentrated content. Even though I didn’t understand a word (some of it was translated by Naomi-san, my translator but I decided it was disturbing other viewers) it was kind of other worldly. I hope to get some pics of the evening from some of the photogs, will post them later. Of course the evening ended with a late second dinner. tons of food. Got up this morning and went for a walk in my favourite district, the entertainment district of Miyazaki. Post-revelry atmosphere, bar workers going home, maybe I will post some later. Gotta run to breakfast.

bali-miyazaki connect part two!

So today I go out with Dokyu-san, a banker who has lived 30 years abroad from his native Miyazaki, including seven years in Indonesia, but has come home to look after his parents and actualy wants to live here too. He’d like to give something back to his hometown, and he is active in JICA which is a Japan-Indonesia friendship organization.
He is on fire about bringing life back into his hometown, especially wanting to get the youth involved. We hit a painting exhibition in the Miyazaki airport (yep) by a Japanese lady, Atsuko Sasaki, who has lived in Paris and Lausanne for the last 15 years. So there we are nattering away in French (me pretending to be fluent). It is kind of surreal, especially when the big Seiko clock hits the hour, and lo and behold the Japanese version of the Swiss cuckoo clock: a 2 minute rendition, complete with 4 foot moving puppets, of a traditional Miyazaki ritual music performance.
Well somehow I was so stunned I didn’t shoot it, but after seeing a pink coke machine last night, hey what is normal anyway?
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Did I mention that the governor of the Miyazaki prefecture, Sonomanma Higashi, is a famous tv comedian?
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well it seems he is breathing a lot of life back into the place. Dunno if he ordered the clock though…

After that we end up at Udo Shrine, where one of the emperors of Japan was (if I got the story straight) nursed by a foster mother. It is a Shinto shrine, and I have to say there a lot of souvenirs for sale, just like any other place in the world – except that there are attendants who keep a strict accounting of all contributions. And they are busy.
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Lots of things to do test your luck – if you can chuck these clay pellets into a 50 centimeter hole in the rock in the sea 15 meters away you get luck etc. Strictly speaking, according to the law and effect, the lucky one is the temple, since you have to pay 100Â¥ for 5 pellets, and men are only allowed to use their left hands (evidently left handers have an advantage here). I didn’t get lucky, and resisted the temptation to buy a tiny bag of used pellets which can also bring you luck. (Actually I might just camp out here for a couple of months and chuck pellets at that hole….). Lots of serious conversation later (Dokyu-san knows his Indonesian politics!) on the way back up the hill and thru the tunnel Dokyu-san tells me that the best quality local mangoes sell for $200 dollars a piece. I try to pretend like he has made a mistake in the exchange rate, but it doesn’t last coz I know that he is a banker, plenty savvy, and I am sure his command of the exchange rate is as good as his English, which is fluent. D..n, if that isn’t obscene enough, apparently there is certain type of melon from Hokkaido that sells for $2000 a pair. Any wonder we are chucking pellets at a hole in the rock. Who buys? People with company expense accounts, they purchase them for corporate gifts. They should send those people to Darfur for a reality check.

the bali – miyazaki connection

Yesterday Terasaka-san, a furniture maker who volunteers for the festival, took me around to see some spectacular nature, and some ancient sites including burial mounds from ancient times and other things. This side shrine at a Shinto temple caught my eye. It really took me back to Bali:
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on the way we also passed some tea plantations. (Kyushu, and it seems Miyazaki prefecture in particular, is famous for its agricultural productivity). I was struck by how neat the rows were, and somehow was trying to imagine the tea workers in Bandung (West Java) trying to keep rows like this instead of those clumpy bushes. Then I saw the machine!
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Yet despite this agricultural success, it seems the easy going life here has its price: Tera-san tells me that out of the 48 odd prefectures in Japan, Miyazaki ranks 45th on the economic scale. But he would rather be here than Tokyo: after two years studying there (sculpture and print making? I think thats what he meant!) he decided he’d rather be in Miyazaki. As he so disarmingly put it: “I discovered that I really truly had no talent!” (But he makes great handmade furniture). As he is telling me this we come to a cross road, a couple of cars in front are queuing up, and to our left a middle aged gentleman in a toyota sedan is coming out of a gas station, waiting to enter the road. Tera-san stops and waves him in. The gentle man declines and waves us on with a smile. They kind of bow to each other and finally we drive on. When I smile, Tera-san comments that “outside drivers” meaning non-Miyazakians, often berate the Miyazakians for being so unhurried, whereas they themselves just find it a natural politeness. Reading a commentary on the Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna’s “Seventy Stanzas” this morning regarding the Buddhist view of “selflessness” it strikes me that in reality there are no “true” nationalities either. Japan is a mix of its own, from the freezing, 3m deep snows of Hokaido to the subtropical Miyazaki (and even warmer Okinawa), to the hustle bustle no-time-for-anything temperament of Tokyo to the warmth and relaxed tempo of the people here. National traits seem to be the fictional caricature of our times.

The rains are here!

Well here I am, post monsoon Bali, early monsoon Thailand – and the rainy season hit Miyazaki today. urgh. But now I know why they have umbrella locks in this town – felt like grabbing an umbrella myself!!!dsc_8339.jpg

the view from my window this morning (29th):
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Miyazaki – big small city

How does a town (ok they call it a city) of 300,000 get to have such a big museum and art centre? Apparently the previous governor (or whatever the title is) had a thing for the arts, so they have this amazing facility with, in amongst their permanent collection a Picasso, a couple of Magrittes, a Klee. Interstingly enough they have a painting by Man Ray but none of his much more famous photographs. dsc_8345.jpg
Akutagawa-san tells me they don’t think of photography as art – I wanted to donate one of the prints. Well maybe we will talk to the museum authorities.
Yesterday Akutagawa (Jin-a) takes me to Aoshima island – a tiny islet with a natural tropical forest and a Shinto shrine. It is surrounded by this very strange rock formation. Jin, in his usual white linen suit is carrying his rolleiflex (that’s twin lens dinosaur that shots film, for anyone under 40).
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funny thing about this town is that there are lots of crows, particularly in the night life area which I have cruised in the early morning (after sunrise, please) for interesting snaps.
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When Jin and I were walking around Aoshima there were some more crows. I was looking at them and flashing back to Spain 2 years ago when a friend of mine had taken me to Toledo, it was the day that she had discovered her cancer was back – a kind of raw day. We saw a bunch of crows, and she asked me if that was a sign of death in Asian cultures. I told her that for the Tibetans crows are the bird of Mahakala, the wrathful emanation of Chenrezig, Buddha of compassion. She has since passed away. I guess Jin must have sensed me thinking about it, he asked if crows were good or bad sign. I told him that crows were linked to Mahakala. Between my non-existent Japanese and his very broken English, I have no idea if he understood. But we both agreed that it is all in the mind!

Miyazaki finally!!

4 seats to myself on the flight (the little triumphs of life) isn’t quite enough to make this post midnight thing into a great flight – but it beats sitting up squashed in old style economy. Fukuoka airport is pretty efficient, and though immigration had the same usual repertoire of Q’s the guy was pretty nice. Picked up and whisked off the bus station for a 4 hour ride to Miyazaki – a bit of sequel after the 5 hour red eye, but we did go through some pretty country – hills and gorges, loads of tunnels. Very smooth bus ride, kind of like being on a train. Watching bits of Japanese tear jerkers on the video with my iPod on and the scenery going by. a bit existentialist. Been there done that, going to try and fly back to Fukuoka!
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So in Miyazaki I finally meet the gang who put together the Miyazaki annual Documentary Photo Festival. Inspired by eccentric Japanese photog Akutagawa-san, a team of dedicated friends helped him put his dream together. They are amateurs in the best sense of the word: they do it out of love. Amazing that a little “city” of 350,000 odd people are ready to host their own annual festival dedicated to documentary photography.
Most of the committee seem to be holding down serious day jobs, and must be working round the clock to get things done. At dinner Akutagawa-san is late, on his way back from Tokyo, so I get to hear all the testimonials about him. They all laughed when I said I thought him eccentric, they all think the same but are totally dedicated to his vision. They also inform me that one of the area’s leading composers has been inspired to write a 20 minute piano etc composition to accompany a slide show of my photographs. Wow. But, as they have only 26 Bali pictures, those slides are going to be up for a long time, at least 20 seconds, before changing (most slide shows change every 3 or so seconds).
But life here moves at a gentle pace, and they all seem to savour it. There are bicycles everywhere, and you see suits peddling down the broad sidewalks.
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suvarnabhumi airport: on to Fukuoka

So many people think that to travel constantly for work is glamorous. Yep, all those security checkpoints, the moving goalposts of international safety, the crazy taxi drivers, and in Bangkok all the exercise getting to the waiting lounge.
Not to mention that the sponsors of my exhibition in Miyazaki have informed me that they are picking me up at the airport tomorrow morning… and then we get on a 5 hour bus ride to Miyazaki. Oh the comforts of home!
Anyway the passengers on this flight look pretty relaxed – Japanese back from Holiday. Either that or Fukuoka is pretty relaxed…
Finally got the uploading for images to the blog to work, so I did post two images that I printed on canvas and painted. Will try and do more from Japan. I decided to restrict myself to one camera and two lenses. A little discipline, think more carefully about what I shot. We’ll see. (Okay I do have my little lumix with me as well as the D3). Miss the days of my Contax G2 film rangefinders, they were fast, light, discreet and sharp as a tack. Hmm wonder when someone is going to make the first digital rangefinder with the capacity that the D3 has?

OKay they are calling the flight. More from Japan!

Japan

On the 26th of May I am scheduled to land in Fukuoka, then on to Miyazaki, a small town which has an annual documentary photo festival. I have been invited exhibit there and give some talks. They have chosen s series about Balinese ceremonies etc, and though mosty black and white I am also showing some color stuff.

Anyone been to this festival? Any comments about it?

Paint those photos!

_d3b3911.jpgOne day a friend of mine, David Trevelyan, showed me some simple oil painting techniques which I applied to some photographs I had printed on canvas. It was a big buzz for me, years ago I had tried my hand at painting but turned to photography instead. So far I have done about 12 canvases, and as each one develops the interesting thing is that there is always an unpredictability about how the colors will respond to the various densities of photographs, which I have printed a bit sepia in the first place. Most of the images I have done are black and white, and the couple of color ones I have almost completely desaturated before printing. It’s kind of fun imagining colors (skin tones are a special challenge!) Not to mention how fun it is to get messy and mix it up with oil paints.
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