Travel provides a myriad of opportunities for the photographer to be visually re-inspired. But perhaps a less obvious way to see the world through fresh eyes is to head to the nearest bookstore and peruse the bookshelf of local artists.
Japan is famous for its camera brands and love of photography, but outside of Daido Moriyama, most westerners would probably be hard-pressed to name a Japanese photographer. In browsing a number of titles at the Tsutaya bookstore, I was struck by the popularity of vernacular photography. And in a land replete with the highest resolution digital cameras and technical accuracy, many Japanese photographers seem to embrace film and aim for a grittier aesthetic – perhaps a photographic reflection of their concept of wabi-sabi or the acceptance of imperfection and transience.
Here are a few titles that caught my eye.
Kotori Kawashima photographed the 4-year old daughter of his friend in her hometown of Sado Island, Niigata, Japan. The resulting book unsurprisingly became a runaway hit in Japan, and led to a follow-up book called Mirai Chan’s Future.
Armed with a Rolleiflex 2.8F, Shinya Arimoto roamed the streets of Tokyo to capture poignant black-and-white portraits of its inhabitants. His approach was influenced by his many years of photographing portraits in Tibet, where he felt the people had a connection with the earth. With Tokyo Circulation, Arimoto sought to find his fellow citizens’ connection with the city.
Using the sand dunes in his home prefecture of Tottori as a backdrop, surrealist Shoji Ueda shot many of his iconic images. But upon his death in 2000, a never-before-seen trove of 5,000 image were released. And in 2015, an eponymous retrospective was published that The Guardian called “the most beautiful, surprising photo book of the year.”
For Masashi Asada, photography is a family affair. Using his family as props in his photos, Asada constructs scenes from Japanese life in a series of portraits that are bound to make you laugh whether you understand the context or not.
These Are Days
Although she uses an 1930s Ikonta – a folding medium format camera from Zeiss-Ikon – Mikiko Hara doesn’t bother to look through the viewfinder, instead preferring to point her camera in the general direction of a photo and taking a chance. The results are surprising and thought-provoking.
Adventure photographers, like Jimmy Chin, are the bad boys of the industry. It’s hard not to marvel at their stature as world class athletes who also happen to be phenomenal photographers. Such is the case with Naoki Ishikawa, a climber who has scaled “The Seven Summits.” But of his many feats, perhaps scaling Alaska’s Denali (elev. 20,310 ft) by himself ranks as one of the bravest (and insane) climbs.
Airports are a source of fascination for photographers, especially those who are frequent flyers. If Cy Kukenbaker’s images represent the frenetic pace of aviation travel, Shigeyasu Gushima’s images take a decidedly opposite view, often depicting airports and planes as a place of quiet solitude.
The Pencil of Nature
Using a series of self-devised camera traps, nature photographer Manabu Miyazaki captured animal “self-portraits” around Japan with a result that would make any National Geographic photographer envious.
Birds are a popular photographic subject. While many nature photographers strive to take the most accurate photos, other photographers like Xavi Bou use the birds as a starting point for graphic constructions. Such is the case with Yoshinori Mizutani’s Hanon. Mizutani shot in color, but converted his images to high contrast black-and-white to create photos that look like musical notes on a staff – hence the reference to the well-known exercises for pianists.
A puppy in a bicycle basket, a child wearing a donut costume, cats huddled under a children’s slide – such are the humorous and absurd snapshots of street photographer Ikushun.