I am in my 40`s now and started photography only three years ago.
It is quite old for starting photography (or any art) compared with photographers who grew-up with a camera in hand.
Inside the photographic knowledge, there is the practice and the gear, trying to make something out of it, of course, but there is, above all, the culture, the literacy. I didn’t know what I was about to discover, thanks to my best friend, who taught me how to use my gear, but the most important, who gave me names, names of famous or growing photographers.
I won’t make a comparison of my now and then knowledge, and will only quote one of these names, one you are familiar with if you read my blog on a regular basis: Todd Hido.
Aside of such artist big names, I also discovered different artists in the genre of street photography, what I have started with. Street Photography is a huge pool of names from many countries. But my favourite always remained Japanese. With my interest for Japanese Street photographers, I grew up in looking at more classical photographers as well, not only Japanese, although mostly.
I now own approximately fifty books in many genres of photography (mainly related to street or documentary photography) and photographers from around the world. I am very proud of my little collection. Thanks to my best friend I discovered a new world that fitted my taste but at the same time that formed my taste.
I will never be such a talented photographer as the people I admire, as they are real geniuses. And because it is too late, in a sense that aside talent, you also need to have practiced a lot (e .g. « your first 10.000 pictures are the worst » – Henri Cartier-Bresson).
In another way, it is not a regret at all, as my masters are masters, and that I have to put them aside to grow up on my own. I can’t be Todd Hido but I can be myself.
A New Section on the website: the Wish List page. The books that are interesting me (to buy for instance) will be listed there. Or simply books that have taken my attention. Of course this will be an evolving section as I will add some books but also I may rewrite the reviews as I will have bought the books…
One source of inspiration is the Japanese website called Shashasha.
As I mentionned, Yanagisawa did not published many books in his life. This one is a retrospective of his work. The concept is interesting, basically we follow him as he goes through Japan starting from the North then going step by step to the South.
We have mostly landscapes here, sometimes urban landscapes when he goes to big cities throug his journey but also everyday scenes of human life. We could almost call it street photography in the documenting aspect of it; not the funny one (even some of his pictures are made with humor).
He’s shooting black and white, like many of his fellow compatriots. Hence they are creating this kind of traditionnal school of Japanese photographers (e.g. please see the the work of Shunji Dodo, Horizon Far and Away 1968-1977). This school had a strong influence on my own works. As since from then I decided to only shoot mostly black and white, trying to depict sometimes the life here of japanese people, but I am more portrait oriented; that’s may be the big difference, but I am not sure as they are so many japanese photographers from the 50s/60s/70s that I don’t know yet still properly the work (e.g. Issei Suda).
As mentionned, his journey brings him form the north of Japan (Hokkaido) to the south (Okinawa), passing through the major cities, Tokyo, Osaka. But most of his portraits of documenting the life of people during his trip are the most significant. Frankly put together, you can feel a real consistency in his approach/view of the lives of the people he met during his trip. And they are very interesting, you can feel the love this guy has for his country of course not everything is perfect in this/his world, but he just show everything so we can also fall in love with these people he has met or this lansscapes he has seen.
The atmosphere of the book is really magical to me; a mix between nostalagia, and documentation, for which the flavor is really simple but never simplistic. Many pictures are iconic to me and makes the book even more classical in its genre. A really true “must-have” for anyone interested into Japanese photographic culture and even for the others as it is a great way to enter in the world of the photographer of his era.
Let my try to answer to this difficult question; potentially very controversial but here is just my humble point of view, you can of course disagree with me.
First, I would say it should be well composed. I mean that everything that should be there, are there, at the right place ; this is often translated by the rule of thirds or the golden rules (rectangle, spirale, triangle,…). That is a kind of basic to make a good photography.
Then the photography should have some spirit; that is another basic, according to my definition, this is something that should be clever, something that make you think; maybe another word should be intelligence.
Finally it needs a soul, that’s maybe the most important one (and different from the spirit). A photography that gives you the impression to be somehow alive, something that is talking to your guts and to your own soul. Maybe it is like love, there are no words to really and properly describe it as it should be.
For me the master for this is Todd Hido; he’s the one that move myself the most with its wonderful pictures (my favorite piece of work is Excerpts from Silver Meadows)
So to be a (very) good photography we need the three mentionned above, I’ve seen many photography that are good in composition but without any soul and any spirit.
The other way around is true also, but I would say that a photography that has spirit and soul but no composition are not bad because they give me some emotions, make me ask myself something and to my opinion that are the most important.
I hate post-processing. Frankly, I find it boring and hazardous. Boring as the tools you have at the glance of your hand offer so many options that you don’t know which ones are necessary and with which tool you should start. Hazardous because you can spend many long hours not even being able to decide of the right version of a picture,;coming back over the same image again and again, rather than being out shooting. I just prefer the jpeg setting I choose on my camera, or, when it comes to my recent interest for film, the way my negatives are scanned by the photo lab.
But recently, as I was at a photo exhibition, I met some quite renowned Japanese photographer Takeshi Ishikawa (he works on William Eugene Smith’s prints and was an assistant to him) who kindly offered to teach me how to print my negatives. The offer was a gift to which I couldn’t say no; it was taking a new step into the film photography world, a new knowledge, something fun and exciting. Post-processing the old-school way was something that seemed less dull than the digital darkroom.
I had never seen a darkroom before, never realized such chemicals were involved, never seen an enlarger, never worked in a room only lit by a red light. Everything was new and fascinating. The place was small, barely enough space for two people – although I start thinking that if the photographer makes the decision for how the prints should be made, printing is a real job, the one of a real craftsman… and, in the end; a photograph is not only the job of one single person.
Lights on in the darkroom, we decided to leave some white borders of 0.6 or 0.8 inch around the picture. It appears totally unnecessary to the novice, but it is crucial for the case pictures should be exhibited or framed. It was something I’ve never really thought of before; as the digital world makes us forget about the purpose of a picture and the way to materialize it. We scaled the final size of the picture on a baseboard easel (it is some kind of a plate with rules on the vertical and horizontal sides).
Then we placed my negative in the enlarger film carter, and placed the carter above the enlarger lens. Light up in the enlarger, projecting a positive image of the film negative; we adjusted the enlarger height so that the image projected filled in the size we’ve decided to work with, while keeping moving the baseboard easel to perfectly align everything.
Then, like on a camera actually, we opened the lens to obtain the maximum light onto the baseboard in order to check with a magnifying glass if everything was in focus or if it should be adjusted again. After the last check, we closed the lens by two stops (technically, I don’t know why, but this was our rule). We turned out the light in the enlarger; we turned out the bulb light in the lab; and turn on the famous darkroom red light. Already, it was a phenomenal amount of work I wouldn’t have imagined before entering a darkroom.
Once in the dark, the lab only lit by the dull red light, we took some sheet of photographic paper out of its black protection. But even at this step, things were still on trial. We cut the sheet into four segments in order to make exposure trials to select which exposure timing was necessary to have a correct picture. We decided to expose the four segments of paper to five, ten, fifteen and twenty seconds, under the enlarger light. When negatives were overexposed or underexposed, we also had to place a filter to bring back a correct exposure in the enlarger.
After it had been exposed, the photosensitive paper goes into three baths: the first, revealing the image (one or two minutes), the second (same amount of time), stopping the chemistry process, the third, fixing the image for about thirty seconds. Then, it has to be stocked under clear water, and then finally rinsed. Only after making tests, you know which exposure is the right one for your first print. Still, things are on test. An image, to come to life, goes through different manipulations, like unsharp masking, vignetting, or dodging and burning. I’ve only learnt the later.
Burning consists of giving an extra exposure to the initial exposure on some areas of the image. Dodging is taking out exposure time to the initial exposure. For these two processes, we use whether our hands, small cards, or cones, to enlighten or to darken our chosen areas regarding our personal artistic taste; while giving a motion to our gestures to smooth out the edges of dodging and burning effects. That’s when a flat image directly from a negative comes to life; as a raw image comes to life after it went through the digital darkroom.
It was exciting and amazing to see these pictures coming into “life”. They looked perfect to me, even after the first print. But having a professional teacher; telling you what’s right and wrong makes you realize that you have to insist; that you have to work, to put efforts to create the perfect image.
A photograph, indeed, is not only the act of clicking; but also an artistic decision – involving a good amount of maths! I enjoyed how my hands became magic to give birth to something tangible I’ve never experienced before. And every time the image appeared in the developing bath, it was a tremendous moment.
Photo Lab: Place M, 1 Chome-2-11 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022
Cameras: Pentax K1000 (35mm) / Pentax 67 (120mm)
Films: Kodak Tri-X 400 / Ilford HP5 400
Paper: Ilford multigrade FB Classic Glossy – 9.5×12 inches
13 final images made in 7 hours (some prints have 2 or 3 versions)
For me the answer is direct: NO. I think you need to be 2, for me that’s the perfect number to go walking and go around the place.
Many famous photogrpahers have somebody with them when they go shooting: Mary Ellen Mark, Bruce Gilden, Alec Soth, Eugene Smith, the list is long and as you can see it is not the average joe photographers; they are the real things and they do it by pair. It is not necessaraly an assistant or a photo buddy, it can be also a journalist like Alec Soth (or a “rented” girlfriend for his shooting in Hokkaido in the last years).
To have somebody first is extremely usefull for three reasons, first you are not alone while walking, driving, around, it is not boring as hell, as let’s be frank you do not take so much shoots all the time even at the digital erea. Maybe if you do it so frquently then potentially you don’t need a partner in crime…
Second it gives you confidence in shooting, especially when it comes to approach strangers, you have somebody on your back that you can use in different way to share and release the stress of your modus openrandi. Finally you have somebody to discuss after the session as the person was there but may have a different perspective related to your photo edition and selection.
So being two for shooting is very crucial for me. Unfortunately I don’t have this chance anymore as I moved place and left alone my photo buddy, my best friend.
Apart of my medium format, I own a Ricoh GR2. It is also a fantastic little machine.
First, it is very light. It has small dimensions and can fit in your pocket; I have although a neck strap and a hand strap but it is just in case I have to take a shot quickly instead of taking it out from my pocket where it fits easily…
Then, it has the special preset high contrast black and white, which I always use. I do not use much lightroom as the way the pictures come out of the camera are 99% ideal to my taste, to my state of mind as I shoot emotional.
It is also an expert point & shoot; meaning it has most of the settings that I want, A mode, T mode but of course the manual mode, where I can set it up the way I want. This is fantastic as I can change my settings the way I want to shoot for my projects; Flashup, Mitani Monogatari, where I am using a flash.
Basically, I am using very high speed and an aperture of 11 so the scene looks very dark, almost all black. Then comes the flash with the ISO setting, which varies between 100 and 400 mostly (sometimes more); depending if my subject is very close, close or a bit far.
I really don’t want to change or buy a regular SLR with different focals (that’s also why I say I don’t have the GAS); I’m not interested in taking “regular” photo with standard accesories. I love my Ricoh, it makes the job that I want nothing else.
- Not everything has been done before. Go and do your work. You can see where it leads and how it fits once it’s made.
- I see things differently in the dark. Night is a quiet time without as much going on. The world moves slower. Lots of things disappear into the darkness.
- Ambiguity is one of the finest tools for making art. In my way of thinking, images should raise more questions than they answers.
- Sometimes you take a picture but only figure out later why it works : What are the elements that made it a success that created this feeling ?
- I photograph like a documentarian, butI print like a painter.
- There are no rules. But sometimes you just need parameters.
- How do you know when you are done with a project ? That’s when you’re done : when you’re not compelled to shoot the subject anymore.
- I don’t analyze my photographs like this while I’m shooting. Making and analyzing are completely different processes.
- I think there’s a real value as an artist in working with the same person over time.
- We all have a story to tell, and I believe that we can’t help but tell it.
© Aperture – Extracts from Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and Some Nudes