Yes, I changed my life. I was a salaryman, freshly arrived in Japan in 2014, I work in the Automotive industry in Marketing. And frankly this is not what I can do, at least, at this stage. What I mean by stage, is depression. I always suffered from depression but this time it is really hard, it is the second time I’ve been put in sick leave ; and this sick leave can last for 2 years. Many reason for depression, difficult relationship with parents, my best friend died (Hopefully I succeed to made another one, which was unbelievable) and the work I was doing , well, let’s say I was not able to do it because of sickness. The state of depression is awful even if you take medecine and talk to a shrink these containit but doesn’t really cure it, this will take time.
So I decided, with my wife to change life, I was leaving in a big town, and left for the parent’s place of my wife together with our daughter. And the change is radical, from a small flat in the middle of the city to a big house in the middle of…nowhere. From a place with some retaurants, subway, other shops to anywhere, everything takes you 15-20 minutes by car. But the place is really peaceful in the middle of the valley between many small mountains, all I need for a proper recovery.
And what about photography ? As I already explained (why I take pictures) photography for me is everything, it is the only activity where I can forget everything, where my depression goes away. As mentionned , I was in a big town in Japan, and mostly taking street or portrait photography ; now that I am in the middle of nowere what can I do ? Well, I started a new project (Mitani Monogatari) to show the place where I leave but with the technic that I was using in the city, my high contrast Black and White at high speed with a flash and adjusting the ISO according to the distance to my subject. I was mainly using it for Portraits, now I am using it for lanscapes.
And soon the season of Matsuri will arrive so I will have the opportunities to take again pictures of people moreover by being here you discover more people that give you information. So one contact gave us the information of some photo clubs, that’s great even in the middle of nowhere I am building a new life around my family and photography.
Difficult question for some people no brainer for other, the question is quiet controversial in the photographic world.
Should I shoot with a small aperture or a large one, which effect I want to give to my picture or which is my taste in term of final rendering ? The last one is the most critical, bokeh is a matter of taste most of the time. And considering time the more you grow with photography the more you will have to not bokeh. But it is depending also on the type of photography you like, if you like macro or like to take little flowers, the more chance you have to continue with bokeh as it should emphasis on the subject you are shooting at. But on the other hand, if you like street or architecture you may don’t have bokeh on your picture as the whole elements should have a meaning or a purpose to your final goal for your picture.
Most difficult genre is the portrait one and here it is really a question of taste in my opinion, oh, sometimes your background is not great so you don’t want to have it appearing too much in the photo you are taking, but the choice of a background is also a great matter in your aesthetics to the the final result, therefore in that case bokeh is not welcome, not necessary as you should not have anything to hide. By example if you take the great Mark Steinmetz, you will see that mostly everything is in focus, all elements are appearing in a candid way but not simplistic and the list is very long of renown photographer avoiding it or using it very little touch (Patrick Joust, Alec Soth, Todd Hido,…)
Yes in my opinion bokeh should only be used to hide something (OK sometimes you have to, especially in low light siuation) and not to give some flavor to your picture. You will use bokeh when you start using your camera as at first you have somehow the « whaou » effect but this should become borring after a while, unless I mentionned you are in particular genre of photography, bokeh is not really good but that’s my taste, I don’t try to convert anybody, I am just explaining my point of view, in other words Bokeh is there to hide your non-competency of taking picture.
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)
First my camera is a 28mm wide angle camera so I have no choice but to be real close if I really want to do some close-up portrait. But this doens’t explain why I want to do it with this gear and why so close. I could take their portrait from a longer distance and give more environment to my pictures. But I don’t. I just do it when I am using my film cameras. A Pentax K1000 with a 50mm lens and a medium format, a Pentax 67 with a lens at around 46mm (35mm lens equivalent) or a Rolleiflex.
I am not a guy that talk so much, I am kind of misanthrope usually, I don’t like very much the human kind. But when I shoot with my little Ricoh, I tend to forget everything, I am not me anymore, I start to be somebody else. And this new person is anger of interaction with people, although it is very difficult as still, a part of myself is so angry at mankind. And somehow I believe this belief takes form and I imagine that people can see or feel it. It may sounds strange but that’s the case. I have the feeling that people can see the truth inside of me.
So the fact to shoot them so closely is a real challenge to myself. For a moment I am pushing the boundaries, the upper limit to my state of mind and finally, in a way, take their souls with me. Yes taking their souls to feed mine, to satisfy myself. It is a kind of vampiric action but of course with no pain except for my shyness. Yes I think this is the main reason of me taking so close pictures of people, try stealing their souls !
It is challenging also from a photographic perspective, as you should avoid taking a picture that looks like a picture you have taken for an ID for exemple ; it forces me to try to be more creative, even I don’t succeed so much, the fact that I am only practicing is sufficient for my purpose as explained above.
Recently I have changed attitude towards this, as now I’m adding a flash to my photographic set-up. In the end I am not so close as I used to do like before but still quiet close. I think the result is even more radical. I have set-up my camera and my flash so all the background is black and only the people faces are appearing, I think it serves even better the original purpose. So I am kind of mixing two projects, Hello you ! and Flashup that you can see on the website. Maybe I should create another project called Flash you.