Michael Kenna & the copse

If you are a fan of the work of Michael Kenna, like I am, you recognize the scene in the photo below from his photo books or from the very inspiring video that he put up on his website. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a few minutes and watch it now and you’ll love it. This photo is taken around Biei in Hokkaido and this is an amazing area, especially in the snow, and a very popular area for photographers these days.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.
Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

For me the most remarkable thing in the video is that Michael and his assistant enter the field and plough through the snow to find the right spot to take the photo. When I visited in January, the fields at several of the famous locations around Biei were roped off and large signs in Japanese, Chinese and English every 20 meters indicated that it was forbidden to enter the fields, including the area around this copse. But as you can see in my photo, people do enter the field nevertheless; damaging the seedlings, spoiling the shots with their tracks for us who decide the follow the rules and triggering investigations by the forestry ministry. We ran into a car of the ministry and a guy was taking eyewitness reports about the people who had entered the field that morning.
I’m not saying that Michael Kenna behaved incorrectly, it is clear from the video that the field was not roped off and no signs were visible at the time. But I’m saying that if it is roped off and if signs are indicating that it would hurt crops to enter the field, people should follow the rules. You might have your shots, but what if the farmer is fed up with the constant damage and decides to level the copse and end this great location for everybody forever? You probably don’t care about that, as I said, you have your shots… 🙁
Normally I never hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later, but the reason for the ban was explained and I would hate to leave tracks that would impact all the other photographers that would come after me as is obvious from my photo. Thanks for nothing!

Aoi-ike and flash photography

Aoi-ike or Blue pond is a relatively new tourist attraction around Biei, Hokkaido; very beautiful with dead trees in a blue pond. Of course the pond wasn’t blue frozen over, so the choice for black & white film was no issue.

131 seconds exposure om Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.
131 seconds exposure om Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

The scenery was lit up at night making it a magnet for photographers who, probably because they wanted to catch snowflakes in the foreground, couldn’t stop using their flashes resulting in images of walls of white in the heavy snowfall with no trees visible. I guess you need to know what you’re doing to get the effect right and probably using your flash in automatic mode wasn’t the correct way as it was pretty much pitch dark even with the lights so the flashes were bright like nuclear explosions. (A “feature” of a DSLR on a tripod is that everybody standing behind you gets to see the result on the tiny screen and I checked out the results of quite a few of my fellow photographers — it didn’t look like any of them had any “keepers.”) 🙂
Anyway, a lot of my long exposures were ruined by the flashes and I tried to out-wait them for an hour or so, but in the end I gave up and returned at another night which turned out to be exactly the same. In the end I returned during the day time as the pond was just a couple of kilometers from our hotel at Shirogane Onsen on the way to Biei.

Cheat or not?

I started out on film, printed my B&W photos myself and tried to master the usual darkroom techniques as cropping, dodging and burning to improve composition, lighten the white of the eyes or darken the skies and backgrounds, etc. The first thing you would do was to pick the right paper to get the desired contrast. Pre-flash it to control blown-out highlights, if needed. You get the idea.

Now, recently I have seen some comments in forums and in some Facebook groups dedicated to film photography where people wouldn’t like to adjust a scanned image to adjust contrast or use any of the other basic Lightroom adjustments, they feel like it’s cheating if they would. I do appreciate them shooting on film, but I don’t see how bringing out the best in your photo in the darkroom is any different, they are basically the same techniques.

And that is if you ignore the impact of the software you used when scanning, it probably corrected the levels and contrast already unless the image was scanned RAW.

Photo books that inspire

Not meant to be a complete list, just the list of photo books that I own and that continue to inspire me for one reason or another. Use the comment section to add photo books that you would like to recommend.
Here goes, in no particular order and not split up into categories:

  • An ode to travel photography with gorgeous photos from Tibet, Japan and Italy among many other countries:
    Fosco Maraini, Maraini: Acts of Photography, Acts of Love, Joost Elffers Books, 1999, ISBN 1-55670-973-0
  • If you ever want to get into landscape photography, this, or any other books with photos by Ansel Adams:
    Ansel Adams, Ansel Adams 400 photographs, Little Brown, ISBN-13: 978-0-316-11772-2
  • Awesome street photography in W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburg project:
    W. Eugene Smith, Dream Street, Lyndhurd / Norton, ISBN 0-393-32512-1
  • The perfect execution of a project; Nakamura went to Miharu in Fukushima Prefecture and took the gentlest of portraits:
    Nobuo Nakamura, Miharu, 2000, ISBN4-938737-42-6
  • A must have if you like jazz or if you like the photos of Eugene Smith, a treasure if you like both:
    W. Eugene Smith, The Jazz Loft Project, Knopf, 2009, ISBN 978-0-307-26709-2
  • To show that a city can be photographed in a beautiful way although this might not longer be true because of the parked cars ruining every shot these days:
    Eugène Atget, Paris, Taschen, ISBN 978-3-8365-0471-3

Featured on Art Limited

Just to let you know that the Art Limited editors featured one of my photos as an Editors’ Choice. Frankly, I’m quite chuffed by this: I know that it doesn’t mean much and I certainly didn’t go out of my way to get this feather in my cap, but I do appreciate the recognition, especially from the Art Limited people.
Of course, I photograph for myself, but any recognition is very welcome, like a few weeks ago, when I was approached by the Penguin Group who had shortlisted three of my photos to use on the cover of a reissue of ‘The Child’s Child’ by author Barbara Vine. Or when I was approached for one of my photos of trains to be used on one of the James May’s Toy Stories episodes (the one about model trains.) It never comes to anything, but at least somebody paid notice to my photos (I know, I have low expectations) Smile

Detail of the Art Limited webpage Detail of the Art Limited webpage

If you want to see for yourself, click through on the images but be quickly, it’ll scroll off the page in a few days Smile

As for the photo, I do really like it myself and I had it printed via Ilford Labs and had it mounted and hung above my head in the bedroom.

Bitchy spam

Since when did spam become so bitchy? Take this “comment” for instance:

The next time I read a weblog, I hope that it doesnt[sic] disappoint me as much as this. I mean, I know it was my option to read, but I basically thought youd[sic] have some thing intriguing to say. All I hear is actually a bunch of whining about some thing[sic] that you simply could fix for those who werent[sic] too busy looking for attention.

Followed by a link trying to sell you some crappy imitation shoes, or whatever.

On all my blogs I moderate the comments that make it through the spam filters, but even if it were a genuine comment, who would leave a bitchy comment like this up on a blog?


I now start to wonder whether or not I’m am a robot with human memory implants: Some of the CAPTCHA security that blogs have implemented in their comment sections to keep the robots out is simply ridiculous and probably guarantees they’ll never get a proper comment as any normal person would give up after 5 attempts of guessing what that mess of letters could be….

Things I noticed during my stay in Japan

Intended to be read tongue in cheek. I’ll keep updating this post, please revisit if this post amuses you.

  • Outside the cities the yellow light has no meaning when driving a car and it is perfectly okay to drive through the red light and get annoyed with pedestrians and cyclist when they get the green light and start walking.
  • Japanese idols,  I’ll let you in on a secret: A song that needs a few words in English thrown into the lyrics randomly does suck big time and you better ask your record company to make an effort for a change and come up with some better lyrics, BABY!
  • On the topic of music: Japan has some great musicians in every genre of music where they win international acclaim. Jazz, classical music, rock, etc. You just don’t see them on TV where cute and androgynous idols rule ad nauseam. Check out Mr Children, Dragon Ash, The Blue Hearts, and my current favourites SCRAP.
  • It is perfectly okay to sit on the Priority/Courtesy seats in trains as long as you pretend to be asleep so you don’t need to get up when somebody boards the train for whom these seats are intended. Or wait, that cannot be right!
  • A lot of TV programs are about food and include a lot of outcries of surprise and invariably ends with tasting the food and then declaring it to be UMAI!!
  • All TV programs are presented to a panel of celebrities whose faces are shown as inserts to show their reactions so the viewing public at home knows when to be amused, interested, sad or surprised.
  • Murder makes for at least a week of repeats on the news where the same details of the police investigation are repeated ad nauseam. Japan must be terribly unsafe when cute girls can be murdered in their apartments by a neighbour! (No it is isn’t)
  • The fact that the same police almost let the Aum suspect Takahashi escape twice and the manga cafe owner had to urge the detectives to check his identity after first deciding it wasn’t the guy, never made much of a splash in the media. This was a few days after the police had already missed a big chance to arrest him. Clumsiness like this does make me question how well protected we are.
  • Is there a TV program imaginable that doesn’t include Katori Shingo?
  • An umbrella is a bad idea in a typhoon, but a raincoat does keep you dry very nicely as I found out during the passing of typhoon #4 last week. So why does everybody use an umbrella, gets drenched and blown all over the place in the strong winds? A mountain of broken umbrellas was left the next day which makes for cool photography and TV, I guess.
  • It is very likely cheaper to buy a new camera in your home country than in Japan by a considerable amount. This includes the shops in Akihabara I visited. As sales tax is still at only at 5%, ‘tax free for tourists’ is hardly worth the bother.
  • The local yakitori place doesn’t think twice to leave a bucket of uncooked chicken skewers out in the sun for hours at temperatures around 30°C (or rain for that matter) without any cooling. I haven’t heard about a local surge in food poisoning related deaths in the neighbourhood, so I guess he knows what he’s doing.
  • Large protests and demonstrations are not newsworthy on TV. I guess a celebrity visited some shop that day which took priority of course (This in context with the demonstrations of thousands I witnessed in Yoyogi over the weekend and the protests related to the hurried restart of the Oi nuclear reactor, neither was mentioned on the news, and the incredible amount of time the TV spends on celebrity related “news”)
  • A silly hat and/or silly glasses is reason enough to be on TV! Hot smile
  • Bread comes in many flavours: white, white, white and white, sweet and very, very sweet. Could kill for some whole wheat bread…

Flickr.com and maps

Am I the only person who finds that the Yahoo provided maps in flickr are very poor for certain countries? On the satellite or hybrid maps I cannot zoom into a level where I can recognize where I have shot my photos anywhere in Saitama, Japan or plenty of other locations around the world. And, half of the locations I try to search for aren’t recognized. Thankfully LightRoom 4 includes a Map facility based on Google maps that works as one would expect. Flickr, why offer half a service?