Don’t sweat the clichés

Whether they are clichés in post-processing like the use of selective colours, over the top tone mapped HDR images, the indiscriminate use of post processing filters, too much saturation or vignetting, etc. etc. or the clichés in subjects like sunsets, flowers, pets, extreme long exposures of buildings or Victorian piers on the beach, etc. etc.,  there is a risk that people are tired of looking at the results. On several blogs I see negative comments on nice and well composed photos with the only rebuke that the photo is a cliché and no other comment is given. That’s just silly.

To tell you the truth, I don’t mind looking at clichés, I don’t mind taking a photo that would be considered a cliché.  Of course, a photo from the same location and the same angle and exposure as everybody else’s will not be satisfactory to most including me and I think anybody who is serious about photography would get bored of those photos pretty quickly and start exploring other areas of photography. Once you get past the phase of photo postcards, there are libraries of photo books and gigabytes of examples online available of classic photography. But imitating the masters yields clichés. Indeed, passing an imitation off as the bees knees is not a good idea and it is always good to know when you are imitating somebody, but trying to figure out how a certain photo that appeals to you is made by exploring and copying the techniques used is just common sense. With a bit of luck one can stand on the shoulders of giants and take the next step.
To me, the problem is not the imitation or the cliché, but to me the problem is the repetition, not moving on and starting to imitate oneself. And I don’t think that only starting photographers are guilty of that.

North Sea Jazz Festival 1982 – Sun Ra Arkestra

Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival – Saturday 17 July 1982.

A Sun Ra concert is something you will remember for the rest of your life: it is a mix between a big-band free-jazz concert, a religious ceremony and a trip to outer space. Long before UFO abduction stories had been heard of, Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) had become convinced that his roots lay on the planet Saturn which he visited by spaceship and he developed “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry as he preached “awareness” and peace above all in his music. No need to point out that the concert of Sun Ra and his Arkestra that I visited on the Roof Garden scene at the North Sea Jazz Festival 1982 was quite the spectacle with the space music, poem recitals and space costumes.

Withered tulips

Foma Fomapan 100 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 dilution 1:167 for 2 hours

I feel sorry for my wife because when I buy flowers, I use them for still life photography instead of presenting them to her. But she knows that all my flower photos are a present for her, this way they do last longer, don’t they.  :-)

It has been a while since I bought a bunch of flowers and like previous times, I usually don’t get going until the flowers are getting a bit older and withered. Last time I used my Pentax 645NII camera and lenses, this time I wanted to try my Pentax 67II camera and the set of extension tubes that I picked up last year.

Last time I used my flash and a reflector and I had noticed that the shadows on the side of the reflector were a bit too deep so I decided to use my desk lamp on that side as well. This lamp isn’t very bright and as I’m shooting B&W film, I didn’t need to worry about the difference in white balance of the different light sources. This will be an issue for colour photography, of course.

Very happy with the results, the Pentax 67II with this lens and extension tube really allows me to get close and fill the 6x7cm negative beautifully. I did worry that I needed to focus manually but the viewfinder of the Pentax 67II is bright and focussing was easy.

See the schematic of the lighting I used below:

20140112 copy

Thanks to Kevin Kertz for his Lighting Setup PSD file.

This is the gear I used:

Camera: Pentax 67II
Lens: SMC Pentax 67 165mm f/2.8 with Pentax 67 Extension Tube 3
Exposure: 1/30 second
Aperture: f/8
Flash: Pentax AF-360FGZ with a shoot-through umbrella but used inversed. Used in the TTL / 67 mode of the flash.
Reflector: Expro RF-154 (using the white side)
Film: FOMA Fomapan 100 at EI 100,
stand developed for 2 hours

Chichibu 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage, day 4

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

Above: Kannon hall at Temple #32

With only four temples left on my itinerary after a long third day, I was getting a bit into trouble as I was running out of time. Normally the last four temples take 2 days to visit with trips by infrequent buses or by taxi but I had only one day left of my vacation before I had to start to make my way to Narita to catch the plane back to Europe.  Luckily, our friend could take a day out of her busy schedule and drive us to the last of the temples. Kannon-sama immediately rewarded her with the most perfect autumn day and beautiful autumn colours in the mountains around Chichibu.

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

Above: Kannon hall at Temple #31

My route this day was: Temple #32 U+2192.svg Temple #31 U+2192.svg Temple #33 U+2192.svg Temple #34.

There is a reason these are the last of the temples on the pilgrimage: These are the most beautiful of the pilgrimage and they are a reward for the effort of the whole pilgrimage.

The wooden Kannon hall at Temple #32 is half built into the rock and has an awesome veranda.  I climbed all the way to the top of the mountain ridge where a Kannon statue is placed, quite an adventure to reach this statue as you had to pull yourself up for the rock face with help of old iron chains and faded steps people had hacked out in the rock ages ago.
Coming down from the temple, we ran into a little old lady who was collecting ginkgo nuts, I described the encounter here.

The sanctum of Temple #31 came as a reward after climbing the 200 odd steps to reach it. The location with the rock and the waterfall was fabulous.

Reaching Temple #34 felt like an ending and the monk was very kind and interested. We sort of celebrated a bit, taking photos of me with my now completed nokyocho (納経帳) and he threw in a few good luck charms for free for good measure. Maybe the Japanese pilgrims are a bit more solemn but it felt great having completed the task I set for myself.
Afterwards we went to Mangan-no-yu, the nearby onsen, to relax and recover.

I felt really great for having completed the pilgrimage, but it felt a bit awkward for having taken the car for the last four temples, but then again, the description suggest buses or taxis for these temples which comes down to the same thing. The whole experience was very rewarding mainly because it finally, after all these years of visiting Japan, brought me into contact with so many Japanese people. All thanks to the kind people of Chichibu.

It has now become clear to me: we, as tourists, spend way too much time in the large cities and then we all visit the same famous shrines or temples and we think we visited Japan.  Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka – Hiroshima – Tokyo is the standard itinerary and if we are adventurous, we throw in Takayama as well or join the large crowds at the temples in Nara.
Having lived in Holland, France, the UK and Sweden, I think I know the romantic image people have of Japan and why so many return slightly disappointed and convinced their image of Japan was just a pipe dream. People should break out of the mould and visit the Japanese countryside; that’s where the true Japan is to be found! That’s where Japan still exists!

Chichibu 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage, day 3

Kodak T-MAX 400 at EI 400, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 8:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Above: Temple #28 under the rock

Since I had sort of messed up the official route by visiting more temples the second day of pilgrimage, I had to wing it a little and try to reach Temple 30 in a day so I would have only one more day left.

My route this day was: Temple #24 U+2192.svg Temple #25 U+2192.svg Temple #26 U+2192.svg Temple #27 U+2192.svg Temple #28 U+2192.svg Temple #29 U+2192.svg Temple 30. Between Temple #29 and Temple #30 I took the train from Urayamaguchi station to Shiroku station as I was running out of time and the walk between those two temples was over two hours. The only time I felt uncomfortable walking along a major road next to heavy traffic was just after leaving Temple #24. The caretaker at Temple #24 had warned me about the dangers and how right he was: it was a very curvy and tight road with loads of trucks and fast driving cars coming around almost blind corners with no pavement for me to walk on.

Kodak T-MAX 400 at EI 400, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 8:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Above: Peaceful Temple #30 with its beautiful garden.

I was now really walking through the countryside and the pilgrimage had really grown on me by this time.  The temples were getting further apart again after they were rather close together on the second day.  I also started to get the feeling that fewer and fewer pilgrims would reach these temples and sometimes it took a bit of puzzling to find the location where to get the stamp as I don’t read kanji and a kind note on a door telling a pilgrim were to go was a big barrier.

I guess because I was carrying this large camera and camera bag around, this day monks and caretakers would regularly show me folders or photo albums  full of photographs of the temple. Really helpful if you don’t have much time to find the best angle for your shots :-)

Temple #28 was very impressive underneath its massive rock and Temple #30 was very peacefully located in a carefully constructed garden.

From Temple #30 I returned to Shiroku station and from there to Seibu Chichibu station.

Maybe a nice anecdote: When I walked up the hill to reach Temple #30, I passed three kids who were dillydallying on their way home after school. After exchanging “konnichiha’ as I passed them, they practiced their English on me but after a few replies to their “hello” ‘s and “how do you do”’s I walked on to be able to use the last light of the day for my photos as the temple was on a slope facing north and the sun had already set behind the mountain. By the time I had collected my stamp and finished my prayer, the kids showed up at the temple and very enthusiastically started relating the whole ‘adventure’ to their father, the monk of the temple when they discovered me again taking the last of my photos. Their story cut short and they mumbled ‘ah, ano hito’ after which they became all very shy all of a sudden :-)

Read all about the last day of the pilgrimage here.

Chichibu 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage, day 2

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

Above: Giant Ojizō-sama, Temple #10, Chichibu

A few days later, I set off for the second day of pilgrimage. This time I left much earlier and walked from Seibu Chichibu station to Temple #10 to continue at the next temple from where I had left off last time.

My route this day was: Temple #10 U+2192.svg Temple #11U+2192.svgTemple #12 U+2192.svg Temple #13 U+2192.svg Temple #14 U+2192.svg Temple #15 U+2192.svg Temple #16 U+2192.svg Temple #17 U+2192.svg Temple #18 U+2192.svg Temple #19 U+2192.svg Temple #20 U+2192.svg Temple #21 U+2192.svgTemple #22 U+2192.svg Temple #23

The recommended route for the second day would cut off at Temple #18 and return by train to Seibu Chichibu station, but as it was still early and I was still fit, I decided the push on and take an advance on the next day.

Fujichrome Velvia 50

Above: Ojizō-sama statues, Temple #19, Chichibu

At Temple #11 I had an amusing chat with the caretaker about from which country Häagen-Dazs ice cream originated and at Temple #16 I received a bit of chicken for lunch :-)
From Temple #18 until Temple #23 I kept bumping into the same person so it became a bit of a habit to have a short chat at every temple. I loved these little interactions with strangers, this happens so rarely – too rarely when visiting Japan.
At Temple #15 I ran into a group of five pilgrims and we had a long chat. They asked me where I was from and long after we had said goodbye, I could still hear them talking about Holland. I ran into the same group at the end of the day at Seibu Chichibu station as they had just returned from Temple #19 and it felt like meeting friends.
Temple #12 was meticulously kept and at Temple #13 everybody was served a cup of tea (supposedly good for eyesight) and a short manga featuring the temple and explaining its background and why it does have a kindergarten associated with it. Temple #20 was very beautifully situated.
Temple #17 and the old bridge between Temples #19 and #20 had featured in the well-known Anohana anime and when I arrived at Temple #17 a couple of girls in cosplay were posing with their DSLR on a tripod. They had come on bicycle, so they were clearly going from location to location and, this I remember vividly, they were quite impressed with the sound of my Pentax 645NII medium format film camera :-)

From Temple #20 one really starts to enter the countryside with the very rural Temple #22 as highlight for this day. After visiting Temple #23 it got dark and, coming down the hill again, it was a straight shoot into town back to Seibu Chichibu station.

Read all about the third day of the pilgrimage here.

Chichibu 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage, day 1

Fujichrome Velvia 50

Above: Temple #2 in the middle of the woods.

In October and November 2013 I walked the 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage in Chichibu in four days and I wanted to share my experience in case other people are interested and keen to walk it themselves. If you want a summary: it was awesome! Wholeheartedly recommended! !
Leave a comment or drop me an email in case you want to know more, I’d be more than happy to help you out.

I had read about the pilgrimage last time I visited Chichibu and this year I came prepared and had bought a second hand copy of Chichibu: Japan’s Hidden Treasure by Sumiko Enbutsu which turned out to be very useful and full of background information although it is perfectly possible to make the pilgrimage without it and pick up the booklet in English at Temple #1.

On day one, I took the bus to Misawa Minano from the bus station next to Seibu Chichibu train station to Temple #1 (Fudasho-Ichiban stop) where I arrived around 11:00 and where I bought a nokyocho (納経帳) which is a little book to collect the temple stamps and this book was my companion during the pilgrimage. There is a choice of different versions and I went for the one made of washi (Japanese paper.)

Fuji Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for7:00 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Above: The page for temple #18 in my nokyocho.

The book contains a page of each temple and at each temple the monk or caretaker will add stamps in red and some calligraphy. The donation expected for this service was ¥ 300 at the time I did the pilgrimage but this can be subject to change of course.

The route I took for the first day was pretty standard: Temple #1 U+2192.svg Temple #2 U+2192.svg Temple #3 U+2192.svg Temple #4 U+2192.svg Temple #5 U+2192.svg Temple #7 U+2192.svg Temple #6 U+2192.svg Temple #8 U+2192.svg Temple #9

All temples are remarkably different and exceedingly beautiful and access is free. This was a little bit of a surprise as I had previously visited Nara and Kyoto where it is quite normal to pay ¥ 500 or ¥ 600 for entrance to a temple that is nothing special.

As Temple #9 is conveniently close to Yokoze train station and as the sun sets already around 17:00 in the afternoon in October, I decided to call it a day and return to Kawagoe where I was staying.

Especially in the Yokoze area of Chichibu the signs indicating the different temples are many and I didn’t have a lot of trouble finding my way. When I started I had no idea what to expect and I was surprised about the number of people making the pilgrimage. Some of them by car, others on foot like me.
At several temples I received a little gift in the form of a snack or a book about the pilgrimage which I found rather touching.
The other pilgrims and the people of Chichibu were really friendly and curious about a non-Japanese walking the pilgrimage and it was easy to have a quick chat with the different people who I met on my way and I think that the interaction and the friendliness of the people I met were a key contributor of the success of my pilgrimage experience.

Read all about the second day of the pilgrimage here.

Temple stay at Taiyoji temple

KODAK TMax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. Fuji Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. Kodak Portra 400 Kodak Portra 400 kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

The shukubo

One of the most rewarding things we did this trip to Japan was a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyoji temple. We had done a temple stay at Koyasan before but this was a much more satisfying experience. Not that we didn’t enjoy our stay at the temple on Mt Koya, on the contrary, but there is a reason why the Taiyoji shukubo is considered the best of all shukubo experiences in Japan.

Imagine an isolated temple on the top of a mountain in a glorious area of Japan and only 2 hours away from Tokyo. This is not the endless urban area of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima anymore, this is not the well-trodden route most tourists in Japan stick to for even repeat visits, but this is the Japan I would like all tourists to Japan to enjoy.

As part of the shukubo we copied the sutra in calligraphy, participated in all Buddhist services, chanted the sutras and enjoyed a morning zazen session. The shojin ryori, the vegetarian food served in Buddhist temples was delicious and at the end of the day the rotenburo (outdoor bath) waited.
After each service there was a Q&A session about anything Buddhism related. The zazen hall was very beautiful but maybe we were lucky as it was a fabulous morning and meditating in front of an open window with such a beautiful view was difficult as the peaceful mountain was distracting (loved it!)

How to get to Taiyoji

We took the train from tiny Ohanabatake station in the middle of Chichibu to Mitsumineguchi station and continued by bus in the direction to Nagatsugawa via Kawamata and alighted at the bus stop serving Taiyoji temple.  From there we walked the rest of the way by turning to the right over the bridge over the Arakawa River from the bus stop and following the tarmac road leading up for the mountain. From time to time, wooden signs indicated the way.  After about 4km, we arrived at the fishing spot with a tiny soba/udon restaurant and followed the sign for the temple leading up for a steep and ancient pilgrim’s path lined with Ojizō-sama statues which brought us directly to the temple.

Alternatively, get a taxi from Mitsumineguchi station or call ahead to Taiyoji and somebody will come and pick you up from Mitsumineguchi station.

Other

Taiyoji contact phone number: +81 494-54-0296, the monk does speak English and there is no need to have any prior calligraphy or zazen experience.
Click here to see the location on Google Maps.

I put up a video compilation of my photos taken at Taiyoji Temple here

Travel, techniques and background information