My Nightmares Are In Japanese – Part II

It has been a week since my return from Japan, and I am still so entranced by every film negative I scan into the digital world. There is just something magical about the foreign world I glimpsed that I am unable to explain. While it will take me another full week to scan the best negatives, I still contend that the medium format film really has added depth to what I am able to produce digitally. It does take a few hours to clean up dust spots and scratches inherent in film, but that gives me time to consider each shot and decide if it will meet later expectations and edits.

Gundam_IMy visit to the Gundam Wing 30th Anniversary robot was obligatory. It was a trek on two separate rail systems to get to the site on my last morning in Tokyo, but how often in your life can you view a giant robot that moves its head and prepares for take-off with steam and water twice a day? There was a sizeable local crowd on the man-made island of Daiba, and more than a dozen pro Japanese photographers were there with Nikons in hand to shoot the icon [Nikon was the camera of choice in Japan by a landslide]. I cannot tell you when I first remember Gundam, but I can tell you that it has always been part of my memories without any particular moment that I remember being interested in the human-piloted machines of a future world.


One of my goals on this journey was to photograph a geisha; it was also a goal that I knew would be tainted at best. Let’s face it: real geisha will not be randomly walking the streets of Kyoto on their way to a high paying event. Public transit is for the public.  Therefore, I resigned myself to finding either tourists dressed by a photography studio out on the streets or, as I did, a tourism board geisha working at a restaurant above Kyoto Station. Regardless of her level of authenticity, she moved in a different way than any other person I have photographed, and as you can see even the way that she brushed dust from her hair was unique. I took about a roll of twelve images of her on Fujifilm Reala 120. I was very happy with the results. I love this image, but I think people will be more excited by my treatment of the Akhibara girls from Electric Town in Tokyo.


Koya San is a place that I felt like I had been my whole life. The graveyard, Okunoin, brought me into a mesmerized state that was undoubtedly a religious experience of some type that I will consider for the rest of my life. There was a connection to the shapes, the lighting, the mood of the place that led me to title my entire series of photos, My Nightmares Are In Japanese. Again, I have many more negatives to scan from the site, but so far this one is my favourite by far.


And then there was the Godzilla escape…after going to so much effort to find a Godzilla figure and drag him to Tokyo, he escaped me in the Tsukiji Fish Market just after taking this single shot of him. I am happy he made it home, and I somehow feel that it will not be the last time he is seen there. If there was one photo I wanted, then this one certainly is enough. I love the contrast between the kanji text and the colours blurring.

Over the next weeks I intend on reflecting on the whole Japan experience, and what challenges I faced using a large film camera while traveling. By examining the character and process of the best few images, I hope to share my process and experiences in a way that inspires you to pick up your camera again and hit the road.


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