Category Archives: Light Reading

Views on photography and on being a photographer

Supporting the Relief Effort

Akira Gomi - Tulip.jpg.scaled1000 The number of individuals and organizations that have stepped up the plate to assist financially and otherwise in the wake of the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami is truly staggering. Curator Marc Feustel was quick to highlight some of these efforts on his eyecurious blog, and he has been updating it, so I fear this post is not only late in coming but mostly superfluous, but like assistance, there can’t be such a thing as too much in this case.

Zen Foto Gallery — Tokyo’s Zen Foto will be holding a photography exhibit and auction this weekend (March 25 – 27th) with all proceeds to go to Tohoku relief charities. Photographers based in Japan are encouraged to bring ready-to-display works to the gallery in Roppongi on the 25th and 26th. Prices will be set by the artists themselves. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact the gallery by Wednesday March 23rd, but given the short notice it should be okay to just show up on Friday or Saturday with your piece(s). (Map). Contact Mark or Amanda for more information.

Charity Print Auctions — Charity Print Auctions is a Flickr group that was originally set up to support relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, raising over £18,000. The group is now actively supporting Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. The concept is simple — members of the group submit photos (one per day per user) and people can bid on the photo by committing to donate a certain amount to one of the recommended charities. When the highest bidder submits proof of the donation, the photographer will send the bidder the print.

Life Support Japan — The Wall Space Gallery in Seattle and Santa Barbara was very quick to set up an online photo auction and as of March 18th they had already raised $20,000 and had to temporarily ask artists to stop submitting works so they could catch up. They have also started a dedicated blog with information about their efforts as well as spin-off efforts, including this effort in the UK.

See Marc’s post for even more efforts. Also, while not photography-related, Jean Snow has compiled a list of various creative efforts being done to raise money. Other creative efforts you might want to support include Font Aid V, Artists Help Japan, the Poster Cause Project (more poster/print related efforts here), and Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan.

The above images of flowers is from Japanese photographer Akira Gomi, who has offered up these and other images for “license-free” use in the hope that they will be used to create merchandise goods that can sold to raise money for earthquake/tsunami relief efforts.

We’re shaken, but fine

Both Dirk and I have been receiving a lot of emails from concerned friends of Japan Exposures, asking about our safety and that of our respective families in the wake of yesterday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The short answer is that all of us are fine even as we remain shaken, both physically and mentally. Even as I write this, some 18 hours after the quake, the incessant aftershocks are a constant reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.

We deeply appreciate the concern for our well-being that all of you have expressed. Thank you!

The above photo is from Dirk’s place. He has a few more at his Flickr photostream.

In accordance with the ongoing situation you may not get a speedy response from us as you are used to. We also are not yet sure about the situation of our suppliers and shipping carriers, but given our respective locations and distance from the areas affected worst, we do not expect not major mid-term issues. Nonetheless please be prepared for potential delays.

The 11th of March 2011 and following days will go down as a very dark period in Japanese history. Please extend your your thoughts and prayers to those affected.

Not a bad picture on show

Report from Camera and Photo Imaging Show 2011, Yokohama

At the risk of stating an utterly obvious and absolutely not new realization: it has become extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to take a bad photograph with contemporary cameras. At least technically speaking, there is very little that can still go wrong nowadays. Exposure metering is accurate, focus is on target, no excessive lags where you wait for the camera, popping colors, lenses for great image quality, cameras are small enough to not burden even a child and superb looking prints. We are privileged to have all this power available to. Nonetheless, in the context of making photographs, this is meaningless. We, the people behind the camera, are still in charge of picking things from the reality that surrounds us and no camera, sensor or printing paper will help you doing that.

Enough of the philosophizing, since a lot of people will just be interested in the gear, so here you have it.

Fujifilm X100

Everything you heard about it is true. It looks great, the image quality on the display prints is frighteningly good and the EVF overlay is a marvel. The camera is an attractive package and feels good in the hands. Now, I don’t want to be critical on something I have barely seen, let alone used extensively, but I have said that at the end of the day, this camera is just a compact point and shoot with a cool finder. I still think so, even though it is a very good one, perhaps the best one we have ever seen and may see for a while. Is it a game changer? Probably not and a lot of things will depend on how this camera behaves in constant use. The lens is surely brilliant and I doubt that the image quality of the sensor will be disappointing either.

Still, in the few minutes that I handled the camera I noticed some minor niggles: one, there are many controls and buttons, perhaps too many, especially on the back. The camera is not as small like most compacts, but it isn’t large either so the room to put these things is tight. You have a very generously sized screen and on the right several buttons and dial wheel. Only continuous use would tell whether these buttons could be accidentally pressed by handling the camera, large fingers or not, especially with one hand only. Bear it in mind.

The finder — yes, it is a revelation. That EVF overlay in an optical image is absolutely brilliant. A strange thing that I noticed, and I don’t know whether this will disappear in the production version or is something you can set in the options, when you half press the shutter the whole EVF display, lines and parameters, briefly disappear for a split moment (presumably focussing and metering). Personally I would find this a little irritating, because the frame lines are essential for composition and having them disappear or flicker in some way is a distraction, for me anyway. Lastly, and I am sure this can be turned off in the option, you’re composing and shooting while looking at a beautiful optical finder image with the great overlay and, bang, then you are presented with the image you just took displayed full size by means of the electronic finder. That’s an anti-climax.

The camera is slated for release on 5 March 2011 and the price is around ¥130.000 (almost $1600) and you do know that you can get used Leica M8 camera for little more, don’t you? Want it anyway?

Fujifilm GF670W

This wide angle version of the previously released GF670 will not genuinely surprise you. It has a very solid feel and is well-balanced, so comfortable to hold. In fact, the body is identical to the GF670, except where you previously found the bellows, there is now a lens bolted on which gives it a much more rigid feel. What surprised (and actually bothered) me, is that the lens’ focussing ribs that you are supposed to grab to turn the ring are not applied all the way around the lens barrel, only in two opposite positions as if you are supposed to turn this with two fingers and your hands should travel with the rings movement. That is impossible though and the rest of the ring is smooth and does not offer any grip so your fingers may slip. The booth attendant (funnily enough, the same gent as two years ago) pointed out to me that one is supposed to grab the lens from above with two fingers, but then I saw my own hand in the finder. An odd design decision.

Ricoh GXR Leica M mount module

Yes, you will be able to buy this after all and it should be fun. But then, it won’t turn your Ricoh into a Leica M. Still, great to have it of course and now on a par with the Micro-Four-Thirds and Sony E-Mount systems that let you use Leica M mount lenses via an adapter. You can feel that Ricoh loves photography, despite being a big Japanese conglomerate (that even makes gas meter for homes, as I have seen last week).

Cosina/Voigtländer

Wait a minute, could this whole show by Canon, Nikon and all have just been arranged to accompany a photo exhibition by Tom A?

Two of Tom’s prints are on display, amongst photos by others. Well done, Tom.

Of course, all of Cosina and Zeiss’ wares are out for display but I could not detect anything new or noteworthy. A little quiet there actually and none of the attractive show hostesses ubiquitous at other booths to photograph either.

Kenko C Mount digital camera

Not sure what to make of this, but it looks like a fun niche product: a digital camera with a native C mount (small format cine lenses) so you can use a wide range of legacy lenses without adapters or other fuss. If the image quality is OK and the price is right, I think this will do well and be very enjoyable. Ironically the camera is said not to offer any movie mode.

Pentax

Some fantastic prints on the wall at Pentax. A few years ago I remember feeling slightly underwhelmed with large prints from the 645D, but perhaps it is that printing technology has caught up with bringing out all the information that the images contain. The large panels, some so large that they are made up by a mosaic of four or more. Impressive.

Pentax have established themselves as the individualisable camera manufacturer, there does not seem an end to their ability to make non-standard versions of their cameras. A true logistical and manufacturing feat.

And yes, there will be a K-5 Silver Limited!

Shibakawa LED flash

Shibakawa are a OEM/ODM manufacturer of in- and off-camera flash units for most of the Japanese camera makers. What they are trying to do now is develop an LED light/strobe unit. Only a prototype was presented. What’s interesting is that you can daisy-chain small module units, for example to wrap around a lens or hood with velcro and then build your own ring flash — or a strip light if needed. Any shape is possible. At the moment the modules are still a little “large”, the rep says (not to me), but they should get smaller. A limitation is the low power, only a guide number of four so it is targeted at still life and macro setups where this should not be an issue or low power is even desirable. Also there is no wireless transmitter facility, but again this is not a problem in small setups. What’s very interesting is that you can address any single LED in the array and regulate its output depending on the situation, so you can have less light on one side closer to the subject (an issue in macro where you are very close to the subject, creating lighting imbalances) or create deliberate accents. The LEDs can emit strobe and also continuous light, so you can have a modelling light and use it for video too.

An interesting development to watch. It may come to market either under their own brand or via another maker’s name.

Hey, and I receive my first freebie, a pen, from a very friendly English speaking gentleman. Thank you and good luck to the project!

Canon, On-demand photo books

When I wrote my previous report two years ago, I lamented the lack of choice in domestic (Japanese) options to print on demand photo books and other things like calendars. Well, things have changed and we went from few choices to no choices at all. At least nothing was on display today, not even wedding albums, and this may not be the target audience here. Perhaps it is also that nobody is daring to take on the mighty Blurb, Lulu, MyPublisher etc. who have cornered the market. To compete with them you’d have to do what Japan isn’t generally too good at: create a user-friendly web site which is usable by anyone in the world (read: not cluttered in design and not only in Japanese language). Of course Canon would be the perfect candidate, as they have a powerful printing technology division. That’s not just your office photocopiers, but high-end image processing and on-demand printing lines that should be more than able to do what HP does for the others. However, what we get is a little of something: small-ish, single sized on-demand books for photos and text for 20 to 204 pages, accessible via Canon’s consumer portal Image Gateway, which also offers other post-capture services like image sharing. Of course that’s only in Japanese language, but to their credit not too bad an interface the last time I used it. I know Canon is very keen on expanding printing and trying out many ideas. The book looks decent enough quality, even the images, but it is not really a photo book in size and appearance. It would be ideal to print a diary-like affair, or even one’s blog with photos thrown in. In my opinion it is really more a text format book in terms of size and paper.

Best of the rest

Free lens cleaning at Tamron (thanks)


Large lenses at Sigma put any bazooka or other grenade launcher to shame. Try using those in front of the White House and get a free ride in a military or police vehicle!


Casio think that HDR should be elevated to HDR Art and devotes a large section of their booth to displaying, shall we say, unattractive prints created with the in-camera mode HDR Art.

That’s all folks, thanks for reading and until next time! And in case anyone sees Hans, please send him over to the camera bag section!

Thousand Happy Moments

When I was travelling in Europe in October I saw the author of a book being interviewed on television. He had accumulated a list of 1000 events or situations that would give you an emotional uplift or generally happy feeling, just to remind ourselves that within all the bad news we see there are also positive occasions, even though they can often be quite small and therefore pass unappreciated. The man is certainly an optimist!

Last week I was reminded of that book when experiencing two personal happy moments. Firstly, after a long struggle my son finally managed to ride a bicycle without any help or aids. There he was, wobbly but riding all on his own. A superb moment. Secondly, it was time for the annual JRP group photo show and I decided to go into my archives an edited a series of 12 photographs on the theme of “night” together, taken over a period of 5-6 years on film and digital. After struggling with editing, sequencing and printing (my first all-inkjet show) I was like the years before very happy to see the results hanging on the wall and being looked at by visitors.

The two moments are not as unrelated as one may think. I often think of my photos as almost child-like. When good work is strong enough, I feel that it can stand on its own and no longer needs me to explain or otherwise attend or foster it. The images take on a life and meaning on their own, independent from me, their creator. It’s almost as if they’re not made by me at all.

I was also reminded once more of how important the process of showing your work in public is. The thoughts that one needs to put into editing, sequencing and printing alone, which I mentioned above, will force you to reflect on your work in a way you normally wouldn’t. When putting your work in a finished, presentable format in front of people and perhaps being asked to comment on it is really a test for yourself whether you feel that you have done all you could to produce work to the best of your abilities. And before you think, “well, I regularly put galleries on my photo blog and Flickr sets to receive feedback”, it just isn’t the same, not even remote. I would not even count putting photos on the web as “publishing” nowadays, because it requires so little effort and, what’s more and that’s the key here, you will not be held accountable for what you have produced by anyone. It’s so easy to just say “well, that was just a small thing, I could do much better if I really wanted to”. Really? With electronic publishing, there will be no face to face discussions with your viewers, no “I wish had done this differently” thoughts when you cannot change anymore what’s hanging on the wall. This is where the true learning process lies, in feeling the excitement and also pains of creation. That’s not to say that electronic publishing has no merits, but there are certain ways to sneak out of your need to take responsibility for what you have done.

Invitation post card for the exhibition featuring one of my photos.

I used to be skeptical about the prevalent mode of operation of Tokyo’s photo galleries, where you essentially pay to rent the space for a week. There is no major hurdle to enter the game except the budget to pull it off. The same goes for photo book publishing. I have changed my mind. If anything, you do the exhibition for yourself, to progress and learn. You don’t need a workshop, just spend the money on the gallery space. During the preparations you will be running around seeking advice, and learn. Who wants to deliver something not their best when spending over $/€1000?

Put simply, everyone should be doing a gallery show or exhibition at least once a year. The venue almost does not matter, remember, this is mostly for yourself. Only a fraction of people interested in photography will ever do so. Those who do, I see as photographers, the rest are camera enthusiasts and people ‘interested in photography’, frequenting photo web sites and giving advice to others on how to “impove” their photography. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware of your own ambitions and where you stand right now.

Books by Hiromi Tsuchida and Issei Suda

(You can watch the video at a larger size at Japan Exposures’ page on Vimeo.)

Back by popular demand (I think!), I’ve created another video book review. The last proper one of these I did was over a year ago (somewhat ironic considering I created the first ones as a way to save the time it would take to do a proper written review), so it’s certainly about time to have another go at them.

This time I look at two books that collect material shot in the predominantly rural areas of Japan in the 1970s: Zokushin, by Hiromi Tsuchida, and Minyou Sanga, by Issei Suda. Both works — Zokushin a 2004 reprint of a bona fide classic (see Vartanian/Kaneko, Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s, p. 192-196), Minyou Sanga a relatively recent publication of source material shot in the late 70s — were part of a distinct trend among Japanese photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Shomei Tomatsu, Yutaka Takanashi, Masatoshi Naito and Kazuo Kitai, to name a few, who explored subjects and landscapes far removed from the urban centers of Japan.

As I explain in my commentary on the video, both books ostensibly look at the festivals and rituals of Japan, particularly in rural areas where festivals and folk traditions continue to this day to exert a strong influence and sense of community. Nevertheless, they are as far from a “The Festivals of Japan” coffee table book sensibility as you are likely to find. While these festivals are the backbone of both books, I would argue that the books are much more portraits of people and communities trying to maintain an identity and connection to the past amidst a rapidly developing and urbanized Japan of the 70s.

俗神
Zokushin

Photographs by Hiromi Tsuchida
Revised edition, published in 2004 by Tosei-sha; hardcover with dustcover; 240 pages, 115 b/w plates; 30cm x 30cm; photo captions, afterword essay by Kazuhiko Komatsu, cover flap reprint of 1976 text by Toshinobu Yasunaga, and Tsuchida biography — all in English and Japanese; Tsuchida’s short text on the occassion of the reprint in Japanese only. (Please note that obi shown in the video is no longer available as per the artist’s request.)

民謡山河
Minyou Sanga

Photographs by Issei Suda
Published in 2007 by Tosei-sha; softcover with dustcover; 212 pages, 202 b/w plates; 19cm x 26cm; the book’s colophon is in both English and Japanese, but Suda’s two-page essay on the background of the project is in Japanese only. The photos are not captioned.


Both Zokushin and Minyou Sanga are available in the Japan Exposures bookstore.

「ウメップ」(Umep) — Ume Kayo Experience at Omotesando Hills

An image from Ume Kayo's book Danshi (Boys)

Review and event images by John Sypal for Japan Exposures

The achingly fashionable shopping complex Omotesando Hills hosts the current exhibition of Ume Kayo’s latest work, an event which coincides with the release of her most recent photobook. The title of both the book and the show is spelled Umep but pronounced “Umeppu” in Japanese.

Ume-me book cover

Winner of the Ihee Kimura prize in 2006 with a cheerful collection of often bizarre little pictures entitled Umeme, Ume Kayo’s affable pictures have earned her an interesting position in popular Japanese photography. In addition to impressive book sales she has created an interesting brand which surrounds her artistic output garnering her many fans and admirers. She is a terrific street photographer, and since her debut with Umeme she has gone on to exhibit her photography around Japan and been treated to an admittedly enviable career of fashion shoots, collaborations, commercial work, and several more photo books.

Banners outside of Omotesando Hills advertising the exhibition

Banners for the Umep exhibition are hung all along the front of Omotesando Hills. Upon entering the complex and navigating your way down an improbably ambiguous set of oddly lit stairs, a 300 yen entry fee grants one access to the large space where her photographs have been enlarged and mounted in a variety of ways and sizes. The installation is comprised of 1500 photographs, a viewing space with a TV showing video shot by her (complete with pink pillows to sit on while you watch), a few tables where people can leave messages (with provided pastel colored pens) for Ms. Kayo in sketchbooks, and a photo stage where visitors can take their pictures surrounded by several enlarged cutout reproductions of her big white dog. Pictures are hung from the ceiling, mounted flat in rows as 1-hour style prints. Often they are complimented by doodles and characters drawn by Ms. Kayo. Other times tape or pushpins have been fixed to the walls to echo visual elements from within the frame of the photographs. During my visit the gallery was full of hip young men and women off the streets of the Omotesando and Harajuku neighborhoods and the average age of attendees would be closer to 20 than 30. People are there for the event, the experience of entering what is at one point referred to as Umekayo Hills.

Colored spotlights add to the particular feel to the show.

The show’s exit naturally passes through a gift shop which offers not only five full collections of her photographs and copies of the (many) recent magazines that she has been featured in, but also novels by other writers that have used her pictures for their covers. Additionally one can take home her pictures in the form of postcards, buttons, file folders, and even a special edition bottle of Ume Kayo plum wine, something, which is quite positively an intoxicating pun as “Ume” is literally “Plum” in Japanese. Some may scoff but the blatantly commercial characteristics of this exhibition are an apt match for a venue tucked into the first floor of a $330 million dollar shopping center located in the heart of Tokyo’s fashion scene. There seems to be a perfect balance between this energetic young artist and the flood of fashionable young people who frequent Harajuku.

The draw of her pictures lies in the fact that they are immediate, downright funny, and tuned with a particularly sweet sense of empathy. At their best, the pictures are gleefully and unapologetically photographic manifestations of “Look at that! “. The appeal I find in Ume Kayo’s pictures lies in her approach to photography. She obviously doesn’t fuddle with any preconceived line between life and art, and in that grand Japanese tradition understands that living and photographing is freshest when the two become inseparable. The work is a byproduct of her personal interaction with the people and world around her but what makes it more interesting than the usual sorts of these pictures is how her gift of anticipation and lack of restraint with a camera allows her to capture truly fascinating scenes from her local world.

Stage for visitor commemoration photographs
Photos will be added to this wall through out the duration of the exhibition

Though it’s hard to tell what was set for the camera or simply captured from the flow of everyday life in the end it doesn’t really matter because in it’s totality the charm of the work shines through. You can’t help but crack a smile when flipping through her collections. We need photographers like Ume Kayo to be the cheeky antidote to all the serious and boring and stuffy pictures out there. Indeed, Umep even features a picture of a man awkwardly stretching in Asakusa right on Hiroh Kikai’s very own photographic turf (red wall and all). However in this one simple snap Ms. Kayo has granted more life and human individuality to this man than any other Asakusa portrait you’ll find. She counters the Mapplethorpes, the Michael Kennas and the Ansel Adamses of the world with work that is of a different kind of photographic wonder.

I suppose that most criticism to Ume Kayo’s photographs and perhaps even more so her success is founded on the belief that photography must be Serious, or Beautiful, or Instructive. And that it should look all the other predictable Seriously Beautiful and Seriously Instructive artwork in the Photographic canon. While she does indeed shoot with a Canon EOS 5 on film, her work isn’t socially conscious nor is it something which is at ease with the traditionally accepted propriety of photographic Art with a capital A. The blatant marketing of her brand which surrounds the core of her creations is to me balanced out by a lack of pretension. I assume that to her pictures are just pictures. Sometimes that is all they have to be.

The fact that so many are as interesting as they are makes encountering her work quite enjoyable for those able to appreciate art rooted in an innocent interest in the peculiarities of the everyday.

John Sypal with Ume Kayo after a chance on the street encounter in Daikanyama in 2009

Interview with Shiyo Takahashi, Leica Ginza Shop

Shiyo Takahashi, Manager at Leica Ginza Shop (Taken with Leica Noctilux-M 50/f1.0)

The Leica and Japan — an association of which many legends are made of, but perhaps also a relationship that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Many people see the Japanese camera market solely populated by wealthy individuals that will put the precious machine only on the shelf, longing to be used to what is was made for, taking photos.

Together with John Sypal of Tokyo Camera Style we visited the Leica Ginza Shop in central Tokyo to find out what Leica in Japan is all about.

Shiyo Takahashi has been managing the flagship outlet in Tokyo since its opening in 2006. The store, more resembling a fashion boutique than a camera shop, was the first of its kind for Leica worldwide and follow-on locations like recently London Mayfair are modelled after it. Takahashi was also involved in developing the Leica M7 Limited Edition Hermès, a total of 200 silver chrome Leica M7 cameras with exquisite leather finishes applied by Hermès (a French high fashion house specializing in leather, ready-to-wear, lifestyle accessories, perfumery, and luxury goods — Ed.). Takahashi’s professional background is in the fashion and luxury brand industry, however he has been an active photographer since his high school days.

Japan Exposures: In Japan one can still encounter a great number of photographers using film cameras. Are you selling a lot of the classic Leica M cameras?

Shiyo Takahashi: : I don’t have the exact numbers on hand right now, but a high proportion of Leica MP and M7 cameras are sold in Japan, and the majority of those here through the Leica Ginza Shop. That means this store is selling a substantial number of film cameras that Leica produces.

JE: Is this also the reason why we see many special editions sold here?

ST: Indeed — I was involved in developing the Hermès edition and before that we had the 50th Anniversary Leica MP Titanium, another film camera. Suffice to say that Japan is the principal place to still sell such kind of film cameras.

JE: Are these cameras well received then?

ST: Absolutely, people are still actively looking for 50th Anniversary Titanium M7 and MP. In fact, it is not just Japan, we have a lot of interest from Leica users in Korea, Hong Kong and China. Japan, and as you know Ginza in particular, is a very special place when it comes to cameras. Dr Kaufmann (Andreas Kaufmann, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG since June 19, 2009 — Ed), who incidentally will visit us tomorrow and hold a lecture at the JCII Camera Museum on Sunday, used to come to Ginza to browse for used cameras even before his involvement at Leica.

If people want to buy a camera, they will buy a Sony, Panasonic or Nikon. People come here to buy a Leica.

JE: So are you happy with how you are doing in Japan from a business standpoint?

ST: Oh yes, even though we are also feeling the effect of the current economic situation. Nonetheless, the digital range — M8, M9 and X1 — are all doing very well at the moment. The time around 2006 was an important period for us, when we entered the digital age with the Leica M series. The opening of this shop at that time was also a turning point on who we would address as our target market. When before it was camera and photo enthusiasts, we are now engaging a much wider customer base. I am referring to people interested in high-quality consumer and luxury goods. Audio systems, cars, watches, that sort of things.

JE: People who like expensive things?

ST: It’s not that simple, even though these people definitely exist, especially in Asian boom economies. And even they don’t just want things for the sake of being costly. They know what quality is and they know what a quality brand is. I mean a brand with quality products with tangible value, not just a popular luxury brand. Just like these people would buy a very good wine, they may buy a Leica, because it is the best product of its kind. That’s one way to see things, but to be fair the majority of Leica buyers are more interested in the philosophy behind the product. The technology, the design and how it is made, plus of course the history and heritage. Many of our customers are creative professionals, for example musicians or designers. They appreciate the beauty of the object as much as its functionality and performance, similar to a musical instrument like a well-crafted guitar. Another group of customers are doctors, people in healthcare. Again, not just because they may have the means, but because they are scientists and have a natural appreciation of technical expertise and precision instruments, for example MRI (medical imaging), microscopes and other precision optical devices. So it is not just people who like the Leica name or brand, it is individuals who seek a high level of quality and performance in the equipment they use.

Shiyo Takahashi holding the best selling Leica a la Carte configuration: Leica M7 Black Paint with lizard skin and silver MP controls

JE: On Tokyo Camera Style we lately encounter a lot of younger people who carry and photograph with a Leica M camera, I would even say more than, say, five years ago. Do you see the same or have an explanation for this?

ST: Yes, I am aware of this trend. In my view there are several reasons for these people to move towards a Leica. Bear in mind that some younger people may not even know film-based photography, they grew up with digital cameras. So this way of how a photo can be made is new to them. Using a toy camera or the old Olympus Pen is very popular in Japan. Then there is the handling of a rangefinder camera, which is different and perhaps they will try a Voigtländer camera and like it. Yet another reason is the image quality produced by a rangefinder lens. Eventually people will discover the Leica, its history and all that, and will be attracted to join that culture.

JE: What is it like to sell a German-made product, and a niche product at that, in the home market of the big manufacturers like Nikon and Canon, who probably account for 99% of camera sales?

ST: I don’t think it is a direct comparison. If people want to buy a camera, they will buy a Sony, Panasonic or Nikon. People come here to buy a Leica.

JE: Do you think that in Japan the attitudes towards cameras and photography are different from elsewhere?

ST: As far as collectors or enthusiasts are concerned, I don’t think so. Yes, they are very much into their pursuit, but that’s not too different from other places or other areas like collecting wines, fashion or stamps. They are obsessed with the subject.

JE: Does your clientele mainly consist of such people?

ST: For film cameras, yes, but M8, M9 buyers acquire the camera with a strong intention to use it. They want to take photos. Take us as Leica staff, we all own a Leica MP, but the camera we use on a regular basis is the digital M or a compact. A digital camera is almost like a household appliance, it’s bought to be used.

JE: The people desiring a classic film camera seem often to originate from the post-war baby boom generation, a group that is getting older and has been supporting a lot of the camera shops that we now see slowly disappearing…

ST: Yes, the demand for film cameras is comparatively low. One thing that recently is very popular is the Leica a la carte programme. Due to an adjustment for the exchange rate to Euro, their prices have dropped by 20-30%. We have several customers purchasing their third or fourth a la carte Leica.

JE: In terms of products, is Leica treating the Japanese market differently from other places in the world?

ST: If you mean limited edition cameras for Japan only, we would like to, but it is difficult to make one item really exclusive to one location. When we opened in Ginza four years ago, we released the M3J, later we had the titanium MP, but eventually they will become available elsewhere. For example, now that the Leica Shop in London has opened, they would also like to have their own edition, but it is difficult to make it really limited. What we would like to do is special editions on digital, but it is a little early for that. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing special editions targeted at special markets, be it Japan, the US or for example the Middle East. Tastes are different and people like having a choice different from what’s available normally.

JE: With the change to digital, what is your outlook into the future?

ST: Film will get rarer and more expensive, almost like a luxury product. However, there will always be things that digital cannot do and that film can do very well. When you make prints, you can see an obvious difference between the two. However, digital is just so easy in terms of technique and the rewards are instant. Imagine going on a holiday trip, you can see the results quickly, edit them etc. That is very attractive to people. It enhances the learning process by getting feedback and seeing the results of their technique immediately. It’s a great way to learn photography, to learn to take photos. Then, once you have the skills, you should go and shoot with a film Leica again.

Repair and Service Counter at Leica Ginza Shop
A case displaying every component of a Leica M7

JE: What will happen to the Leica-manias, the serious enthusiasts that know every camera ever produced and such things?

ST: Oh, they are still around. We get quite a few people that come in and take a display camera to listen to the shutter firing in excitement, over and over. They already own these cameras themselves, so they visit the shop for servicing or to buy accessories. They have gone digital as well, following the times.

But there is another important change with digital: before, photography was really an individual’s hobby, you did it on your own. But now with the M8 and M9, it has become a family hobby, for everyone. It is so easy to shoot and share results, even the normally not interested spouse can do it, very accessible. In fact, some people don’t really care about what the equipment is as long as it lets them take great pictures. Of course, there are also the artistically minded people, but the camera is capable of serving all of them well. Before, only particular people were into photography seriously, but now this has entered into the mainstream.

JE: Surely, that is a good thing for Leica..?

ST: Of course, it’s good for everyone. The playing field is now level. Everyone can do it, shoot like a pro if they want to, or just family pictures.

JE: Are there any Leica Japan-only versions or editions of products in the pipeline?

ST: I don’t think so. We still have a lot of people waiting for their M9 and X1, so that needs to be taken care of first. Actually I don’t think that many people buy these specials because they are in some way special or limited. It’s more that they find the designs or colors attractive and that is then the driver to purchase, not that it is in some way a scarce or limited product.

Leica M8 Safari Edition

JE: How about a Leica M9 a la carte instead?

ST: Of course, that would be nice, but mind you there are not so many elements of the camera that can be varied, unlike with the film Leicas. We made a very small run of Leica M8 with silver elements and purple leather coverings, they were very popular. Another even more popular special was the Leica M8 Safari, which was sold out even before launch. The White lasted a little longer, even though white is a very popular color in Japan.

JE: Are Leica in Germany aware enough about how things work, perhaps differently, in other parts of the world, or do you have to nudge things into the right direction from time to time?

ST: Oh, they know about Japan. They work with Panasonic and of course are aware what the other players in the camera industry are doing. They know that Japan is a different market, even when compared to the rest of Asia, quality-wise, culturally and how people take photographs here.

JE: So what challenges remain for you?

ST: To maintain and keep up the level of service and quality. We are catering to a market that will always be able to make a purchase, if they want to. So service and quality are key. Of course anyone can come in here, have look at the cameras and lenses, we take the money and put it in a shopping bag. You don’t need to come to a Leica shop to have that experience. We have many customers, ladies and gentlemen alike, who appreciate our special service. On the occasion when they wish to buy something, they book in advance and when they come to the shop we will take care of them at the level and quality of service that such clients would expect. It does not stop with Japanese buyers, in fact we have customers from Europe or USA, and of course from places like China, who, despite the price differential, choose to buy here instead of their home country. They enjoy their time here, the whole process and location of buying their Leica. It is not just the purchase or the item, it makes a memorable experience to come here. Not unlike a child would enjoy a trip to a theme park.

Leica Ginza Shop and Salon
6-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (0) 3 6215 7070
Fax: +81 (0) 3 6215 7071

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm