Lights from the past

This photo brings back memories at around Christmas time. I found it in a pile of my shots for that job, but this one was taken by my debutant assistant, who I had foolishly sent out and about to take some party pics in black & white.

Many moons ago, I left my job to study for my Master’s degree. The place at university only came by surprise, thanks to many helpful circumstances and people. My plan was to work as a freelance full time and I had equipped myself adequately already (extra camera bodies as backups etc.), but when the opportunity for college came up I scrapped the photography plans and went on to study. It was the right choice and all went well.

Still, I always kept in touch with the people at work. It was a great environment to work in, probably the best I have experienced so far. I have learnt very little professionally after I left the UK, but that’s material for another post. As the story goes, I became the official photographer at the company’s Christmas party, which I also sorely missed after I left the company. I joined the party and met all my former colleagues and caught up with what was happening. But there wasn’t too much time to talk, as I was there to work and I worked hard for my money.

That past job in London was very special, and I believe such a thing will never happen again. And of course, as times change it simply cannot. We were a great bunch of people, mostly foreigners coming to London in the mid-nineties, the centre of cool, where all things creative were happening. The glorious days when the battle of the bands (Blur vs. Oasis) was on, the streets were buzzing with creativity, it seemed every week a new magazine was put out and it was great. On my days off I trekked the offices of picture editors of those mags to ask for my chance, and I got it. I met a lot of strange and interesting people in strange and interesting places, cold and humid London flats heated only by the gas cooker. One of them was photographer Marcus Piggott, who worked with a great Scottish girl named Tessa Williams on an underground-ish magazine called X-magazine. “Give Marcus a ring, he’ll look at your stuff”, she said and I went off to Goldhurst Terrace, NW2 one night with my portfolio.

They were excited and soon I shot for the magazine. For example Andrew MacDonald, the producer of the films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. In fact, my shot was just after Shallow Grave and before Trainspotting, and my brief was something along the lines of “Well, he is doing this film called Trainspotting, which is a term for a hobby for some people, and the film has to do with drugs. Shallow Grave was a sort of scary movie. Take a picture of him.” Which is what I did. Needless to say I didn’t have the slightest idea of what a success Trainspotting would turn out to be, neither had I heard of any of those people, like Ewan McGregor.

I bumped into Marcus Piggott several times over the years in London. He was still pursuing the photography, even after I had given it up. Then, about a year ago I read about him in the arts section of the German magazine Der Spiegel: he and his boyfriend Mert have become some of the most sought-after fashion shooters, taking pictures for the campaigns of Missoni, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss… They have finally made it, whereas I have changed my ways.

The magic of moments

Resting shopper wearing kimono, in Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi
I was only wondering once again yesterday, why is it when people see what they think is a good photograph, they have to ask “what did you use to take this photo” or some other technical or mechanical question (see here for an example of this phenomenon, with no offense intended)? Presumably a person asking the question is attributing a large portion of the outcome of a pleasing picture to the equipment that was used to produce it. Often we hear phrases like “this camera takes good pictures”. I think we are all guilty of this.
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Vespa driver

Vespa driver on a restored machine, spotted in Ebisu, a part of Tokyo

Vespa driver, on a beautifully restored machine, Ebisu
I used to own a Vespa while living in London, and while it wasn’t as beautiful as this one, it was still great and I was part of the family. I often wish I still had it, I had to leave it behind when moving to Japan. But transport in London was terrible and expensive, and the scooter was the perfect solution. In Tokyo it just seems unnecessary. You can get a modern 200cc PX for around Â¥200.000, which is a very good price. Of course you cannot compare it to the prices of Japanese scooters.

I am torn whether this one looks better in colour or black & white. But it is very hard to judge something like this while seeing the two options next to each other.

Update: I have tweaked the colour cast and general saturation a little bit.

War Photographer

A tall, well-groomed man stands up, grabs two cameras and slings his backpack around one shoulder. He leaves his hotel room and goes to work. His work is photographing the killed, or not quite killed, the grieving, the impoverished, the under-privileged. This man is James Nachtwey, a self-declared war photographer for a career of around 20 years.

This close, very sensitively and in great detail directed documentary by Swiss director Christian Frei allows us a glimpse into the work of a man, whose pictures we either immediately recognise, or silently absorb. It is a glimpse, nothing more. It tells us something about the person James Nachtwey, but is mostly concerned with his work. The film seems fully in line with Nachtwey’s own mantra: don’t look at me, look at those people suffering from injustice, caused by the decisions made by others sitting in comfort, it is them who need your attention and awareness. And your speaking out for peace.
Continue reading War Photographer