Tag Archives: Japan

Call for entries: The Perar Book

MS Optical Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark IIIn 2010, Mr Sadayasu Miyazaki of MS Optical designed and manufactured the MS OPTICAL SUPER TRIPLET PERAR 3.5/35 for Leica M mount.

Since then, many hundreds of these tiny wonders have been sold and reached the camera bodies of people all over the world. This is not limited to the original 35mm focal length, as later a 28mm, 24mm and most recently a 21mm super-wide Perar followed suit.

At Japan Exposures, we would like to celebrate this and are calling all photographers who have taken pictures using this Super Tpirlet Triplet lens. Our aim is to collect images from everyone and everwhere, then to pick the 100 best images and put them in a printed book to be handed to Mr Miyazaki (alert: this is a surprise and he does not know about this yet!). That way he can see how far his creations have travelled and what people have captured with them.

MS Optical Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark II

Japan Exposures was founded in 2004 and was the first site offering photo equipment, lens conversions, films and camera & parts sourcing from Japan. Since the beginning, we have been very happy to be able to work with Mr Miyazaki. This little project is meant to be a token of appreciation to him and his work.

We hope that you share this sentiment and would like to invite you to participate by submitting your photograph(s) to us. We will keep you informed on the developments of this endevour and at a later stage you will have the opportunity to purchase the book yourself.

You will find practical guidance below on how to submit your material.

Thank you and please spread the word to all “Perargraphers”!

Current Status

Editing— We are no longer accepting submissions and are editing entries for including in the book. Thanks!

 Submission Guidelines and Procedure

We will use Flickr to manage submissions. If you don’t use or like Flickr, please email us.

  1. Please join the Flickr group The Perar Book and add your image to group pool.
  2. Please include the following info with your image in the description field or tags:
    • Lens used (and if possible serial number); it’s sufficient if you just state the focal length i.e. 21, 24, 28, 35. Example: Perar 28 #065 (MS Super Triplet Perar 28/4 serial number 065)
    • Your location country or the location country where the image was taken (supposed to indicate where the lens went)
  3. Should your image get selected, we will later approach you privately to give you the option to provide your real name for credits and a high-resolution file for printing
  4. If we cannot ascertain the above information, we may reject the image on these grounds

The New Social Photographer

There are few good things that come out a natural disaster or other catastrophe, especially one that claimed many innocent lives. However, it would be far too dark a view to take and say that doom is all we see. Since all photographers are as much observers as they are human beings, by logic all photographers are observers of the human condition. So as long as there are humans left after a catastrophe, we can, even amidst death and despair, observe even the faintest of glimmers of positive humanity — somewhere.

It is lamented, that the response of photographers to the March 11 earthquake to date has been weak. Whether Japanese photographers are losing interest in people. I think some corrective thought is warranted.

First of all, what drives the expectation (or even, desire) for strong photography after a monumental natural disaster? Have we not seen enough fact reporting in the newspapers, the web or television? We well may have, but probably want to see a more personal view and feel that it would be more valid, less matter-of-fact, than the factual depiction of news reporting. We want the story behind the story, or perhaps even the non-story behind the story. Why? What purpose would it possibly serve? To help comprehend the hardship faced by the survivors, some of which have lost everything from material things to friends and family, or even a physical location that was called home? Yes, there is a story that could be told, even though it doesn’t have to, despite the expectation. It is a strong story, no doubt, not because of a skilled narrator, but due a scene already set by prior events. The story is so strong that only few will have the strength themselves to face it, but first they have to actually bother and then come back to tell the tale.

To suspect a loss of interest in people is missing the point. Photographers cannot exist without an interest in people, but it is the interest in other people that matters. Hiromi Tsuchida, born 1939, Kazuo Kitai, born 1944, Hiroh Kikai, born 1945, Rinko Kawauchi, born 1972, Masafumi Sanai, born 1968 — a pattern emerges. We see two totally distinct generations of artists: the Showa, post-war generation and their children of the Heisei period, grown up in material comfort and safety. Their views of the world are entirely different. The post-war artists saw themselves as elements of a social fabric and their view was outward, on society, its values and behaviours. The view of the photographer itself is a reflection of those values. It still is, only that the view direction has changed from outward to inward. Photographers are still interested in people, only that this time people refers primarily to oneself. And since photography is always a reflection, we can still deduce values and behaviours, only that it’s now done the other way round.

The above is not meant as a criticism. Rather it is an assessment on the change of the times, society, its values, priorities and photographers within it. Both approaches can be made to work, and both can fail and produce boring, irrelevant photographs.

Will “the most useful photographs to come out of this disaster not even be taken for years, because the scale of the destruction is so big”? Possibly, but I don’t expect it. Photographers will continue to chronicle their own lives. Unless there is direct personal connection with the affected areas and it is significant enough for the artist to care, we will simply return to what has been there before.

Best Wishes for 2012

We wish you a happy new year and all the best for 2012. As you have noticed, this site had been quiet for several months now. We appreciate the numerous emails and comments expressing the hope to see Japan Exposures going again. We want to make an effort to live up to that expectation. The events in Japan turned out to be only one of many in 2011: the Arab Spring and resulting disposal of a dictator in Libya, the European debt crisis etc. There was no shortage of events needing our attention.

Perhaps you also hear the reports about recovery and reconstruction in Japan. While these are encouraging, they also contain the desire to paint a positive picture when in reality many problems remain: the damage inflicted by earthquake and tsunami as well as widespread contamination by radioactive materials will weigh heavily on communities for years, if not decades.

Above all, however, stands the loss of life. Following suggestions from our customers, we added a voluntary option to donate as part of the sales of the MS Optical Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark II. The response has been very positive and I am pleased to report that Japan Exposures was able to collect a total of ¥430.000 (as of today approx. US$5590 / €4300), which was donated in full to a charity named Michinoku Mirai (Northern Region Future).

Michinoku Mirai was established by condiment maker Kagome, snacks producer Calbee and pharmaceutical company Rohto to provide funds for young people who were orphaned by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to pay for university or post-secondary vocational school. According to the Health Welfare and Labor Ministry, about 1,500 youngsters aged 18 or less lost both parents in the disaster. Starting in March 2012, those who graduate from high school and wish to continue their education can apply for up to ¥3 million a year from the fund to pay for anything related to that education, including entry fees, tuition and supplies.

The three companies estimate that the fund will need about ¥200 million a year, and each one will start by contributing ¥30 million for the first year, with the remainder coming from solicited contributions. They will continue supplying the fund with money for 20 years, at which point children who were orphaned as infants by the disaster will have graduated from high school. The reason the fund was created is that there is no public support in Japan for the continuing education of orphans. When orphans reach the age of 18, they are on their own. Foster care ends at 18, and since in Japan there is very little in the way of what in the West are called scholarships — meaning education grants — orphans almost never attend university.

We hope that you will agree that this purpose is very worthwhile our support and thank you once more for your contribution.

Happy New Year!

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 Â¥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).


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.


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!

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

Credit where credit is undue

Temple Scene

Is the untrained eye, the average viewer, able to objectively judge the quality of a photo depicting Japan? I believe therein lies great difficulty. Those unfamiliar with country, culture and people, and as an additional factor a lacking an ability to reflect on the perception of the world in front of them, these viewers will have no chance to withstand the bias that appears to be inherent in a photograph with a Japanese subject matter.

To illustrate this assertion, visit a popular online forum or bulletin board and look for posts similar to “Photos from Tokyo” or “I went to Japan with my XYZ camera” and the included photographs. You will find that no matter how stereotypical or overworked the subject matter, no matter how unoriginally and conventionally executed and presented, most, if not all, respondents will reply with comments like “great shots”, “Japan is amazing”, “your photos really make me want to go to Japan” and suchlike. What is this magic that can turn the banal into such collective eye candy?

The answer is that these photos meet prior expectations and preconceptions, reaffirm already existing views and assumptions about what is seen in the images. Garry Winogrand, the spiritual leader of all photographers struggling to battle these preconceptions, had no problem walking into new situations and pick out his distinctive viewpoints anyway.

Q: Do you find it easy to go into a strange place and just start taking pictures?

GW: No problem. You know, you’ve heard that photographers talk about how they want to know the place better and so on — they’re really talking about their own comfort. Let me put it this way — I have never seen a photograph from which I could tell how long the photographer was there, how well he knew it. Or if you want to talk about the photographer as a person, maybe — I mean, you can take Diane Arbus’ pictures. How do you know from the photographs — forget all the rhetoric — from the photographs, that she didn’t rush in and make’em, bank, and rush out, like a thief? You know, kick the door open? They’re really talking about their own comfort.

Q: So you don’t think you have to take some time to find out what the place is like, and so forth?

GW: From my experience — I start shooting. I look. I don’t have to know the language, I don’t have to know where to get a good cup of coffee.

“An interview with Garry Winogrand” (By Charles Hagen, published in Afterimage, Dec. 1977)

While Winogrand’s reasoning is totally valid, one cannot simply apply his conclusion to each and every photographer. His rationale is based on an essential prerequisite of prior mental work and a resulting realisation of consciousness: firstly, to be aware of one’s own expectations of what the photo will look like, or at least about a presence of preconceptions about what the subject matter is about. And secondly, having enough courage, mental strength and willingness to move beyond these initial mental images to seek true originality. “When it looks familiar in the viewfinder, I am not pressing the shutter”, Winogrand once stated. Many photographers lack these critical qualities and that is why we see so much unoriginal and derivative work. There is little in the world that has not been photographed, yet there is always room for new points of view onto the same thing.

Kyoto, JapanAsk people around you about their image of Japan and it is almost certain that their view is positive and full of fascination. Perhaps one could even say excessively positive. The West not only loves Japan, it also seems to love to love Japan, almost unconditionally and in a hyper-realistic way. The intensity of this sentiment is only matched and reciprocated by the way how East loves the view of the West, especially America. Japan, that exotic place in the Far East, with all its strange and unfamiliar ways, and while at the same time being such a tremendously appealing culture. What is not to like? A continuously and conveniently maintained stereotypical image of zen, purported spirituality, high-tech alongside tradition, unusual customs and behaviours, manga creatures and samurai honour — the list goes on.

In my opinion, these previously shaped and principally irrational positive views are so strong that the content of any photo depicting the actual subject is becoming all but irrelevant. The mediocre photographer has the wind in his back on this journey, and with an equally biased audience like this, he can hardly fail. It gets a little harder to detect if the photographer is a good craftsman, but when taking away the effects of technique and reducing it to the basics you are likely to come to the same conclusion. Show these photos to someone more familiar and aware of Japan, the place in the real world, not based on fantasy and imaginations from second-hand accounts, the real quality of photograph really starts to become apparent. The complication, however, is that you may not notice it yourself at first. You might even have to fall into the trap before you can realise that there is one. The photos used to illustrate this post are all mine, taken not too long after moving to Japan.

I am surprised that my prints sell. They’re not pretty, they’re not those kind of pictures that people easily put on their walls, they’re not that window onto a nice landscape or something. They aren’t.

I don’t have pictures in my head, you know. Look, I am stuck with my own psychology. With my own, uh, with me. So I’m sure that there’s some kind of thread, whatever, but I don’t have pictures in my head.

Garry Winogrand with Bill Moyers, Creativity, WNET, 1982

Several weeks ago I received an email from what appeared to be a established and exhibited European photographer about a series of photos taken in Japan. The email did not explicitly request any feedback, although when someone sends you their web site address pinting out specific work I suppose you are expected to at look at it. And I did. I even took the time to provide a response, but while writing it became clear that this was not what the photographer wanted to hear (abbreviated for clarity):

Those of us living here permanently see images like yours in front of us on a daily basis. Perhaps elsewhere, where these cityscapes are uncommon, these vistas are more engaging than for us, but in effect these photos are the equivalent of showing cobbled streets and brick buildings to Londoners or the Eiffel Tower to Parisians.

I expect a good photograph to be a revelation to me, which could be about the subject matter or the photographer. In most photographs that I see and were taken in Japan I find myself longing for far more of these revelations; or wanting to feel them more intensely.

Take away what the picture is of, and you will find what it is about. If there is anything left, this net result should be a universal substance of quality, the photograph’s essential content and its consequent value.

Given the general reception, Japan is such a forgiving subject. It seems easy to take good and interesting photos in Japan and of Japan that find an excitable and responsive audience. It is, however, extremely difficult trying to break beyond the obvious and create a meaningful visual record of time, places and people. While this may be true for every place in the world, the deceptively easy visual accessibility of Japan may make it just that little bit harder than elsewhere to produce great work.


PIE 2009

I have missed it last year, for some reason, so wanted to make a special effort to see it this year: the Tokyo Photo Imaging Expo 2009, a consumer-oriented photo trade fair held in the Tokyo Big Sight complex on the Odaiba artificial island, a little off the centre of town.

Here are some impressions and very personal subjective highlights:

When you walk into the large halls you are greeted by the noisy and shiny big booths of the large players. Apart from the numerous booth hostesses with their uninterrupted smiles for the even more numerous unshaven, persistent male photographers, if that’s the right term for them, it almost seems like visiting a superlative branch of electronic mega-retailers Yodobashi or Bic Camera with their “maker corners”. Very, very unsurprisingly virtually everything is about showcasing the world of digital photo to the masses, some of which is useful, and quite a lot seeming totally useless or a desperate attempt to differentiate (Casio’s virtual studio where you can create digital composites in-camera is a main contender, unless combining photos of your family with a man in a spacesuit on the moon is high up on your feature list for a point and shoot camera).


PIE 2009

I always look forward to the Fuji booth because it has a variety of things on display, not just endless rows of camera bodies. There is usually a good amount of space devoted to film and film cameras, and this year was no exception. I was hoping to get a hands-on impression of the GF670 — I was not disappointed.

PIE 2009

Greeted by a jolly bunch of three middle aged oji-san, I showed my Contax G1 and asked “fancy a swap?” to which he responded “sure, of course” and we laughed. The camera itself is very nice. My first impression was how light it is. The finder is quasi identical to that of a 35mm rangefinder camera, large and bright with a good RF patch. On the right you see the shutter speeds displayed top to bottom (similar to the Zeiss Ikon, but on the right side not left), and on top when AE is used an A is shown.

The shutter is very quiet. I had to shoot it twice as I was not sure it happened the first time round. The whole thing holds very well in the hands, with your left you can focus and control aperture on the front, the right presses the shutter and winds. The three gentlemen seemed very pleased with the interest that the camera is getting. Obviously I am not familiar with the company internals at Fujifilm, but I would not be at all surprised if the analog division consists of a lot more of these kind of film nuts, who — I fantasize here — in the shadows of the workings of an enormous industrial corporation continue to enjoy making these products, even if it is at a much smaller scale than in the past.

Epson R-D1x

For me the R-D1 has always been an unfulfilled wishful dream. When I looked at it years ago I was not too excited, and nor I was today. It still seems big, and surprisingly heavy, almost heavier than the much larger dimensioned GF670, but above all somehow greatly lacking elegance. The chunky body with the tiny lens in front, it just does not appeal to me, but of course many others will like it just fine. But unless there is ever an alternative to it or the Leica M8, the dream will continue.

Custom photo books

Why, after years and years of print on demand photo books, isn’t there any decent domestic Japanese offering that at least comes close to the likes of Blurb and MyPublisher or even iPhoto books? It is a total mystery. Most of the books are obviously targeted at the wedding or family album market. For a start, there is no book in landcape orientation, but plenty of squares and portait formats. The paper is glossy and shiny, and either very thin or very thick. The images look not of great print quality. The typesetting, I assume not customisable, looks beyond terrible. Spiral ring binding etc., you get the idea. On the plus side, some of them can be made while you wait. Forgettable.


Good to see Mamiya active digitally. A small, but very focussed booth. It would be a shame to see cameras like the RZ67 become history. The digital back for it, not sure who makes it, appears to breath new life into it. Don’t dump your RBs and RZs for cheap yet!


PIE 2009

I was impressed by a very large print of a blossoming cherry tree (what else) made from the Pentax 645 Digital. One general gripe about digital prints on the show: they are all just too damn sharp! It looks great from a distance — go closer, as you naturally do with a fine print, and it all falls apart pretty quickly. Still sharp at close distance, but not pretty.

The Japanese Photographic Pinhole Society

PIE 2009

Not sure who they are, but they are funded well enough to afford a fairly large booth in the center of the hall.


PIE 2009

Away game for the yellow team. Nothing too exciting on display for me in the paper and finishing area, but some very good prints outside next to the Ektar promotion, taken on Portra, Tmax and Ultra. “Love Film, Love Camera” the booth says.


PIE 2009

In a Micro Four Thirds display the well known prototype with the byline “On Sale Summer 2009”. Next to it a product covered by a blue cloth… and next to that a window celebrating 50 years of Olympus Pen — coincidence?
PIE 2009

And lastly…

PIE 2009

There are plenty of small booths with all sorts of things on display. Take for example the “Japan Photo and Video Small Accessory Industrial Association”, or “Japan Photo-sensitized Materials Manufacturers Association” advertising themselves. I noted an interesting booth by a small company making steps or “scaffolding” for group photographs, which are very common to do here (see also our review on Tomoko Sawada’s School Days). They had a sample photo with a huge group of people on it, perhaps a graduation. I asked them how many people were on the steps. The answer was three hundred!