Tag Archives: matsudo

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.

Prepare to show

Jobo 2850 print drum on Uniroller with some help of Duplo blocks

A year has passed again and it is time for me to prepare for the annual JRP chapter exhibition, starting Tuesday next week. Last year I showed four landcape images, taken on 8×10. This time it is all 35mm, eight photographs taken this summer during my summer holiday in Europe. Actually I am rather surprised that after feeling to struggle with pictures from back home so much that I had anything presentable at all. Still, with some emotional distance and good efforts editing down the selected images seemed to improve the more I looked at them. Now I am quite pleased and the images appear to have taken on a life of their own.

I have spent the last three days wet printing them to 14×17″ size, something I have not done in many many years, could be over ten years. The first day I just spent figuring things out and wasted a lot of time and paper. I don’t have space for a set of large trays so I used my Jobo print drums. This caused some problems (heavy streaking and rapid developer exhaustion) but on day two I found that the remedy was a 3-4 minute presoaking in water. The paper is Fuji Bromide Rembrant V fiber paper in double weight. After that the processing was flawless and I needed to make the eight prints in half the time, which was a challenge, but now they’re done and just need another wash and then put into the frames.

You streak me as very odd
You streak me as very odd

Like last year, a senior JRP photographer will visit the exhibition and offer individual feedback on the work of everyone. This year it will be by Yasuo Otsuji. I was very nervous last year about this, but this time I am a little more confident about it, so I am looking forward to the day (and the obligatory Japanese style party afterwards with many speeches). I just need to think about how to better explain the images as the people who I talked about them so far did not fully understand.

I cannot overstate how satisfying it is again to work on a set of images from capture to seeing them on paper. This is something that seems to have been lost with the advent of digital and the web. You put your images on Flickr, and that’s it. For me this is a waste and will not contribute to your self-improvement as a photographer. Producing work is all about making serious commitments, and printing something even with a lot of effort really makes you think about your images. Seeing the work prints in the evening makes you think about your images. Putting them into the frames makes you think about your images, and so does hanging them on the wall. Sitting in front of the computer doesn’t seem to do this for me. First because I would rarely spend long enough time at my desk to get in the right frame of mind, and then I’d always think that it’s just an image on the screen — and the bar hangs low for these.

This is not criticism of ‘digital’, don’t get me wrong, but the web and digital publishing will, in my opinion, encourage laziness and casual attention to things and as humans we are susceptible to such temptations and it will get harder and harder to push yourself to the finish line. It is like trying to get yourself home cooking when cheap and instant fast foods or ready meals are available at all times. I have always maintained that digital does not add anything substantially new to image making, like a PC does not to the act of writing. The key is the increased means of distribution, and this is as much a blessing as it is a curse. The web has a lot of true value, but also an overwhelming power to just offer endless diversion, which we need to be conscious about. For every resource out there, there are 99 unproductive ways to spend your finite time dedicated to photography.

There are no shortcuts and not the photographer who has the best equipment or knows his darkroom or Lightroom the best will succeed, but the one with the self-discipline and vision taking a thought process from beginning to completion, going all the way over the many bumps and detours on the way. This even works when it is not your best potential output you are dedicating yourself to, as long as you are working on something you set as your goal. Commitment — to yourself, to your work and to the discipline of photography.

Up and hanging

JRP Matsudo Show

It’s been over ten years that I have had any of my photos displayed in public and I have to say that it felt great to bring a creative process of taking, selecting and printing an image to an end by publicly displaying it.

This morning we prepared the venue for the show by arranging and hanging the photos. The venue is a Citizen’s Culture Center, a common thing in Japan, but hardly glamourous and which has probably has seen better days. Nonetheless, seeing one’s work hanging on a wall and doors opening to the public is an uplifting event. Please feel free to stop by if you are in this part of the world if you are within reach, please come by and have a look (Google map).

On Saturday afternoon, Goro Nakamura, a well known Japanese documentary photographer and one of JRP’s top level photographers will visit and assess everyone’s work, providing comments, which should be another highlight.

Japan Realism Photographers Association Show

JRP Matsudo Photo Exhibition

Prompted by a several friendly personal encounters with their members, I have decided to join the Japan Realism Photographers Association (JRP). Given the size of the population of photographers in Japan, the JRP is surprisingly small, just under 1000 nationwide in 60 chapters. For a while I have been contemplating to become more officially networked and even had been considering joining some sort of “photo club”, but my impressions have always been rather negative. This time things look quite a bit better so I thought I would give it a chance and see if it helps me forward as a photographer.

I have been to several of the monthly meetings now and found them quite stimulating since most of the time is spent presenting your and looking at other people’s pictures, which is always a good thing. The standard of work is fairly mixed. There are some very competent and expressive people, but also digi snappers that still seek direction. Most everyone seems very serious about the subject and the comments are constructive, again this is essential. One of my other worries was the prominence of colour in Japanese photo groups, so here I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of black and white work.

JRP Matsudo Photo Exhibition MapAs part of the standard ways of organisation you join a JRP chapter, usually the one closest to you. In my case this is Matsudo in Chiba prefecture. Every chapter has an annual group show and this is no different. The above post card is the invitation to the show and if you are within reach, please come by and have a look (click on the map on the right or here for Google map).

I have committed to showing four images but have yet to print any of the pictures and matt them. There is also a group theme where everyone contributes a single image. This year’s theme is 食 (shoku, which stands for meal, (one’s) diet or food) and I have not decided on an image for this yet. The work should be to a high standard as every chapter can invite a top level photographer member to look at the show. In our case this will be Goro Nakamura, a well known Japanese documentary photographer.

Well, I have some work ahead of myself so I better get on with it! I will continue reporting on how things progress..