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18 May 2007


Only now do I know with certainty that it is almost impossible for me to pursue this project in a city, simply because of the fact that in a city I am never able to tell/smell from the outside what can be expected on the inside.

I never experienced this before.

Please note that I have no regrets at all about anything involving this experience! The results showed the differences between city and country living in Japan at the beginning of the 21st century, and will therefore be a great contribution to the documentation of Japanese inhabitation during this period.

In this area of Nara, deer come down from the nearby mountains and roam about. The deer are simply there, like pigeons. The inhabitants straddle a duality: they accept the deer being there and also exploit the fact that they are. Note the teenage girl's headband.

There is a larger duality that the culture is dealing with, especially now. In the countryside, life is pretty much the same as country life everywhere: lots of people working in the fields with their hands doing what has been done for centuries. And yet they long for new and modern (Western) values. When I got out to the country, finding domestic landscapes was about the same as finding them in Europe, I would say. It was not easy, but they were quite extraordinary.

On the other hand, technology is very important to them. Mobile phone connections are available even in the remotest areas, and you'd be able to find the best hotel around and book a room, all on your cell phone. There's phone and internet access even on the subway. Everyone's always ON.

17 May 2007

At Work, Part II

I took this in Nara, the second prefecture I visited in Japan.

Traveling to this totally new culture made me decide to take snapshots while I was doing it. I thought it would be a shame not to photograph other things than just what I came to do. I chose to use a small and simple camera (an Olympus Pen) and started to take black and white pictures with it.

As I’ve said earlier here, I am highly influenced by the works of Daido Moriyama. He also shows the need of making an image rather than telling a story. Afterward, the entire story comes out anyway, but that depends on the edit and use of the image. It is a great way of telling/showing the inner feelings of the person.

I liked making my first diaries so much that I decided to do this more often and more consistently. I have also made diaries of holidays, small trips, and even of my trips for commercial purposes. It gives me the chance to bundle the snapshots that normally end up in an envelope or a box and never come out again.

I discovered that it gave me great joy working this way and I became looser after a while. It is not just about "the score"; in fact the real score is to be aware of what you do while you do it and to make the best of times when you're there. By making the diaries I was much more aware of where I was at that moment and that gave me a much clearer look on the trip afterwards. The memories are much deeper and the awareness is greater. I also feel very happy to be able to tell a story this way and to add very personal and sometimes abstract images. This is true and pure photography to me.

16 May 2007

At Work, Part I

A map of Wakayama Prefecture, the third prefecture I visited in Japan (the first two were the Miyagi and Nara Prefectures). Click on the image to enlarge. The numbers circled on the map represent places I found and photographed.

My project was an initiative of the Japanese organization called EU-Japan Fest and the photography project within that, which was called “European Eyes on Japan.” They wanted all Japanese prefectures documented by European photographers. The project is now in its eleventh year.

(Visit the EU-Japan Fest page by following this link: http://www.eu-japanfest.org/english/index.html . It is also available in the original Japanese.)

Normally, this organization invites four photographers and each covers one prefectures; a total of four. Because I would be the first one ever to photograph inside people’s homes, they wanted me to cover the three prefectures that the others did. Because it would take too much time to cover all in one trip, and because I had a commercial job to do in the USA in between, we decided to cut the trip in two.

First they wanted me to cover Sendai, which is just a town in Miyagi Prefecture. Because they were very afraid that I would never be able to enter someone’s house without an appointment, they organized everything for me. This meant that they decided what places I’d go to and they used their own connections. But nobody really understood the rules by which I make my work and so I ended up in places that I was not interested in.

After the trip I spoke to the people of the organization and asked for a different approach. I told them that I wanted to drive around by myself and all I needed was someone to read the signs and to translate for me. In the end they agreed, and the second trip was done in a completely new way (for them). Initially, I had some problems with guides who still were not able to feel free enough to just go to a house and knock on the door, but after a while they all got the feeling and started to enjoy doing so. And it worked!

Altogether I spent over two months in Japan in which I photographed over ninety houses, gave two workshops to school classes and opened two exhibitions, giving talks to audiences.

Sending me there gave an extra dimension to my ongoing project Domestic Landscapes and I discovered that even in Japan the situation is exactly the same: the old, traditional way of life makes way for the new and modern style.