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01 June 2007

Country Roads

It was a quarter to five on Sunday morning, February 6, 2005, and I had just left home for a journey to Spain to collect another bunch of Domestic Landscapes in the provinces of Galicia, Asturias, and Castile & Leon.

While John Denver sang about his country roads, I hit the highway. Two owls flew across the road in front of my car. The song was part of a marathon interview on the Dutch radio with a guy called Rob Bruintjes. Rob is (or was) the tallest man in Holland (2.21m) and the spokesman for all people with odd sizes.

Rob and I go back a long way, when I first got involved in commercial filming and we needed a very tall and a very short person to sell a telescope lamp for “Mr. HUBO.” That time made me very clear that commercial filming was not my cup of tea. In fact, commercial photography is not altogether fulfilling and that made me go a different road than the one I was on at that time.

When I changed directions carefully in 1996, I never dared to dream of the things I’m doing right now, that also brought me to Spain and a whole lot of other places to look for and to photograph the most beautiful places and its inhabitants on earth.

When I started driving the first of the total of 1160 kms I had in front of me that day, I wondered whoever would be listening to an interview with Rob, on this Sunday morning from 4:00 until 6:00, until I realized that it doesn’t really matter whether there will be anybody listening or not. When you're given a chance, you will talk, no matter if any other people are listening, just as long as the person you're with wants to hear what you have to say.

I saw this happening time and again when I was shooting Domestics; as soon as you give some real attention to someone who lives a bit isolated (or even within their own community) they start to talk and never stop. It seems as if they have no one around that wants to listen to them anymore and the first person who comes by and gives attention, they claim to give their story. It often goes with very heavy emotional reactions.

The people I met in the next few weeks also got a short bit of unexpected attention; it made them feel important for a while. It is very well possible that the day after they asked themselves if they did the right thing by letting me in to have their photograph taken by this totally strange guy. Maybe they regretted it. I just hope that they felt good again after having received the print I sent them.

Country roads, here I come...

31 May 2007

Japan's Grand Finale, Part II

You may ask the whereabouts of the photograph of the woman we met (see yesterday's post). Read on...

She was happy to meet the first foreigner in her life. Such a nice person, and a handsome one too! And she and the lovely Yoshiko spoke as if they had known each other all their lives. And there was cake and tea of course.

Then, when I thought it was time to make my Grand Finale, I took my equipment out of the car and started setting up the camera in her kitchen. Her kitchen was simply beautiful and had only one little window that cast a beam of light right over her kitchen table. What a great picture this would make.

And there she was, sitting on her porch and not moving one inch!

And with the sweetest face the softest voice and the biggest smile she told me that today was maybe not such a good day to make the picture! Maybe next time was better, yes. In fact I had to come back another time and then we would make the picture. Wasn't that a good idea? Just come and sit next to me on the porch and let's talk a little more and have another cup of tea, because I am so happy that you came by.

And so we did. And we had another cup of tea and we talked a bit longer and after a while we left without taking the picture.

And I didn't feel sorry. I had seen one of the most beautiful pictures I ever could have made in Japan, and I didn't shoot it, and it felt so good! I had made my last Domestic Landscape in Japan and I felt completely happy about it. What a great experience it was and how lucky I am.

30 May 2007

Japan's Grand Finale, Part I

After four days, I found I had only just enough film left for four more portraits. I told her that if we were lucky the next day, we could finish the job and have a day off after that, before we had to return to Holland and Tokyo, respectively. We went early the next day and we were off. The small, narrow, but beautiful roads led through the mountains right into the heart of Wakayama Prefecture. We sought, found, and got in, and before lunch we had done three out of the four.

After lunch I said to Yoshiko: “Let's go for The Grand Finale. Let's find the one place that will be a true Domestic Landscape and finish the job today.”

And off we went again. After that successful morning, I felt so lucky that I did not shoot the first three places that we found and that would have made great pictures. I wanted something special and I knew I was going to find it. And special she was!

We met with the sweetest face, the softest voice and the biggest smile in all of Japan. And what a beautiful place she lived in: the words on the fa├žade told us that it once had been a tailor shop. She invited us to sit down on her porch and have a little chat. Opposite her place, carpenters were building a beautiful, big new home. “My son's,” she said proudly, “and the one next to that is also my son's.” And she told us about how happy she was to live here and how sad it was when her husband—the tailor—died in a car accident, leaving her with three kids to care for, and she just in her early thirties.

She was all alone, with no money and no income. She told us that she managed to make a living as a farmer because, she said, that was what she was: a farmer. And she brought up her three children without having complained once. I could tell that by looking at her face, her lovely face, and by listening to her precious, soft voice. She never complained one time. She took things as they came and never forgot to enjoy her children and the life that was given to her. This was a true traveller on the road to heaven, and she had found paradise.

29 May 2007


I photographed a woman that can be found on my website (www.bertteunissen.com) under number 23 in the “Japan” section. She was a professional haiku and tanka writer/artist, and after I photographed her, I asked her to write me a poem in my diary. This is the one she wrote for me.
She wanted to let me know that she understood and appreciated my work. They call this style of poem “TANKA.” It’s longer than a haiku, using five lines.

“Climbing the slope
invited by
a red dragonfly
I offer flowers
to the grave of my parents”

I like to think in the end, this poem is all about the journey to heaven in all its meanings.

The translation was made by Mr. Ban'ya Natsuishi, director of World Haiku Association. His generous efforts were arranged by Mr. Shuji Kogi, Secretary General of the EU-JapanFest (and Yoshiko's father).

Below are images of Mr. Natsuishi translating this tanka, and then he with his wife, Ms. Sayumi Kamakura. I am very grateful for everyone's help with this.