Shooting up the Streets

When you think of the photography greats of the last century, many of the names that come to mind were street photographers. Henry Cartiet Bressont, Fred Herzog, Saul Leiter, Vivian Maier. Their contribution to history and art was nothing more than the lives of normal people, and theres an allure to those street photographers in that they seemed to make something beautiful about the aspects of everyday life we brushed off as normal.

That same allure has drawn so many people to street photography, but it begs a question to me: Is this overabundance of street photographers creating the most in-depth visual history book of all time, or is creating a cloud of virtual noise that's difficult to sift through and find work of value? 

I don't have an answer to that. Whichever one it is, I decided I would finally try to contribute to it. 

Yesterday I took to the streets of Central Shinjuku, nervous to even point my camera in the direction of a stranger. Especially a Tokyo-ite. I started by using fire hydrants for cover, and walking away as soon as I made eye contact with a subject. Not only was I not getting the results I was hoping for, but I felt way more voyeuristic than I should. There was no connection toward the photos I just took from the minute I laid eyes on them. 

It was time to get closer, but I felt doing so was gearing up for a fight. I felt like the closer I'd get, some level of inherit risk increased. I got a little closer with each shot until finally, on the way back after I was done shooting, I noticed two salarymen outside of the Familymart. The larger of the two men was talking down on the other as he sat there and took it. I walked up, aimed my over the shoulder and straight into the face of the seemingly agitated man. He shot me a look and I smiled and gave an english 'Hey there!' and he nodded and went back to talking. Even after only a few hours, the hurdle of getting over pointing my camera at a person I've never met started to fade.

That photo was the highlight of my first day shooting around Tokyo. Check out the rest below!

This Must be the Place.

Most of my time living in Japan has been spent going back to the same places and trying again. I've climbed the same mountains multiple times, go for walks in the exact same route, eat the same breakfast almost every day, and vacation in the same few places. Osaka, 3 times. Kyoto, twice. Yokohama and Kawagoe more times than I can count.... And most importantly Kagoshima, my favourite city in the world.

The thing about being a 'repeat customer' to a place is that the ties to the land run deeper. One of my good friends was born and raised in Kagoshima and tells me I'm the only person she knows who loves Kagoshima like I do. It sure as Hell ain't no Tokyo or Kyoto. It's a small city next to a massive volcano. This article is about that volcano.

A little over a month ago I got back from my 3rd trip to Kagoshima. To date, I've spent close to a month of my life in Japan in that city. My first trip to Kagoshima was in August of 2015. I spent about 5 days there, and took a million meaningless photos. I had my point-and-shoot LX-5 and no real desire to focus on photography. At that point, I had no idea photographs were even composed. A camera was a part of my life, photography wasn't. I took a photograph of Sakurajima from the same spot nearly every photo was taken from. 

August, 2015. 

August, 2015. 

To my own credit, it isn't a genuinely bad photo. The pier was far enough into frame to feel deliberate, the Kagoshima Ferry just about lines ups with the rule of thirds. But it's not processed, and it still falls into the snapshot category. 

In April I returned from Nepal and ended up booking a last minute ticket to Kagoshima, with my flight leaving about 12 hours from the time I bought it. The next day I was back in the 'motherland'. I'd just stuck my foot in the door of photography and spent every ounce of my free time watching some video or another about it. I had been using lightroom since my trip to Nepal and was in my 'High clarity black-and-white' phase. During that trip, I was determined to take a picture of Sakurajima that could be in some way considered 'art'. What I came back with was this...

April, 2016.

April, 2016.

Not the worst photo... but that goddamn contrast is almost unholy. The only thing worth noting is that I used black and white for nearly every photo at the time. Not because I particularly thought it worked, but because it was safe. I used it to bypass blown highlights, and worrying about color. It was like a blanket over my learner's mistakes that said 'THIS IS ART' on it. 

My last trip to Kagoshima was in August of this year. Nearly 5 months into my 'career' as a photographer. I'd been using colour comfortably and more than anything I had a good grasp of what I was doing when I turned those sexy dials on my X-T1. However this trip was with my girlfriend, not my camera. While I still took photos, I'm just not focused on it. At the same beach I took the photo in April, I took another photo of Sakurajima.

August, 2016.

August, 2016.

That was a month ago. Since then I've come even further. This isn't the photo I want.  This isn't the Sakurajima photo I dream of taking. It's just another milestone on the path to taking that photo. I think everyone should have a place they can go to over and over, with the ability to see how much they've changed since that last visit...

For me, this must be the place. 

















"Konnichiwa! May to shoot you in the face?"

Both in theory and in practice Photographing a stranger is difficult.

In theory, not knowing someone can make the photograph feels either voyeuristic or like turning the person into nothing more than a visual spectacle. When you photograph a person you know, you have a list of traits or qualities of theirs that you know you want to convey. Something like my girlfriend's smile or the face of a friend who always seems calm and collected but you know behind it is struggling with the same things you are. As a person in your subject's lives, you can pull those traits out which give a photo their weight. Even knowing a person for a few minutes can impact the way you take the photo a lot.

In practice, it's seems beyond intimidating to walk up to a person on the street and ask them to take their photo. What if they get mad? What if they call the police? What if they follow you for the next 20 years of your life trying to make you miserable? I mean... none of that will happen... But, like... What if? How do I convince someone going about their day to take a few minutes to be thrust in front of a camera? "Hi, I'm Zac. I like your face. Can I photograph it?" 

In Nepal I took photos of nearly every kid in the neighbourhood I volunteered in. Sometimes I would pull my camera out in front of the parents and take a photo without asking, only to be smiled at and even offered tea on occasion. I feel confident enough to walk up to someone in America and do the same. Iceland, Papua New Guinea, anywhere really... But until now I've felt like Japan was a personal black sheep. 

It feels like every time I try to photograph someone in the country I consider home, theres a barrier. I find someone who I not only want to photograph, but also just talk to, and find myself stopping short. I put my camera away, put my headphones in and walk away. I have this feeling like I'm not supposed to. The reality of it is, however, that I've never once been faced with hostility or even discomfort at the sight of my camera in Japan.

In May I had the idea to photograph some of the owners of Ramen shops I go to a lot. The first place I went was by my school. I ordered a bowl of ramen, talked to the owner like normal and in the end asked if I could take his photograph. He said no and then apologised. I finished my ramen like normal, paid and left. No harm done to anyone, but from then on I felt a barrier in interacting with Japanese people. This feeling like I just shouldn't bother anyone.

A few weeks later, I was in a rice field a few towns away from where I live. A man working in the fields drove by in his pick-up truck filled with dirt and smiled at me. I left immediately. God knows if that barrier I built myself weren't there, the experience (and photos) I could have had. 

Last week I talked to my girlfriend about how I want to reach out to people more in my own neighboorhood, and how I want to spend time in Hiroshima meeting people and photographing them. I told her about that weird barrier and she told me it sure as hell wouldn't be bothering anyone, and most people would even welcome it. I mean, the juxtaposition of a lanky college student from America approaching an old man in the middle of a rice field in rural Japan to take their photo is pretty out-of-the-ordinary in itself. I knew it was true but still didn't feel it. 

Yesterday I went over to Kawagoe, a city nearby with a pretty cool (and touristy) historic area. I completely wrote off the idea of photographing anybody. I still felt out of place asking. There where street vendors everywhere, tourists, and not a soul in sight hurrying anywhere. Instead I walked around for 2 hours aimlessly looking for something to photograph. Not one photo. On my way back to the station, there were a group of guys selling rickshaw rides for tourists. They were standing in good light, and weren't busy at all. Slow day.

I snapped and asked the oldest guy there if I could take his photo. He said he wasn't up for it, but called to the younger guy holding the sign. He quickly agreed, honestly I think it was purely on the grounds that he was just bored. He asked me what he should do, and I froze. I didn't have any vision. I had no plan for this photo, no idea how to capture this guy who seemed to be only a year or 2 older than me. "Just do anything, really" I said, and he eased up and stood there blank. I felt weird, but I couldn't walk away now. I took the shot, and we talked for a bit. I handed him my business card in case he wanted a copy for himself and headed off.

This is the photo.

It was slightly over exposed. It's composition is too safe. It's not remarkable or powerful. 
But it's a milestone. 













Not a Solo Endeavour

This is my website. 

These photographs are my body of work.

This blog post is mine.

My name is plastered at the top of this site in Future Bold.


However everything I'm able to do is a result of everyone else. This post is simply a thank you to everyone that's help me until now and continues to help me.

First, I want to say thank you to my father, I haven't said it enough. He supported my interest in photography even when it had the potential to be just a short phase. Despite being on the other side of the world, he's taken time out of meetings and 4am video-calls to tell me what I can do next, help me figure out what routes there are to take to get to wherever I want to next.

Second, my girlfriend. She's not only my best friend in the entire world but also feels like she's  my biggest fan. She'll patiently wait for my to compose and manually expose photographs whenever the opportunity arises. She listens to me ramble on about my ideas or how aperture works, and above all seems to see potential in me even when I don't. She also helps with checking my Japanese.

Lastly, the seemingly never-ending list of people who, through some scope-and-scale of interaction, have contributed to my desire to practice photography. Whether by letting my take a photograph of you or simply telling me you like a photo I took. Also to Wade for our brief vending machine conversation that played a huge role in shaping who I am today.


Thank you all!















俺の最初のブログで、撮影の興味の由来についてを話ししたいと思います。具体的な始まりがありませんですけど、高校から卒業した時に俺がカメラを買いました。そのカメラはPanasonic LUMIX LX-5でした。それから、2週間のアイスランド旅が始まりました。




10月、2015年で俺と彼女が別けた。 自分のコトを嫌いになりました。だけど冬休みが始まったから、俺が忙しくなりました。四国に行きました。毎夜、夜景の散歩に行って、写真撮りました。どこでも行った、写真いっぱい撮りました。俺のカメラが生命の10メガピクセルの招待になりました。四国の撮った写真はめっちゃ悪かったのに、大切な意味があります。






A 10 Megapixel Invitation to Life

For my first post on my own photography website, it would make sense to explain why I picked up a camera in the first place. It started, or in a lot of ways simply permeated beneath the surface prior to my trip to Iceland when I graduated from high school. I didn't own a camera and decided to buy a used LUMIX LX-5 point-and-shoot camera.

The minute I first took it out of the box, I was excited. I finally had a tool to humble-brag about my life to my fellow graduating classmates! I was going to start a travel website and prove a million things to an audience that wasn't even watching! I wrote blog posts about Iceland, which are all laughably exaggerated and poorly structured, and continued the trend when I moved to Japan. I moved in on December 1st of 2014, and by February I had pulled the website down. I was doing everything I planned and more. I started climbing mountains every week, visiting stunning places. However, as my own stories grew, I realised I didn't really wan't anyone to hear them.

A photo during my time in Iceland

A photo during my time in Iceland

I felt out of place telling people about my life, and with that I lost track of where I put my camera between vacations. By December of my first year in Japan, I had been to half of the prefectures, and summited countless peaks. Come October, 2015. I went through a difficult break-up. My concept of self-image diminished in the weeks following. Winter break started and I stayed occupied. I went to Kagawa and Ehime Prefectures, and spend my nights walking around taking (mediocre) photos of the cities at night. That little point-and-shoot camera got me to climb up to Matsuyama Castle at midnight to take photos, to go for morning walks in the shopping streets. That little point-and-shoot camera became my invitation to life. The photos I took in that week were poorly composed, messy, boring... And some of the most important ones I have.

Matsuyama at Night.

Matsuyama at Night.

Classes started in January and I kept that little camera with me everywhere, but I was slipping back into a funk. I was doing the things I enjoyed, but I felt worse about myself then ever. Until one of the people I respect most took a photo of me. On some makeshift set-up in the corner of a classroom during a school's food festival, the photo that seemingly ended my negative self-image was taken. 

Taken By Michael Koonce. The photo that, in many ways changed my life.

Taken By Michael Koonce. The photo that, in many ways changed my life.

It was March 16th when he sent me the photo on Facebook, and March 23rd when I snapped and decided to move up with the camera I was using. It was also only 3 weeks away from my trip to Nepal. My life was turned on it's head the day I ordered a Lumix LX-100. I started going to random cities and neighbourhoods to take photos, watching the sunset and a few times a week, the sunrise. I had be oblivious to how beautiful my own neighbourhood was until I decided to try find something worth photographing in it. Then came Nepal. I was taking portraits of the children I was meeting and processing them in a small room without running water and constant electricity, and for the first time in a very long time: Happiness became the norm. 

That was nearly 6 months ago. Everything since then is still only being developed, no pun intended.