Tag Archives: photography

Words to live by

I don’t often post funny signs from Japan, as it seems a bit cheeky when I speak about 20 words of the language, but the juxtaposition of this set made me smile. Vital advice, I hope you will agree.

The rules are: try not to make a noise, stop playing with fireworks and  do not climb over the fence.

Thank you for your consideration!

Photo by me, taken in Yokohama

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Challenging preconceptions and prejudices

Ever since I arrived in Japan I have held a – some would say irrational – prejudice against Roppongi. Admittedly based on little more than an after-work trawl through the area’s multiple British pubs and a few horror stories heard about the clientele of the ‘all you can drink’ nightclubs, I was content to describe it to a visiting friend as something she could comfortably miss off her itinerary. ‘Like drinking in Leicester Square in London’, I said, ‘fine for idiots who don’t know better and tourists’.

But, as with holders of all other prejudices, close examination proves me to be the idiot for damning the whole neighbourhood based on a couple of dodgy nightspots. Today I was lucky enough to be invited to Roppongi’s Mori Art Museum for the ‘Arab Express: The Latest Art from the Arab World’ exhibition, which runs until 28 October. You would be daft to let a similarly irrational aversion prevent you from seeing it.

The exhibition, the first of its kind to be held in Japan, opens by noting a significant parallel in the way both the Arab and Asian nations are viewed by outsiders. The diverse natures of both regions are often dismissed as offering little more than their stereotypes, be that veiled women for one or geisha for the other. The artists in the Mori’s exhibition play with these stereotypes in various ways, from Halim Al-Karim’s ‘Untitled 1′, with its indistinct red-clad figure to Maha Mustafa’s ‘Black Fountain’. The latter splashing oily droplets all over a white room whose windows look out over the Tokyo landscape, reminding the viewer that while one country’s problems are caused by a lack of natural resources, another’s spring from an abundance of them.

The Arab Express curators are aware that for many people, the first thing they think of when considering the region will be its conflicts. The artist always has a choice about how much reality to include or ignore and many of those represented here wrestle with these concerns. In ‘To Be Continued’, Palestinian artist Sharif Waked confronts our fears with his depiction of a typical suicide bomber’s video which, on closer inspection of its subtitles, has the protagonist reading from One Thousand and One Nights. ‘The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer’, included in Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s ‘Wonder Beirut’, features depictions of the once-popular tourist attractions of the ‘Paris of the East’, the negatives burnt by the photographer after the outbreak of the civil war in an attempt to make the pictures resemble the city he found himself living in.

It is a powerful and thought-provoking collection, yet not without moments of humour, even including a series of works which reference the Japanese trend for purikura. Capturing the diverse cultures which make up the Arab World is no small challenge, yet the range of works on display will ensure you leave feeling at once informed, wrongfooted and entertained.

Confront your own preconceptions at the Mori Art Museum before 28 October.


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Eight methods to beat the blues

My pal the Japan Camera Hunter has written this great post, all about escaping a photography rut and beating the blues. While it is no doubt useful to those with a camera permanently affixed to their hands, I was struck by how much of his advice – read a book, change of scenery, look at your old work – could also apply to writers and, I am guessing, to other creative types too.

I have been feeling like I have been in a rut lately, probably something to do with the summer heat encouraging indolence, so will be giving this advice a try – with some luck and hard work you will be seeing the results here soon! In the meantime, take a look at JCH’s excellent post and see what you think.

I hope it helps with whatever you are working on…


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This is where I live

At times you have to escape the city, to see a wider sweep to the horizon, feel fresh air on your face and remember what it is to have elbow room, before returning feeling charged and able to appreciate the urban beauty again.

My home city, looking as beautiful as it gets, courtesy of the very talented Samuel Cockedey.


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That time of year again

It is that time of year again, when every corner of the city looks gorgeous; when the large, famous parks draw the crowds but single trees tucked away down side streets are equally as appreciated and likely to be immortalised by the smartphone cameras of passing commuters.

There is something about the heady mix of sunshine, sakura and a huge pile of food and drink to be shared with friends under the boughs that acts like a shot of something pure delivered right to the brain after the chills of winter. I don’t think I could ever get cynical about this season and all it brings. New term, new jobs, new projects: January may be the start of the year, but April is when everything begins again in Japan.

So hard to believe that by next week it will all be gone. With the sakura, as with all the good things of life, be sure to enjoy it while you can!


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Shivers of fear

Palms feeling clammy and drenched, pulse doing cartwheels, heart close to my teeth, fighting an urge to run back from the edge towards all that is familiar.

That is just from sitting at my desk looking at these photographs of Detroit taken by urban explorer Dennis Maitland, featured on the The Atlantic’s Cities sister-site.  It is an unusual perspective on the city, usually thankfully reserved for steeplejacks and window cleaners, but still a beautiful one – so long as there is a sheet of glass or a computer screen in between me and it.

The photographs are also a timely reminder, as I seek to make my life closer to how I have imagined it – dealing with all the fear and doubt that attends such endeavours – that while the drop may be long, the view is so awe-inspiring that it is all worthwhile.

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The shot pools clouds of confusion behind my eyes.  Somewhere overhead, the pub stereo plays songs by bands from the distant towns I grew up in.  It’s getting closer to the time to say goodbye.  As the alcohol mists over everything, I try to hold onto a stray thought, knowing otherwise it will be lost for good.

There are some people you want to stay friends with forever.

But the expat life is one of hellos and goodbyes, neatly slicing lines between those that are staying and those moving on.  Natural and man-made disasters abruptly speed up the churn until it seems like a constant round of farewells and greetings.  In the midst of this whirl, some you meet will matter more than the length of time spent together would usually warrant, not because you agree with them on everything, but because the manner of the disagreement feels too enjoyable to do without.  Each of you sure of the rightness of the point, yelling across the pub’s background noise, yet hardly able to remember a day later what it was or why it seemed so important.

Then there are the other creatives, so sure of their demands and so uncompromising in their execution that watching them work provides more than the obvious ‘inspiration’.  Instead, it feels closer to having a fire lit under you, being spurred to only produce what will deliver equivalent highs.  Learn as you go, but work without fear and without compromise.  Keep to your own standards and ignore the chatter.  Set out a list of rules then disregard them anyway.  Don’t pick fights with the Metropolitan Police Department.  That’s what I’ve picked up from only one month of knowing probably the mouthiest guy to take on Tokyo with a camera.  It’s been ace and I hope it’s not the last time our paths cross.  Safe travels to him and to the two cute dogs and watch yourself, England – he’ll be landing soon.

Sayonara, Charlie!

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Street Portraitist

Spent an afternoon in the park taking pictures with the Street Portraitist and this was the happy result.  It is always interesting to watch someone learn by doing it, figuring out what works and what they like as they go.  I was also lucky he is really patient as it was one of the first times I have been in front of a camera like this and so it could have been nerve-wracking!  Instead it was a really good day, at least until the chill winter air killed all enthusiasm for standing in a freezing park and we decided to go and occupy the nearest Thai restaurant.  Their bold yellow wall inspired this final shot, which is one of my favourites – after all, if you’re going to take something over, it is vital to make sure there is a good food supply handy:

Check out the Street Portraitist website here.

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‘A journey of decades’ – Matt Ford and Love Mode present The Art Show

One of the hardest things about being so far away is missing out on events like the current exhibition of art work by talented photographer Matt Ford.  So I am indebted to Samantha Elmes, student at Liverpool John Moores University,  for her review of the opening night, even though it leaves me tinged with sadness for not being able to attend in person.  Now read on…

Parr Street, Studio Two turned into an enthralling museum of misfits on October 6th.  Matt Ford’s art work, taking inspiration from love and sensuality, was the making, the background, the focus and the subtlety of the whole evening.  In short, not even the talents of Millie Dollar and her feather boa could detract from it.  Surrounded by a variety of people, the cool, the artistic, the young, the old, the slick and the misplaced, I got the impression that this wasn’t for the exclusive. This was for the multitude.

A particular print, ‘He Loves Me’, held all the sensitivity of the ‘he loves me not’ daisy rhyme it depicts, and yet collided with distinguished adult elements.  ‘Tease’, ‘Voyeur’and ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ were visual excitements with the brashness of sex and everything intertwined.  Every image stood unique and simple, erotic and demanding. It was with an ease that Ford’s imagery set the tone that the event undoubtedly followed.  In one room there was the sensation of hanging with the ‘Mods and the Rockers’ and in the next I expected a ‘groovy baby’ accompanied by velvet flares.

Purposefully or not, it became not just an art show but a journey of decades.  And the funny thing being those pictures never looked out-of-place once.  Even when Millie Dollar and Cocabelle strutted in to the mix it seemed oh so natural that Dollar should whirl around a few tassels and Cocabelle should belt out tunes that had all the attitude of rock and roll with soulful bluesy undertones.  With a slight reminder that we were, in actual fact, in the 21st century, her rendition of Emeli Sandi ‘Heaven’ echoed hauntingly, and even though she was perched on a stool with a broken leg she still managed to move the rest of us.  She followed with her own song ‘Am I Falling?’  If anyone else was unsure, I know I certainly did.  For her bleached bombshell hair do, for Millie Dollar’s seductive stance, for the electric fires, for the bongo drums in the corner, for the red wine and the barman.

When the final act of Millie Dollar arrived there was a collective fall backwards into the era of stockings, garters and red lipstick, of cigar smoke and whiskey, of underground grit pre-existing a sexual revolution.  Although Millie Dollar’s feather boa and enticing emerald-green corset is another expression of art now, it is still a testament to the boundaries pushed and experimentation mirrored within  Ford’s art work.

So when the next Art Show comes around be sure to sneak your name on to the guest list and you’ll understand what I mean when I say, quite simply, that the title of my favourite piece there described the whole evening in two words.

Flat out.  It was completely flat out.

The Art Show continues until 16 October at Studio 2 at Parr Street, if you are lucky enough to be closer to Liverpool than I am, make sure you don’t miss out!

Photographs by Alexandra Christian, used by permission.

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I may never be the greatest photographer in the world

…but every now and then I take one I’m really happy with.  Like this:

- Shibuya Crossing, last weekend

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