In June/July this year, I used up some long-service leave to go overseas again, and having completed moreorless the ‘Scandinavian set’ (except Greenland.. sorry Greenland!), headed first to Japan, where I’d never been before! Lots of people I know have been to Japan, but I think it’s fair to say that nothing they enthusiastically told me about the country really ‘gelled’ in my head until I actually got there. I’m sure this is a common experience.
In any case, this blog isn’t the place to cut & paste the 48 page ‘travelogue’ I wrote whilst wandering (well, it’s interesting to ME!!), but to chat about photographing in Japan, esp. with film and Large/Medium format cameras.
This year, in a break from the past, I took a Medium Format rangefinder as my day-to-day stomping camera – specifically the Fuji GW680III (circa 1992) – described as being a platform to support one of the sharpest lenses ever, it sports a really nice bright rangefinder and Fuji’s super 90mm f/3.5 EBC lens. My theory was that it would be faster to focus and thus make pictures, had a bigger frame area (for enlarging & cropping later), and looks like a regular camera (from a distance), so it wouldn’t draw much attention. This plus 100 rolls of the strangely inexpensive Fuji Neopan Acros 100 film, and I was all Fuji-ed up (and all Japanese, which seemed appropriate).
The other camera was my standard Wista 5×4″ field camera kit, with 65, 135 & 300mm lenses, for pictures of super quality when there’s more time to pause and ponder. For this I brought along 200 sheets of Kodak TXP320 (my favourite).
In terms of getting all that film there, I squish it all into my carry-on backpack to avoid the ruination of the high-power check-in luggage x-rays. So far I’ve never had a problem with fogging, over-enthusiastic customs or anything). This trip no-one was interested in either camera (although the rangefinder was looked at in Europe later on). In fact, no-one in Japan really noticed either camera until I went into the Fujifilm museum in Roppongi (Tokyo), and the fellow there grinned and said “Nice camera!”, which was an affirming moment, esp. as they had one in their display. But it does say something about Japan’s camera culture because I never get away with that level of unintentional stealth here.
One thing that quickly became apparent was my optimism in bring only 100ISO film for wandering around. It turns out late June is bang in the middle of the rainy season – so a lot of the time it was rainy (but pleasantly warm) and quite dark (from a 100ISO point of view). So, I ‘had to’ periodically visit various camera shops in Kyoto & Tokyo to buy 400ISO film (Kodak T-Max & Tri-X). The two Japanese camera megastores (BIC Camera & Yodabashi Camera) still have very well stocked, large film & paper refrigerators, with the Yodabashi Camera precinct in Shinjuku (Tokyo) dedicating an entire shop to film & paper, with a lab above. They also had a well stocked medium & large format camera section, where I spent some time drooling. Film in Japan is only a little bit cheaper than in Australia, and more expensive than the US, even for Japanese film. They had so much stock and variety though, I felt quite overwhelmed. I didn’t process any film over there, but it struck me it wouldn’t be that hard to do, especially if you were shooting with faster film and were worried about x-rays as above…
Wandering around with a camera was never a problem, with the only restrictions being the inner bits of specific temples. Setting up a tripod was often restricted in temple (and other touristy) areas (but not always). Because of that I made less Large Format pictures and more Medium Format ones – c’est la vie! In addition, I have never specifically set out to be a ‘street photographer’ in the stylised observational sense, but it is rather easy to make observational photos of people going about their every day life in Japan – and I think a number of factors lend themselves to this – camera culture being one, and the sheer volume of people doing interesting/industrious things being another.