In recent years, traditional kimono are rarely seen on the streets of Japan. Typically, they’re refined uniforms for bar and restaurant hostesses, ceremonial wear for weddings, funerals and the like, and the dress of choice for certain aficionados. But each year things are quite different on the second Monday in January. Seijin no Hi. Coming of age day, when all the twenty year olds in Japan are officially celebrated as adults; when the men don smart suits or the occasional haori and hakama ensemble and the women, their hair elegantly coiffed, join them at the local city halls and after-parties in their gorgeous furisode, parading on the city streets like exotic birds of paradise. The day is a holiday throughout the country, and it’s a perfect day to be out strolling.
Since 645, Japan’s history has been marked by the various eras which signify the reigns of its emperors and empresses. This year, on April 30, Emperor Akihito, who has reigned since 1989 in what is known as the Heisei era, will abdicate the Chrysanthemum Throne, and a new era will begin with the ensuing enthronement of his son and heir.
The striking lobby gallery of the Tokyo International Forum is currently the site of a small but evocative exhibition that showcases the imperial enthronement ceremony of Emperor Taisho in 1909. It also features artefacts, dioramas and traditional aristocratic ceremonial dress from past Japanese eras.
Ben Smith is a British photographer. In September 2015 he started a podcast called A Small Voice, the title taken from W. Eugene Smith’s well-known quote:
Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness. Much depends upon the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought.
Ben Smith would probably consider himself a small voice in photography, but in this podcast series he has exchanged his camera for a microphone and initially every week, then fortnight, he has given voice to a different photographer and has in the process created a unique collection of thoughtful aural photographic portraits.
Unsurprisingly, practitioners of photojournalism and documentary feature widely, but the series – currently at 95 episodes – covers a range of disciplines and Smith has interviewed all kinds of photographers in various stages of their careers.
What I like about these interviews is that they have an honesty and unpretentiousness to them: No doubt Smith puts a lot of work into researching and producing these but his interviewing style is such that it feels like two photographers are sitting around chatting about one’s work and life for an hour or so, and when listening it feels like I’m in the room with them. Kudos to Smith for this project and I wish him nothing but success with his entertaining and though-provoking photographic masterwork.
Some of my favourite interviews are with Matt Black, Christopher Anderson and Laura El Tantawy. The Year in Review 2018 is the latest episode and is a good introduction to the series as it contains snippets of interviews conducted throughout 2018.
Blade Runner and Akira, two sci-fi classics of the 1980s, are both set in 2019. Despite the way things seem to be heading, our 2019 is fortunately nowhere near as grim as the worlds of those movies.
These pictures, showing imagery from Akira, which is set in Tokyo, were taken in Shibuya at the site of the old Parco building. I thought it would be thematically fitting to give them a sci-fi treatment, and made some minor color adjustments, then added some light flare and fog filter effects.
Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.
－ Robert Frank
Hope and despair. Politics these days. I bought myself Frank’s The Americans this year as a Christmas gift. A gesture of hope. Don’t know why I didn’t buy it any sooner. It’s arguably a masterpiece of visual storytelling. At the very least it’s an insprational resource.
New year in Japan, and it seems like everyone is at a shrine or temple. Hatsumode. A gesture of hope. Inspired, I took some black and white photos at Harajuku’s Togo Shrine.
This website exists as my portfolio, a place to display private photographic projects, galleries, writings and other works. It was never intended as a blog; hence comments and ‘like’ buttons have been disabled. Over the years, other social media platforms have complemented this portfolio, allowing me to post spontaneous works: snapshots, quotes, musings.
The best of these platforms was Instagram. I used to really enjoy Instagram. It was frictionless, immediate and fun. Lately, not so much. The last year or so I’ve been tolerating it, but now that my tokyo.grams project is completed, I no longer need to. So I’ve been looking for a replacement. But there isn’t one. Not for me. And so, with the dawn of a new year, I’ve added this blog to my site as a place for more spontaneous publishing: a place for phone snapshots and photos that don’t fit into more considered long-term projects, for photographic items of interest and interesting quotes, for unformed ideas and brief musings.
And in the spirit of social media I’m going to add ‘like’ buttons and comments to the posts in the hope that some interesting, civil discussions can unfold in the posts to come.
Happy New Year.