21 Sep 2015

Japan diaries II: a conversation with nature

The day I realized that it was not essential to come back home (or the guesthouse, hotel or tent when traveling) with multitude of pictures stored in the SD card, I was free. Free from the (self-imposed) pressure of needing to produce images of value every single time I was out shooting, no matter where; free from the feeling of frustration whenever a photowalk had not been as prolific as I wanted; free from the fear of not being able to find and see good scenes to photograph upon leaving the room. No, even though I was carrying a camera with me (two of them at times), it was not necessary to take a single picture, after all; I was going out for a walk, and the enjoyment of it wouldn't be lessened by the lack of photographs upon my return home. I would enjoy my outing nevertheless, and photographs would happen if and only I found they were worth taking. No more, and no less.

The emerald in the forest, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Trunk romance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Companions, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The fork, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Study on green I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Study on green II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
That's how I approached my first trip to Japan, last July (another two posts with the images of people and monuments from that trip can be seen here and here). After the trip was over and I was back at home, with countless new memories and three thousand images, I realized it could not have been any other way. Does this disqualify me as a photographer? If photography is understood as an exclusive endeavor that requires always the first and foremost attention no matter the circumstances, then no, I'm not a photographer. And I couldn't care less by not following that restrictive definition: for me, photography is a travel companion, a friend that walks with me along the way as I discover new lands, a loyal colleague that never asks too much, yet is always ready whenever I need it. As I quietly walk along mountain treks, breathing fresh air and enjoying the peace only nature can bring, the camera awaits, always ready, never demanding.

Floating mirage, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The rules of nature, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The island, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
A meadow below the clouds, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Loneliness, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Up and down, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Japan is nothing short of amazing when it comes to landscape splendor, so it was uncommon for me to walk a few hundred meters without stoping a few times to contemplate at ease a natural scene, usually capturing it with the camera, as well; in those instances, observing was always first, and photography, whenever it happened, was second, for the joy of traveling is, for me, a mood, a state of mind in which I feel at ease with my surroundings: there is never hurry, nor obligations, nor any other duty that might compromise the purity of just being there for the sake of being there. Luckily, photography is never a burden in this silent conversation between me and the places I visit, rather at the contrary, it is a supporting comrade who points in directions that my eyes might not notice by themselves, opening new perspectives, helping me to see more.

The grass and the puddle, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Serenity, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Shades of green, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The rules of nature II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Murmuring waters, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are no rules, no fixed itineraries nor compulsory destinations: I try to enjoy every location that I'm in, and if I don't feel comfortable, I don't hesitate skipping a landmark that everyone includes in the so abused top-ten lists altogether. I have a plan, but I'm always flexible, and I let my own mood and the unexpected flow of things direct my steps. I'm not traveling for an assignment or for some kind of research, I'm doing it purely for myself, so there's no need to stick to unnecessary rules nor schedules. Everything is disposable. Anything is welcome. The only rule I stick to when it comes to photography, however, is one and only, but of total importance for me: never modify anything in the environment, even if that means not getting a shot that could have been awesome. Patience and respect are always more important than a winning image in my dictionary. If I can't wait long enough or some other external element is interrupting the potential image that I see in front of me, then I move on with no regrets.

The watch, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The wait, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The bath, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
I won't resort to post-processing to fix an inaccurate image, either: the image that could have been, was not, but I went ahead and other images happened that maybe wouldn't have been born had I stayed longer in the first place. It's always a game of learning to let go, in order to reach new chances. At the end of the day, photography knows as much about me as my own family, and it says who I am openly for whoever is eager to have a look. There are no hidden messages nor indirect intentions, just my own, inner motivations. Though sometimes my photography, much like a good, sincere friend, reveals parts of me that even I ignored or had payed little attention to before, and in that sense is a good way to get to know oneself better. What catches your attention at a subconscious level, what drives your eyes and directs your feet tells more about yourself that lengthy and empty conversations or self explanations.

Monochrome bamboo, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Cornered, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Surrender, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
It seems that this post has become, unexpectedly, a self confession of sorts. So be it. Maybe it's very revealing that, after 3 weeks in Japan, three out of four pictures that I took were of nature, when more than half of the time I was at big cities, or visiting human-made monuments; but nowhere I could feel as relaxed and carefree as in those thick forests, expansive meadows or murmuring streams, and I guess this post has come to reflect exactly that: the wordless dialogue between me and the nature of Japan, for those moments of quietude and loneliness are some of the strongest recollections I treasure from that journey.

The crest and the queen, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Watercolor Fuji I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Sunset over Fuji, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The wave and the queen, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Watercolor Fuji II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Framed Fuji, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm

10 Sep 2015

Japan diaries I: the human factor

My plan to visit Japan started some 8 years ago, when I accidentally got in contact with its culture through a casual encounter with a Japanese student back in my home country, Spain. I was starting my career as teacher, and this harmless meeting soon led to a reduced (but increasing) number of Japanese (and other Asian) students that not long after became friends. This linguistic interchange quickly spread to gastronomy, culture and cinema and, inadvertently, a seed sprouted that was never going to stop growing ever since. I first started learning the language. Subsequently I became culturally active and started researching about their cinematography. I then began seriously considering the possibility of moving there if any job opportunity appeared. However, an unexpected job offer came from South East Asia first, and seven years later I'm still working and enjoying this beautiful part of the world; much closer to Japan than ever before, definitely, but, for different reasons, I had never made the final jump to visit Japan directly. Until this past summer, that is. I finally packed a small bag, I took my 2 cameras, and I saved 3 weeks to see as much as I possibly could of the country that started my Asian pilgrimage. And to honor the beginnings of this long delayed dream trip, I will start with the people.

The way up to Himeji Castle, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
All-terrain faith, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Prayer, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Overcrowding, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Terraces over Kamo river, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Picnic in Kamikochi, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Japanese people is hard working but they know how to enjoy their leisure time as well. They are firmly devoted to their cultural heritage and traditions yet they are forward thinkers, decidedly shaping their country towards the future in new, multiple ways. Whatever path they might follow, it rarely seems a random, uninformed choice, rather a conscious decision in either direction. These are only a few observations that I gathered through my short three weeks in the country, and they surely don't represent at all the multitude of perspectives and ways of thinking that the Japanese possess, therefore they could be labelled as simple stereotypes; my intention is never judging nor describing, I see myself more as a simple observer taking some personal notes (in the shapes of photographs) from which to create my own impressions.

The breeze and the wood, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Urban golf, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A morning at the gardens, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Almost there, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Construction and drizzle, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The tunnel, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It was the beginning of July, in the middle of the wet season, so days of clear, blue skies and intense, at times unbearable heat followed others when a mass of thick, grey clouds covered the whole sky and a drizzle that run from mild to intense darkened everything around even in plain noon. The humidity, though high, was tolerable, since I'm already used to it from my years in South East Asia, but the changing weather conditions forced me to be always on guard and ready for any eventuality. I wouldn't allow rain to stop any of my planned trips (after all, I had been waiting 8 years for this trip and I knew the season we were in from the beginning) so I rather took it as a challenge to adapt myself to the environment and make the most out of it. Needless to say, the one element that was present throughout my whole trip, wherever I went, either coming down from the sky or quietly flowing down a mountain, was water. Japanese people embrace the element, merging with it wholeheartedly.

Summer paints water meals under Mount Kurama, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Observatory, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Summer refreshment, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The discovery, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The glance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Even under the rain (except for a typhoon that decided to cross paths with me and forced me to reschedule 3 days of my itinerary), the best way I found to get to know, explore and discover the country was, by far, walking. And I was never alone, for Japanese, much like Europeans (and in total contrast with South East Asian dwellers), love walking whenever the skies allow it. Through forests or on asphalt, through wooden paths as well as by cobblestones, I always found people walking, leisurely at times, on some other occasions on a noticeable hurry, and I could not help but to capture many of those moments as I, myself, kept on walking.

Zig-zag, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Romance between the drizzle and the kid, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A glimpse of green, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The way in, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Walking trough layers, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Japanese are widely known, as well, for a feature that defines their culture and their art very clearly, and that is their love for a quiet, meditative observation of the world around them. Be it in literature, gardening, cinema or cooking, Japanese value the importance of small things and enjoy devoting time to observe them. I, myself (and I guess this is a treat shared by most photographers) enjoy spending time silently admiring the beauty of everyday objects and events (a dancing branch, a wrinkled stone, a storytelling cloud) therefore I found those usual sights to be of a rare, deep emotion. Those people, sitting or standing on their own, totally absorbed in a faraway contemplation, moved me in ways I had not expected.

Recess, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Serenity, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
In the edge, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Days were normally long, since I always tried to wake up early to make the most out of my time in every location, so normally I was already exhausted by nightfall. During the whole trip I carried along my 2 cameras, each of them paired with one of my two prime lenses (my old, trusted GH3 with the hefty Nocticron, and the diminutive GM1 with the PanaLeica 15mm, which has become my everyday lens without questions ever since I purchased it a year ago). Even though this whole setup fit comfortably in my small Lowepro Passport Bagpack, along with my other, indispensable staff (umbrella, book, wallet, raincoat, cap, sunblock, tablet, chargers), I still felt a bit tired by the time I returned to my guesthouse every night after sunset, therefore all my night outings (while hunting for a nice dinner, for some drinks or for a relaxing bath) where only accompanied by the GM1 in a tiny Lowepro Spectrum 50 camera bag that I carried attached to my belt. I didn't want to lose a single opportunity yet I wanted to walk as light as possible for once, so this small combo allowed me to do just that: enjoy my trip free of any weight, while being able to capture photographs at the same time. I must confess that my nights were usually short, but they ended up granting me two of the most precious memories I will always carry within me from the whole trip: a few great new friends, and some of my best captures. (For the images of landscapes and monuments from this same trip, click here and here).

Bouncing bag, empty basket, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Metaphoto, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Meeting point, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Curiosity or fear?, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm