Olivier Duong and Don Springer, editors of Inspired Eye Magazine (https://www.theinspiredeye.net/street-photography-magazine/) and great teachers who helped me improve my game, have been kind in selecting my Japan work for publication on issue #46 of IEM. You'll find the piece at page 124.
Full text of my interview below the break here.
Inspired Traveler: I like this tagline because it embodies in many ways my own approach to life and photography.
A Traveler is the furthest thing that exists compared to a Tourist. Traveling implies slow discovery, impregnating oneself of a different culture, respecting it and trying to understand it from the inside. The best way to travel, actually, is to go live someplace, breath the air day in day out. Give me fewer hotels, and more homes, I will be happy.
Photography is, for me, the same: the tool to root myself to a place, to try and make it mine, to capture its atmosphere as it resonates with me, to get closer to the people that make it different from all others. Slow and deliberate, again. I am much happier photographing the city that I live in than one that I’m visiting in a hurry.
Earlier this year, I found myself in the lucky position to be able to apply this philosophy in a different way, to a place and culture which for some time had been tugging at me, triggering first curiosity, then fascination and finally the urgency to explore it in depth: Japan.
No, I did not move to Japan altogether, but I spent an entire month there, determined to discover it at the slowest pace possible, one day and many walking hours at a time. After a first week with my wife, the rest of the time I was entirely on my own, with my cameras and Japan itself as my only company. From the “home” base of a minimalist Tokyo apartment, I set out every morning to meet the Japanese as much as possible on their terms.
I had created over the preceding year a few personal contacts that I must thank for helping me glimpse aspects of the culture that I would otherwise have missed, and sharing with me some welcome company and deeper human contact from time to time.
I had prepared myself setting up some reference points for my daily wanderings in each neighborhood (the odd shrine and temple, but also photography bookstores and food joints…). A kind of bucket list that ensured some structure to my days.
Other than that, however, I was otherwise completely open to whatever came my way, following the tip of my nose through train stations and around alley corners and into ramen bars, watching people go about their daily lives.
It was exhilarating to be totally focused on sucking everything in, enjoying every moment and discovery. In this, I was helped by a culture that pays attention to small details and values focus, silence and emptiness even in the midst of apparent chaos.
In spite of the obvious language barrier, the Japanese made me feel welcome, perhaps more so because I was showing my hosts more than superficial curiosity but a real intent to appreciate and understand them.
I don’t believe for one moment that I have ‘cracked the code’ of such an incredibly unique people, but I did my best to try. I came back a little different, certainly richer personally.
My cameras were a precious tool in this full immersion exercise. I shot over 6000 frames, over 200 per day: what I normally shoot in more than a couple of years. I learnt a few lessons in the process.
One, photography is an essentially lonely activity: it requires full attention, not quite compatible with travel companions. But it can also be a way to reach out to people, initiating many a conversation with strangers in the street and sharing experiences with the fellow photographers I had the chance to meet in person in Tokyo.
Two, full focus also requires a conscious effort to limit technical distractions. I left for Tokyo with two lenses only: my now-preferred 28mm and its complement on the longer end, a 50mm, each permanently glued to my two Leica bodies. Crowds with one, details with the other. I also brought a Ricoh GR as a backup for those times I wanted to feel lighter, but it is another 28mm perspective anyways. Framing became instinctive, with no second thoughts, and the project has gained in visual consistency.
Three, we really shoot what we are, and certain themes are powerfully recurring in our work no matter where we exercise it. After the first week, when I was overwhelmed by the visual novelty of a radically different country, I slowly started filtering that noise out and unconsciously getting back to the subjects I am attracted to and the framing habits I have when I shoot at home in Paris. I should actually make a project out of that: “parallel cities”.
Four, the real challenge in any photographic project comes after one’s return home: editing the work to a digestible core. It was relatively easy to filter it down from 6000 to 350 decent images, the ones that I spent time post-processing in Lightroom and SilverEfex. Going beyond that, to the less than 60 I have published in my website’s galleries and then to the smaller set that Olivier is featuring here on Inspired Eye, was quite another challenge. It requires a lot of “letting go”, some distance from the emotion of immediate memories; it took me three months and the feedback of many a photographer friend. It’s hard to kill your babies!
Finally, even in our digital world, photography is not complete if it does not end up in print. Yes, showing images online is fine, but the emotion of seeing them in large format on proper baryta paper, well, there is just no comparison to a screen. Rediscover paper, you will feel a lot more satisfaction about your images, as you give them the respect that they deserve.
A friend on Flickr recently told me that the images I brought back from Japan go beyond the easy clichés and show a lot of respect for my subjects. Reading her comment made me realize I have perhaps achieved something: transmitting to her, and perhaps to you, the reader of my images, the approach I have had to this precious experience and the love I discovered for “my Japan”. I will be back for more, I’m sure.