Old and New

When people travel abroad, it's obviously tempting to photograph things that appear exotic to their eye, hence the propensity to document the best-known tourist attractions. Such subjects are also what their audience wants as a way of vicariously living through through this kind of imagery: luscious nature, unusual architecture, traditionally clad people.

I won't lie that I'm not similarly attracted to, say, Shinto shrines and the most famous sites of natural beauty when it comes to Japan. Yet what I'd almost rather photograph—when there is the possibility to do so—is everyday scenes that are either aesthetically pleasing or attractive in some other way. That is to say, their interest should arise from something other than exoticism.

Take this simple night scene, for instance. It emphasizes the contrast between a row of lanterns and the “window,” through the trees, onto a major street in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Old and new. Traditional and contemporary. 

Yet by being in Japan, this scene strikes me more than similar instances in places like Moscow, which I may even overlook, where old churches can often be found next to sleek high-rises. 

So the goal, perhaps, is to be even more subtle. 

Wonderland (in Reverse)

I'm finally finishing up my photo series with a model in Shinjuku Gyoen.

I won't bore you with the technical details of why these images are taking a long time to process. Okay, just one: despite the apparent lack of sunlight, every nook and cranny in the trees contained what I call the "blue line of death." The latter is not visible in a web-resolution photo, but is not very appealing when the image spans 25 inches, and must be removed. Manually. (I sometimes notice the said unsightly blue line on television, but I'm unsure as to whether it remains unedited due to the lack of time or the inability to do so.)

With that in mind, this particular photograph turned out resembling a dystopian Alice in Wonderland. Twisted Japanese trees always look a bit fairy-tale-like, and here, they reach for the girl with their bare branches. Whereas this favorite garden of mine is at its most striking around mid-autumn, the somewhat muted colors remaining from that time work well with the weeping skies. 

Conclusion: considering how pleased I am with the end result of this entire series, I must create more opportunities akin to this one!


I've finally allowed myself the luxury of continuing to edit my model's photoshoot from Shinjuku Gyoen last month, and, I must say, the bone-chilling rain provided quite the atmosphere.

There is something very Japanese and, at the same time, somewhat mysterious about the natural setting in early spring, filled with mist and fog, with the occasional pop of color. This slender model in black leather, along with the contorted, leafless trees, adds a touch of Tim Burton.

In other words, I am quite pleased with the end result!

Portrait of a City

Sometimes, you have an idea for a photoshoot, but the City (teamed up with Mother Nature) decides to laugh at your expense (a bit...a lot!). In this particular case, Tokyo chose to engage in some serious "spitting." 

And so you adjust the sails and follow the wind, which led us to the seedy side of Shinjuku (it's a trick: most of Shinjuku is delightfully unsavory!), where my stoic friend had to engage in what I'd call "extreme modelling." (It got more extreme with the other images, as Nature's mockery escalated.)

As you can tell, she handled it in a superb way.

Of course, the non-stop rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the end result—this and the others (forthcoming)—is totally worth it. 

Am I allowed to say that I love my own photograph? It's gritty and slick at the same time. Natural and posed. 

The best part? Definitely the shoe laces!

Now, I'm just trying to refrain from calling these nascent series something terrible like "Shinjuku Vice."

Black on Green and the Un-Home

The thing about returning to this Rocky Mountain paradise from Asia or Europe is not the lengthy flights with multi-hour layovers (which could get quite pesky), but the fact that it—this paradise—is not.

Is not home, that is.

There is one caveat, of course: solitary hikes amidst northern Nature do feel like home. But this is the case just about anywhere for me. And so, this little town next to a mountain, this little town that I do like quite a bit, does not feel like home.

Unsurprisingly, I've lost that feeling almost completely long ago when I graduated college and left my parents' house, though even there, in the Canadian prairies, it wasn't quite right. 

It feels right in Moscow, my birthplace.

And in St. Petersburg.

But it's been a long time since I've lived in Russia, far too long, and things have changed. So much. And so, if I were to relocate to a place that I think would feel like home, it might not—likely, will not—feel like home for quite some time.

This is the plight of rootless cosmopolitans, like me, whose parents opted for immigration, even if for entirely legitimate reasons.

What does all of this have to do with Japan? It sounds contrived, but the old trope about discovering oneself in a foreign country is accurate. The Land of the Rocking Samurai (as I've always called it) shows me my limits, my comforts zones, tells me when it's too late, and when "too late" is a good thing. Japan emphasizes what—and whom—I miss, and what (who) doesn't even register on my radar. 

Beyond intense self-analysis, there are, of course, some of the most generous and wonderful people I've ever met (despite a time or two when the Japanese strike me as being too reserved by my too-open Slavic standards!), whose number seems to grow. And then there is Nature, the main reason for my travels, including certain wildlife specimens whom most would take for granted—ravens and crows.

Like this new friend of mine in Shinjuku Gyoen (again! of course!). 

Isn't he gorgeous?

Lines and Lights

Truth be told, tonight I felt somewhat under the weather. However, Friday was my last day in Japan, so I forced myself to leave the hotel and engage in a bit of nighttime city photography.

In the case of urban architecture, especially, my goal is to present things from an unusual perspective, with the greatest image depth, emphasizing the lines and colors of electric lighting. 

These samples are, of course, merely iPad photos, but I think they reflect the above quite well. For this purpose, I normally use a a Pentax fish-eye lens, which is a blessing and a curse in one package: it covers around 180 degrees, i.e., more than the eye could see, for widtpanoramas, but, at the same time, warps the perspective inward. The key is to find the balance between the two. 

And so I ran around, in between coffees to keep warm (it rained and snowed because Tokyo is sad to see me go! ;)) shooting the streets and the people inhabiting them, in Shinjuku. In the end, I think I lost all shame and photographed things without worrying about what people might think of me! 



Today was meant to be the day of shooting a model. We gradually made our way to Shinjuku Gyoen, where I somehow seem to end up every time I come to Tokyo. I wanted to create a visual contrast between a sharp urban punk aesthetic and the natural surroundings.

As the weather changed from drizzling to unexpectedly bone-chilling rain, I first stopped taking mobile proofs, like the ones below, ultimately cutting our exercise short and running--two girls in high-platform shoes--inside somewhere, anywhere that served what seemed like life-saving coffee at that time. 

I flew in from -20 degrees in the Rockies, but I wasn't dressed to this!

Nonetheless, I think I've managed to create some worthwhile images to justify extreme modeling par excellence for this poor girl! And, I've even snuck in a few photographs of Japan's amazing ravens to which I'm always drawn--all to be worked on when I have access to a computer.

Also, the park looked as striking as always, only this was a subtler kind of beauty.

Hopefully, the weather improves in the next few days, because I'd like to engage in some photographic people-watching around Shinjuku before leaving next weekend.