Looking at the old through fresh eyes
I tried an exercise suggested by Steve Simon, Montreal-born photographer, in his book The Passionate Photographer – Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great. The subtitle may be quite pompous but I think is an excellent book keyed towards people with an interest in photojournalism and documentary photography. Simon proposes to perform the edition and post-production of early work years after the pictures were shot. His rationale is that as we proceed with a shot, we form an immediate emotional connection with pictures as they are taken. Essentially, as we press the shutter release, we are already thinking ”This is a great shot and I can’t wait to process it”. By doing so, Simon contends that we are ignoring shots with great potential as we focus on those for which we already have a great feeling about. He quotes wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen who mentions that he looks at pictures he shoots years after and that he has over a quarter million shots untouched and unprocessed. Obviously, I do not have anywhere near as many untouched shots to choose from but I do have some sets of pictures taken, mostly during business trips, left unprocessed.
So for this exercise I picked shots from a business trip to Japan in 2006 when I did bring my camera body at that time, a Canon 20D with a EF-S 17-85 IS lens mounted. I remember that trip to be quite busy but I did find some time to wander around and shoot some pix in Tokyo and Nagoya.
Just going through the pictures, I recalled the time and place where they were taken, which made this trip down memory lane worthwhile. Japan is such a fascinating place to visit as it offers a unique combination of crowds typical of Asian countries with an uncommon orderliness and cultural undercurrents that can only be found in Japan.
I spent one week teaching a software class at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the functioning of the cafeteria was so foreign to me. Every day, we would go at 11.45 sharp to the cafeteria, which to me, was just a huge expanse of service counters inter-linked through a complex maze of linear markings and numbers on the floor. So we would finish by 12.00, just in time to witness the sea of workers and engineers rushing into the room to queue. After five days, curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask:
- Why does everybody go eat at exactly the same time?
- What are the markings and numbers on the floor?
The first answer is quite obvious: because the rules state that lunch time is between 12.00 and 13.00. As a guest, I got to go earlier to beat the rush. As for the lines and numbers on the floor? The lines simply delimit lanes to get served a given meal (there are 12-15 different choices), the components of which are served at different service counters. The numbers represent the number of servings left of a given meal. In essence, if the last person waiting for meal X stands on number 20, it means that there are 20 portions left of meal X to be served. After that, too bad…
And what do Japanese engineers do after lunch? They either snooze or play video games until 13.00 at which time a public message is heard, everybody stands up, performs some stretching exercises in preparation for the afternoon of work.
It was such a great trip and people are so nice. I recall that the bride and groom patiently posed for a complete stranger, me, and after they relaxed leading to the picture below that I much prefer to the stiffer poses. So below, you will find results of this exercise. Wishing I could go back to the land of the Rising Sun!