rack focus

camera magChange comes slowly to Japan’s world of photography, but it’s evident now that been a huge hormonal shift in the darkroom, if you will, that’s been going on for quite some time now.  You just have to look at the titles on the photo magazine rack for proof.

Back in the day, when photography was a manly pursuit, each man, be he gadget freak or trainspotter, idol fan or amateur bikini beauty shooter, had his own niche title.

That hasn’t changed. But now sharing shelf space are mags and “mooks” (magazine books) like Mama’s Camera (seen on the right), Phat Photo, Love Camera or Cute Photographer, which are clearly directed at young women.

More shutter-snapping, gender whatever, is a good thing —  if each clicker shares a unique vision of the world. But I am generally wary of these publications — and not because I suspect the majority of editors who choose the photos for them are men. Rather, I don’t like the way they set out to limit the objects in a woman’s world.

Open any one of these magazines up and you’ll find the same sort of pictures: cats and cupcakes, pastel-colored bottles of rinse and shampoo, daisies or one’s own fingers or toes. Could these really be the things girls are made of? I’ve no way of knowing, but what these images have in common is that they generally are gathered from just an arm’s length away, often in the home, with the greater world out of the frame. Maybe these photos do show how many young female photographers see the world, or rather don’t. What’s more likely, they are what clued in young photographers, well aware of editors’ tastes, know will get published.

igocochi: comfort zone

book igocochi cover

Not many Japanese look back with fondness on the so-called “lost decade” of recession that followed the collapse of the bubble in the early 1990s. But could the era, marked by downsizing, outsourcing and a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, in fact have led to an artistic flowering?
That’s a question that comes after looking too long through Atsushi Miura’s latest book, “igocochi” (published this April by San-ichi Shobo).

Forty-something marketing planner, director of culturestudies, a “think tank that researches consumerism, culture and cities,” and number-crunching trendspotter, Miura is best known as the writer of “Karyu Shakai” (Lower classes, from 2005), the title of which has become a media byword for our times. With “igocochi,” he’s now also something of a photographer.

In “Karyu Shakai,” Miura summed up the motivations — or rather their lack — of a generation of young Japanese who have given up on standard-issue dreams. Instead of lifetime employment and a family life in the suburbs, these “freeters” (as members of this underclass are called) prefer to flit from one temporary job to the next, settling for little more in life than a dinner of cup noodles and a tiny garret.

Continue reading

famous. not

I got a shock when I opened up the paper a few days ago and saw this ad from Uniqlo UT . I’m in it.

I’d completely forgotten that a model “scoutman” grabbed me on Omotesando about a month ago. He took a snap, took my number and called later to tell me to show up at a photo studio in Meguro.

I went just to see if he was for real, and maybe get a bento and some cab fare back. It turned out he was, and the shoot was a huge deal. There was loud music and studio staffers and stylists running everywhere, all there to produce these tiny photos of people off the street wearing 1500 yen T-shirts.

It was way out of scale, but then again, Japanese photographers and ad people never do anything small. Even a newly minted photographer shooting an 1/8 page advertorial for Pia or Tokyo Walker will arrive in a bus called a “location van.” Meanwhile, at minor press conferences, photographers will show with enough cameras and kit for a month-long trek through the Congo. Those strange guys in Akihabara snapping photos of self-styled maids too come loaded for bear, and with top-of-the-line equipment. I remember when I used to work at a magazine publisher a few years back: A “famous photographer” walked in with a stylist (herself with a cart) in tow. They came to show his portfolio, so he couldn’t have been that famous.

A lot of it is necessity. Media types in a big, image-saturated city like Tokyo need to feel that what they are doing is important, or at least stands out. Hiring over-the-top professional photographers helps maintain that illusion.

Interestingly, the UT photographer didn’t even look through the viewfinder for these shots, which fed directly into a Mac manned by three assistants. I was there over five hours before I was allowed to leave, and they weren’t half-finished when I stepped out of the studio. I did get a bento out of the deal, but couldn’t eat it there. I stuffed it in my bag it as I rushed off to work.

Actually this isn’t bad, but I prefer the old dancing cow from a few years back.