Spring is finally here

May 1, 2010 3 comments
click here for todays photos

click here for todays photos

Finally.

Spring has arrived in Japan.

According to the news, this has been the coldest spring in Japan since 1961.  Think about that!  It has not been this cold in the springtime since the date looked the same regardless if it was right side up, or up-side down.    Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again anytime soon.

I took advantage of the perfect weather today and spent a long, leisurely morning in Kamakura.  I did take into account that Saturday was the kick-off to Golden Week here in Japan, so I made a point to visit some of my favorite out-of-the-way spots in Kamakura.  Most notably, Myohonji, Ankokuronji, and Hongakuji.  To find them you basically just head South East from Kamakura station.  And even during crowded times like Golden Week you will usually find these places quite peaceful and relatively empty.

I arrived very early, so my only companions at Myhonji were the (very friendly) resident cats, the wind, and the soft rustle of new spring leaves.

I could blather on about how relaxing and energizing it was, but I think I will let the images speak for themselves.

Todays set of photo gear consisted of the following:
Mamiya AFD
Kodak DCS Pro Back 645M
45/2.8
80/2.8
200/2.8
No. 3 extension tube

Categories: wanderings Tags:

Cherry Blossom Festival in DC

April 1, 2010 20 comments

Cherry Blossom Festival in DC

Cherry blossoms near the Jefferson memorial

Springtime, perfect for having picnics, wearing shorts and admiring the Cherry Blossom in DC. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an two-week (per annum) event that celebrates springtime in Washington, DC as well as the 1912 gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan.

Another view of the Jefferson memorial, framed by cherry blossoms

DC Attractions include multiple festivals, museums, monuments, and more. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) organization that coordinates, produces, and supports creative and diverse activities promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty and the environment, and community spirit and youth education. It’s also begins peak season for an influx of tourists to Washington, also brought in by the thousands of historical landmarks, museums, and other buildings, The National Museum of Crime & Punishment, located in Washington, D.C. is one of those such buildings, with excellent depictions of historically famous crime scenes along detailed information concerning past wars, forensics, organized crime, and more.

(This is a guest posting. Text and photographs are copyright – Erik Braunitzer)

Categories: Festivals Tags:

Tokyo Marathon 2010

March 3, 2010 17 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Rain, it was the season of Wind, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had 42.2 kilometers before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities (Tokyo Governor Ishihara) insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The Tokyo Marathon, or as I have decided to call it, my “Blind Date”.

I have named it such because it was my first marathon, and I was not quite sure what to expect.  350,000 people had signed up to run the race, but there were only 35,000 available slots, so I was lucky to get in.

And like a lot of first experiences in life, a friend had talked me into doing it.  This friend will remain nameless, so lets just say that his name rhymes with “Peter”.   It was last year, and “Pete” had run the Tokyo Marathon for the first time.  We were talking about it over beers, and I guess he could see the envy in my eyes so he suggested I run it the next year.  Feeling good (ten feet tall and bullet proof, due to the beer) I responded with a hearty “Yes!”   I should have known better though, as it was the very same situation, a few beers and good food, that got me into climbing Mt Fuji for the second time.

But I am not on to back out on a commitment, so I made sure to put in a good amount of training to get ready for the race.

A couple of days before the race I started eating a lot more pasta, and getting plenty of sleep.  I was also keeping my eye on the weather forecast, and I did not like what I was seeing.  As it got closer and closer to race day, the weather outlook got more and more bleak.  And by the time I woke up at 4:30 on Race Day I found that not only was the wind blowing and the rain falling, but it was also getting colder.

There was a second there when I considered just crawling back into bed and ditching the race.  But only for a second.   I had trained for 11 or so weeks, and wanted to put all that training to the test so I ate a light breakfast and headed up to Shinjuku.

Upon arriving in Shinjuku I was happy to see that the wind had died down a bit.  But I was not so happy to see that the rain had not stopped.  I would be even less happy when I found out that I would have to stand in the rain for a bout 45 minutes while waiting for the race to start.  That was a pretty miserable experience.  But I was able to give a spare pair of gloves to an older Japanese woman who was lining up for the race next to me.  She had forgotten hers at home, and I had taken a spare pair just for a case like this so I was happy to be of help.

The only thing that kept me  from turning hypothermic while waiting for the race to start was the clear plastic trash bag that I was wearing as it kept my for the the most part dry.  I had brought a button up raincoat that I bought at a 100 yen store the day before, but the trash bag was a better solution for the race.  “Pete” had the foresight to bring an extra trash bag for me and right before the race he cut the head and arm holes in it and I slipped it on.   The only break to the monotony of waiting for the race to start was when Bobby, a rather famous foreign TV talent in Japan stepped into the group of runners a few paces away from me.  He had cameramen and photographers all a round him, so that gave me something to watch while the rain continued to fall. I would have liked to get a photo of all the goings-on, but due to the rain I had decided to not run with my camera as I would have probably shorted it out had I used it in the rain.

So there I was, the minutes counting down to the start, staying reasonably dry (but not warm), with the exception of my feet since my shoes were slowly soaking up the rainfall.

Then, after a minor eternity the race was on!  And off I went, WALKING for the first 5 or 6 minutes as the marathon mob slowly filtered through the starting gates.   Think of the entire resident population of the Super Dome trying to squeeze through a couple of  narrow streets and you will get an idea of how congested the start of the race was.

After going about half a kilometer down the road things started to open up a bit since the road was getting much wider.  It was still packed in pretty tight, and because of this I could not really see the road in front of me.  That was when I ended up running through a long deep puddle, completely soaking what were up to that point only semi-damp feet.  Not a good start.  More than 40 kilometers to go, and I would be doing it with soaking wet shoes.

As the kilometers started to click by, the rain continued to fall, the wind started to pick up, and the temperature continued to drop.  While running through Ginza, around the 20 kilometers mark I noticed a thermometer on a building at it said 3 degrees C.  Shortly after that I felt a brief spattering of hail, but only for a couple of minutes.

Because it was so cold, I had to make periodic periodic stops every 5 or so kilometers to stretch my legs.  The cold was keeping my muscles tight, and there was not much I could do about it.

What really kept me going was the crowds that were lined up on both sides of the road for nearly the entire 42 kilometer course.  I heard “Ganabatte!”, “Faito!!”, and “Go!!!” more times that I could even begin to count.  The only places were there were no spectators to rally the runner on were the couple of bridges near the end of the race since.

The  really nice thing about the crowd was the support they provide to the runners.  And I’m not just talking moral support.   People in no way officially connected to the race would have prepared snack and energy foods ahead of time.  They would then hold them out on plates so runner could grab then as they passed.

Slices of lemon, orange, and mikan.  Chocolates, sweet hard candy, bananas, and my personal favorite: small homemade chocolate cookie wafers loaded with salt, each individually wrapped in plastic.

As a result of the spectators thoughtfulness to make all of these treats, I ended the race with a full stomach, almost too full in fact.   The extra helpings of snacks along the way might have actually slowed me down in the long run, but were it not for the cheering crowds I am sure that it would have been a much more difficult experience.  I appreciate each every spectator that took the time to come out and stand out in the rain to cheer all the runner on.

The absolute worst part of the race for me was kilometers 30 though 35.  After that I could sense the end and I actually started to speed up.  This tells me that i didn’t push myself hard enough for the first half of the race, and I was saving too much energy.  During the first half of the race I did think that maybe I was making that mistake, but I was also worried about burning myself out too early.    I guess I will be able to better judge things the next time I run.

You can check out the splits in my overall time of 4:20: 25 by following this link and entering my bib number: 27427.

After finishing I got my medal, and headed to the area where I could pick up my change of clothes, although the had seemed to have misplaced my bag so it took them about 15 minutes to actually find it.  Not that I minded though, because while I waited they had a nice soft chair for me to sit in, all wrapped up in warm blankets.

After they located my bag I headed to the changing area and stripped off my soaking clothes and shoes, toweled myself off, and changed into a set of dry clothes.  I was happy to notice that my feet had held up incredibly well, and had given me absolutely no problems, even though they were wet for the entire race.   I saw some other people who were not so lucky.  One guys socks were dripping red, and in places his shoes had worn completely through his socks,and deep into his skin.

My leg muscles were obviously sore, but today, just three days after the race and I am feeling back to normal.  I’m actually itching to go on another run if you can imagine that!

So in summary The Tokyo Marathon, aka “My Blind Date”  turned out to be quite an ugly one, but they day was not a total loss as she ended up having a great personality.  :)

Categories: funny, wanderings Tags:

Tokyo Marathon 2010

February 27, 2010 13 comments
click here for todays photos

click here for todays photos

Tomorrow I will be running the Tokyo Marathon.

The longest race I have previously run is a half marathon, but thanks to  a 12-week marathon training plan that I found on the net I feel I am absolutely ready for it.  I was a bit concerned when I got sick during the first week of the schedule and had to drop most of that weeks runs, but it turned out to not really have a negative impacts on me.

Here is the plan that I followed:

marathon training plan

If you are interested in getting a ground level view of what the course entails, just check out the following link: http://www.tokyo42195.org/movie2010/movie.html

During training, my longest run was 35K, so I have not yet run a full marathon distance.  Although when I did that run I felt like I had plenty left in my tank and could have stretched it out for the full 42.2K if I needed to.

I’m planning on taking a Ricoh GR Digital with me so I can take pictures during the race.  The forecast is calling for a 90% chance of rain, so that could kill my plans to take pictures as I don’t want to kill my camera.

Wish me luck!

Categories: Festivals

Japanese news can be cute

February 9, 2010 14 comments
click here for todays photos

click here for todays photos

From time to time there are some stories that make the national news here in Japan that mystify me.

Sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes they are strange, and other times they are down right creepy.  But from time to time a story comes along that can’t be described by any word other than “cute”.

Case in point is a recent article in the Yomiuri Online about a metal light pole falling down and hitting a little girl, slightly injuring her.   The little was not doing anything wrong, she just  happened to be near it when it fell over.

An investigation by the city determined that the reason the pole fell over was because it had been corroded over the years by countless cats and dogs urinating on it’s base, eventually leading to structural failure.  As a result, the city paid the parents of the girl a grand sum of 26, 050 yen, which is just shy of $300 at todays exchange rate, and enough to cover the hospital bill.

After the event, the city immediately inspected all 1,700 of these poles, repainting  600 of them, and replacing 18.  And that was the end of it.

If this same thing happened in America, I can just imagine how it could would have turned out:

1. The parents would have sued the city for $300,349,251.97 , which breaks down as follows:

  • $15,000 for the ambulance ride to the hospital.
  • $27,237 for the actual medical care.
  • The remaining  $300,307,014.97 for “Pain and Suffering” and emotional trauma, because of the fact that the girl (and her entire extended family, including in-laws) would have to start taking a cocktail of anti-anxiety medication for the rest of their lives, the contents of which include, but are not limited to: Ativan, BuSpar, Celexa, Cymbalta, Dalmane, Desyrel,  Effexor, Elavil, Klonopin, Lexapro, Librium, Norpramin, Pamelor, Paxil, Prozac, Remeron, Serax, Tofranil, Tranxene, Valium, Vistaril, Xanax, and Zoloft. (I know most of it read like Klingon, but those are all true drug trade names, honest!)

2. People in all other cities in America would start a class action suite against the cities they live in because this very same type of thing could happen to them.

3. Congress would immediately vote an extra BAJILLION dollars into the Stimulus Package (I can never say that with a straight face) and 90% of that money would of course be directly funneled into bonuses to bankers.

4. The remaining money from the StimulousPackage would be used to fit automated tazers to all light poles that would fire at any offending pet (or person) that decided to take a leak anywhere within a 15 foot radius of the pole.  This of course would lead to more lawsuits, and so on and so forth…

I am very glad to be living here in Japan.  Where the news makes no sense, but that’s OK, because neither do I.

Categories: funny

Finely orchestrated chaos

January 11, 2010 13 comments

“Finely orchestrated chaos”, or as I like to call it, “Tsukiji Fish Market”.

Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

On Saturday I woke up at O’ dark-thirty, packed my Nikon D700 and four primes in a bag and caught a train up to Tsukji to spend a morning shooting pictures as part of a Japanorama workshop.  Due to the frenetic pace of the place (it is a fully functioning fish market) the group size was restricted to six students and two instructors.  As soon as I saw this one posted at Japanorama I rushed to sign up, knowing that the student slots would fill up fast.

For those of you you plan on going to see the Tsukiji fish market I have one word of advice.

Go early.  (OK, maybe that’s two words, but you know what I mean)

The place is a beehive of activity, and it only starts to wind down shortly before 10 a.m..

To sum the place up in a phrase I would have to choose, “finely orchestrated chaos“. Everyone and everything is in constant motion, including a lot of the fish!

The game plan was to make a couple of loops through the heart of the action, shooting short telephoto (85mm’ish) on the way in, and wide (20mm’ish) on the way out.   I was solid on the 85mm department, since I had my Nikon 85mm f1.4 with me.  But on the wide side I went a little nuts and tried using a Tamron 14mm f2.8, which turned out to be entirely too wide.  I rather quickly swapped that out for a 35mm f2 (my next widest lens).  I did shoot a few images with a 50mm, but that was the exception.  The idea was to obtain some reportage type shots through the use of these two focal lengths.  The wides to set the scene, and the telephoto to fill in the details.

This was not my first (or second, or even third) trip to Tsukiji, so adding some external structure to my shooting was a very good thing.  The tips and guidance provide by Alfie and Hunter were very much welcome as they helped open my eyes to some new ways to see and capture things.  This prevented me from falling back into my own personal comfort zone of shooting.

I definitely feel that I got a higher percentage of keepers that on my previous trips to Tsukiji.

This time I used the two extreme focal lengths

The real lesson for me was that I need a 20mm lens.  There seems to be no better focal length for dragging the shutter and getting some closeup people shots.

And there is a lot of people to see:

People hauling Styrofoam boxes on their shoulders, men pulling two wheeled carts heaped with seafood, and funny looking self-propelled three wheeled wagons that can turn on a dime and give you six cents change. (A very necessary feature in the crowded rows of fish mongers.)  The real change since my last trip to Tsukiji is that now a lot of these self-propelled carts are electric powered, so you can’t hear them coming.  You really have to keep your head on a  swivel to make sure you don’t get run over.

One thing that always strikes me about the place was just how clean it is. For a place that moves more than 5 million pounds of fish (worth nearly 30 million dollars) daily, the place has no fishy smell.

Part of the reason is that everything is so fresh. The other reason is that the place is given a very thorough cleaning at the end of each day.

5 million pounds of fish a day.

Think about that for a minute.

That is more than 10 times the volume of New York City’s Fulton Market, the largest seafood market in America.

Pretty impressive.

Tsukiji has already been reported to death on the internet so I will not try and give the whole history behind the place. Anyone interested in learning more need do nothing more that a quick google search and you will have loads of information to read.

It’s a must see for anyone who wants to get some interesting photos, as well as a snack of some of the freshest sashimi you are likely to ever come across.

FYI – I just fell off the wagon again and ordered a Canon 5D Mark II.  Soooo,  I will soon be putting my trusty 5D mark I up for sale.  The going rate for used 5D’s seems to be about $1,200, but I figure I would offer it up here first for $1,000 (plus any insured shipping costs and/or paypal fees).

If I had to guess I would say it has about 40,000 actuations on it (the 5D shutter life is rated at 100,000 actuations) and it is in very good condition.  It comes with 3 Canon batteries (all hold an excellent charge), an 8 GB memory card, and all the original odds and ends (battery charger, strap, etc.) and the original packaging/box.

It has been lovingly used by me for the past four and a half years, but selling it will help fund the Mark II, so I will have to let it go.

If anyone is interested, please let me know.  If there is no interest here I’ll be posting at the usual online photo gear selling websites.  (But I would much prefer to give a better deal to one of my regular viewers.)

ps: My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who have been ordering prints from my Smugmug page.  Your continued purchases have helped to fund the 5D Mark II, and I will be sure to do my best to keep serving up fresh content for you all.  The video capabilities of the 5D Mark II particularly intrigue me, so expect to see some videos in the future.

For those of you in Germany, check out page 28 of the February 2010 issue of FHM.  You’ll find one of my photos there.


For those of you in Japan, pick up a copy of the Metropolis 2010 calendar, one of my photos has been used for the month of February.


Seems like February is a hot month for me…

Why do we take pictures?

December 30, 2009 15 comments

Click here for todays photos

Why do we take pictures?

It’s a simple question.  But I think that the answers to this question are as many and varied as there are people on this planet.   We each have our own reasons, but I also think that there has to be some common thread, otherwise it would not be such a universal phenomenon.

I guess the first question that needs to be asked is this: What is it about the still image that captures our attention?

Could it be that it is the process of stopping time, allowing us to examine a scene in detail, consciously appreciating all the things that are normally only “noticed” on a subconscious level?  When watching a video, the scene is in a constant state of change, no two moments are the same, and the limits of our perception only allow us to “see” one small part of each scene at a time.  But with a still image, the eye has the luxury of time to explore and see not only the forest, but the individual trees as well.  A moment in time has been frozen, preserved forever, but also never to come again.

I know that for me, I am always amazed at how much detail is captured in a single still image.  Details that I was not able to notice at the time I created the image, due to either the distractions of sound and motion, or just the fact that we are all limited by the amount of information we can take in and process in any given period of time.

Maybe it’s a way for us to make a statement that “I was here.  I existed” The proof is in the pictures.  We document our lives, our experiences, not necessarily for the purpose of sharing them with others, but more as mental cue cards to help us recall with greater clarity, the experiences of our lives.  Memory is malleable, and over time details become lost, or changed.  And what we remember may not actually be what “was”.

In essence, pictures help us remember.  They are the closest we have yet come to true time travel, to allow us to go back and experience the feelings we had, and remember.

We take pictures of things that are important to us.  Family gatherings, and other “life events” such as birthdays, weddings, and the birth and growth of a child.  For many this is the extent of their picture making, documenting the good times, the major moments.

But for those of us that takes things a step further, those of us that integrate this activity of recording our lives, our experiences, more into our daily lives, we photographers want to capture not just the watershed moments, but also the many other, usually smaller yet still significant moments where something stuck us.  Where we connected with a feeling, or were impacted by something we saw.

This type of shooting is more than just a documentary of our lives, but rather and emotional journal.  Capturing a mood, or a feeling, and attempting to express that feeling in an image.  I say “Attempt” because this seems to be the most difficult of all things to accomplish.  I my past ten years of photography, I can’t lay claim to ever really capturing a feeling.

Not even once.  (At least not to the extent that I had intended.)

We each carry our own filter through which we see the world, and the same image can speak in many different ways to different people.  It all depends on each individuals own personal frame of reference, how their life experiences up to that point have colored their filter.  An image that means very little to me can have a profound effect on another person if it strikes some sort of personal chord with them.  The opposite also holds true.  An image that I absolutely treasure can (and usually does) hold no interest to others.

Some call this the subjectivity of Art.  But what is this subjectivity but the manner in which we all see the world through our own set of filters?

When I first took up photography I was only concerned about documenting as accurately as possible the scenes in front of me. This lead me down a long path of learning the equipment and techniques, the real “nuts and bolts” type of things related to image making.

After 3-4 years I had pretty much figured out, through some trial and a lot of error, how to document an image.  Perfect focus, sharpness, exposure, they were all there.  Technically I had figured out how to take a picture.  But my images started to feel stale.

Sterile.

Lifeless.

In looking back into my photo archives I noticed that some of my more early images seemed to be better than what I had been recently producing, and upon examining them further I came to the realization that while it is important to learn the technical side of image making, it is equally important to shed that analytical skin and step into a more instinctive style to truly progress as an image maker.  It is still important to stand on that technical foundation, but in doing so you have to know when to leave it behind and trust your instincts in reaching towards a more ethereal goal.  The capture of a feeling.

Before learning the technical side I would more commonly get lucky and break some (or all) of the “rules” of photography and the result would be the capture of a feeling.  But as I learned the technical side of the process, I was forcing myself down a perfectly engineered, yet sterile path, nearly devoid of emotion.

When you first start taking pictures you just flail around.

Then you learn the technical side and this allows you to more consistently capture what you intended.  But once you are able to do that every time, then you should stop worrying so much about the technical things, by that time they will be deeply enough ingrained to be there even when you are not conscious of them.  Just forget about all the technical stuff, and start flailing again.  Shoot on instinct.  The fact that you have learned the technical side will ensure you don’t stray too far off the path, but giving yourself the freedom to have fun again and “go nuts” will add a new refreshing dimension to your images.

We often say “I took a picture”, and in most cases that is exactly what we have done.  We have documented something as it was.  But what is to me, the highest form of art, is when one is able to cross the threshold between taking pictures, and capturing emotions.  And never worry about weather or not people like your images.  After all, it is a subjective thing.  So long as you are true to your own vision, and you enjoy the results then you can be sure that you are on the correct path.

Our experiences make up the music of our lives, and at least for me, photographs are the notes.

Categories: philosophy
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