Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Diary of a traffic accident in Shinjuku

Underneath my balcony: Taxi driver, in lavender shirt, next to injured motorcyclist being aided by a paramedic. Oct. 18, 2011. ©Torin Boyd.

By Torin Boyd

Once again, a story that starts at breakfast. This time as I was beginning the day, I heard a commotion taking place outside my apartment building.

I live in an apartment building in Tokyo overlooking a park called Shinjuku Gyoen. Over the past year I've been making a series of images from here in what I call "A Room With a View - Home Sweet Shinjuku". This is just a casual series of images illustrating the changing seasons, wildlife, pedestrians, garbage collections, earthquakes, brownouts, and the occasional passing blimp.

But today there was an unexpected twist. As I went out onto the balcony to investigate this noise, I saw that directly below me was a traffic accident involving a motorcyclist and a taxi driver. Fortunately, the guy on the bike appeared to have only sustained minor injuries. He was sitting, talking to the taxi driver and making phone calls. A few minutes later the police arrived, followed by an ambulance which took the injured man to the hospital. After that, more police showed up, then the fire department, and yet another ambulance. At least fifteen emergency responders had shown up as Japan is a country of overkill in regards to public servants and public safety. This is not such a bad thing though.

But there is another over abundant work force in Japan which does warrant concern. These are the armies of overworked, over-stressed, underpaid, and sometimes under-qualified taxi drivers who clog the streets of Japan's cities. This is much a result of Japan's deregulation of the taxi industry in 2003 which led to an increase of new cab companies, cutthroat competition, lower wages and longer hours for drivers. There has also been a spike in accidents involving cabbies since then, as well as a number of lawsuits being filed by labor unions on behalf of the drivers. Something to think about when hailing a cab home after a late night out in Roppongi.

Photographs by Torin Boyd, © 2011 and may not be published, used, or copied without permission.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Jobs, Rick Smolan and A Day in the Life of Japan

Outside Apple's flagship Japan store in Tokyo's Ginza district. Oct. 7, 2011. Photo by ©Torin Boyd.

By Torin Boyd

Last week, I started Thursday morning as usual; breakfast, check my mails, then pore over New York Times online. But when I did, I was saddened to learn that Steve Jobs had just passed away.

As I scrolled through the articles, reading about the loss of this great man, I began to feel the sad poetry of that moment. Here I was reading about his life and death from my Macintosh computer, a device whose every detail was personally scrutinized by Jobs, all the way down to the placement of the Apple logo. One of the articles I read that morning quoted President Barak Obama which echoed that same sentiment:

"The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented".

Although it may seem cliche to say so, Steve Jobs really did affect my life. His machines have been so intertwined with my life and most importantly my career. I have been a Mac user for over half my life and this was not by my own choosing. Apple Computer chose me.

It all started in March, 1985 when I was a 23 year old photojournalism student. I had managed to secure a summer internship in New York with Rick Smolan and David Cohen, the infamous duo responsible for the “A Day in the Life” book series in which a swarm of the world’s best photographers capture a country in a single day. I thought I would be hanging out in New York all summer, but when I arrived their office, the first thing I was asked was if I had a passport. I said no, as I had never been out of the country. I was told to get one immediately for in a few weeks we would be leaving for Japan to make the book A Day in the Life of Japan.

The next few weeks were a blur and by mid April I found myself in Tokyo, Japan, sitting at a desk starring at this odd looking box called an Apple Macintosh computer. I was told to quickly learn how to use it, and Rick, who always made everyone feel at ease, gave me a tutorial and got me going right away. 

In a few days I was using the Mac with ease and the project soon progressed in the typical Rick and David fashion. That is, they seemed to thrive best when faced with insurmountable odds and impossible deadlines.

Work was nonstop, but there was never a dull moment. The daily parade of visitors to our offices and nightly dinner parties were unbelievable. Famous photographers, photo editors, writers, TV crews, and Japan experts were constantly dropping by. One, was the legendary Japanese photographer Hiroshi Hamaya who we took on as an advisor and all around Grand Poobah. After hours we would hang out with him at our hotel bar which we dubbed “Hamaya University”. Others, like Arnold Drapkin, the Director of Photography for Time Magazine showed up and casually hung around for a week or so. The daily streams of VIPs never stopped. As a young photographer, this was the life. I had a front row seat to this amazing project in a country that was equally intriguing as it was mysterious. I was in a photographic playground.

But then came the day when Steve Jobs paid us a visit.

For all of the Day in the LIfe projects, corporate sponsorship is essential. Rick had secured us office space at Apple Computer Japan’s headquarters in Tokyo. Also in his wizard-like ability for garnering sponsorship, he got Apple to commit to give every photographer on the project a Mac Plus (800K), complete with a dot matrix printer and floppy drive. The photographers had a choice for working on this project: a $2000 payment, or the Mac which was worth more than double that amount. Suffice to say, almost everyone chose the Mac.

But as were a few weeks shy from 100 of the world’s best photojournalists arriving Tokyo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made an unannounced and surprised visit to Apple Japan. He was hurriedly given a tour of the small premises. As Jobs was unaware of Apple’s sponsorship of our project, when he came upon us he asked, “who are these guys”. He waltzed in, and all of us just froze. Jobs entered behind me and stopped just inches to my left as I was typing away on my Mac. We were introduced, and our leader Rick Smolan, the master salesmen explained the project and Apple's involvement. There were at least seven photographers in the room then, but we were in such awe we forget we even had cameras at our desks. Not a single photo was taken. Rick however was very concerned that by the end of the day we would be booted from the premises.

Fortunately, about a half hour later Jobs came back and began taking an interest in what we were doing. Rick and David showed him everything about the project. We later realized that our project was probably the most interesting aspect of Jobs' visit to Apple Japan that day. We got to keep our Apple endorsement, and when I look back at it, this was Jobs in his truest form. We had appealed to his creative sensibilities and he quickly reciprocated.

A Day in the Life of Japan took place on Friday June 7, 1985 and over 100,000 photos were taken that day, resulting in a large format coffee table book. It was a time capsule of Japan at the height of it's 1980's economic growth period, and now such an important document of that era.

Four months later Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple at age 30.

As for me, a year later in August, 1986 I returned to Japan and have been living here ever since. Of course using Apple computers all the way. But in learning of Jobs' death last week, it also dawned upon me that when I both met Jobs and also learned of his passing, my fingers were at the keyboard of a Macintosh computer.

Yes, there is strong poetry in that.

Cover photo by Jodi Cobb.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tokyo Photo 2011 - Japan's only photo art fair

By Torin Boyd

Billed as "Asia's leading international photography fair", Tokyo Photo 2011 took place on September 23-25 amid the shadow of the triple disasters that devastated Japan earlier in the year. Held at the sprawling Tokyo Midtown complex in central Tokyo, this event, now in its third year is Japan's first and only photographic art fair of its kind.

Founded in 2009 by art promoter Tomohiro Harada, this year's fair attracted some of Japan's top photo galleries, as well as a handful of international dealers. Other events included lectures, charity print auctions for tsunami and quake victims, and special photo exhibitions.

But turnout was lower than expected with only 10,000 visitors attending, nearly the same as last year. According to Harada, "we were anticipating between 15,000 to 20,000 visitors this year, but perhaps we placed too much emphasis on quake and tsunami charity, causing the public to think this was a charity event rather than a photo fair. He went on, "The quake and nuclear meltdown had such a negative impact on the art market in Japan, plus overseas dealers who had expressed interest in attending prior to the disasters, stayed away due to radiation fears".

Even so, this was a well produced event worthy of any international photo fair. But with only 21 dealers exhibiting who mostly experienced moderate sales, Tokyo Photo needs to expand its base of both exhibitors and attendees. Harada explained, "The art market in Japan is still somewhat idle and the current emphasis with many dealers is on first-time buyers and younger customers".

As for what was being offered at this show, this was the most impressive assemblage of modern Japanese photography ever offered under one roof. Many of the big name artists were here: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, and Toshio Shibata. But many new and emerging Japanese artists were also well represented--all at what seemed like very reasonable prices. As for international artists, they were in the minority at this show.

Also conspicuously missing was pre-World War II Japanese art photography, Pictorialism and 19th-century works. However one Tokyo gallery, MEM, was offering vintage 1930s prints by Osamu Shiihara, a member of the Tampei Photography Club, as well as a limited edition portfolio by 1930s Japanese avant-garde photo pioneer Iwata Nakayama. This was recently printed under the supervision of Nakayama's estate and photo historian Ryuichi Kaneko.

Concerning Japanese contemporary works, throughout the show numerous bargains could be had in the $1,000-$5,000 range. These included both young and established artists because Japan is still a buyers' market, even with the highly inflated Japanese yen.

Some standouts of the fair were EMON PHOTO GALLERY of Tokyo which displayed superb color prints by emerging artist Ryo Ohwada from his bonsai tree and red wine series in the $2,000 to $6,000 range. Emon was also displaying large fantasy cityscape collages by Sohei Nishino from his "Diorama Map" series in editions of five (in the $25,000 range).

Another interesting exhibitor was Zen Foto Gallery of Tokyo. This new gallery established in 2009 by British ex-pat Mark Pearson had a wonderful mix of Japanese and Chinese contemporary artists. One was the Japanese documentary photographer Kazuo Kitai whose large format silver gelatin prints of rural China blended well with the eclectic mix of other images on display. This included works by Liu Zheng, Wang Ningde, Mao Ishikawa and Takahiko Nakafuji. In addition to the prints, Pearson was selling a number of high quality limited edition photo books published by his gallery. Zen also opened a second gallery in Beijing last year, so this is a gallery to watch.

Also exhibiting was Photo Gallery International or PGI. Founded in 1979, this is one of the oldest and most reputable photo galleries in Japan. Exhibiting for the first time at Tokyo Photo, they had their usual big name artists on display including Issei Suda, Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Michiko Kon. But the works by Soeno Kazuyuki from his "Fossil of Light" series were some of the most interesting. These images were a series of enlarged black and white photograms of insect wings, found on roadsides after being hit by cars. The 44-year-old Soeno started this project after being hit by a car and being severely injured. His beautiful one-of-a-kind prints could be had for under a $1,000.

International dealers at the fair included Danzinger Gallery of New York, Torch Gallery and Ten Haaf Projects from Amsterdam, and Ratio 3 of San Francisco. This West Coast gallery showcased large-format monochrome nudes by Ryan McGinley whose image "Butterfly" was used as the promotional image for this year's fair. Also attending was Magnum Photos, which focused more on limited edition books and had only a small number of prints. Magnum had little Japanese material, which according to Junko Ogawa of Magnum Tokyo, was due to the fact that "we wanted to promote all Magnum photographers, rather than just Japanese-themed works at this fair".

Besides the galleries exhibiting here, there were two impressive photo exhibitions taking place. One, a charity exhibition for the Tohoku Earthquake presented by the Embassy of France in Tokyo, included images by famed photographers Kishin Shinoyama and Rinko Kawauchi, along with other Japanese and French artists. The second, curated by Simon Baker of the Tate Modern, featured images by British art photographer Chris Shaw from his "Night Porter" series juxtaposed with works by Japanese masters.

As for the future of Tokyo Photo, Harada and his staff are already busy planning next year's show. This seems to be a trend in Asia as photo and art fairs are now taking place in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Even though the art market in Japan is still reeling from the economic decline of the 1990s, the art market in the broader Asia seems to be in full swing.

To see more about Tokyo Photo 2012, please visit: www.tokyophoto.org/en