Sunday, January 05, 2020

Best of 2019 - My Top Images

It's time to look back and take stock of the crop of images for the year. Here is my selection for 2019:

Details for each image:

1. "Boat Quay," shot in the town of Kurashiki, Japan, a tranquil image with reflections.
2. "Koi Reflections," autumn leaf reflection of a pond shot in a Zen garden, Kyoto, Japan. Just a natural reflection, no polarizer.
3. "Sweeping Temple Steps," shot of a monk clearing the steps, in Kyoto, Japan.
4. "Restaurant Owner," portrait of the owner, shot in Ukyo, Kyoto, Japan. Not posed, just pointed my camera at her and asked if I could take the shot. Model release translated into Japanese for me by a guy eating a squid on a stick at table three.
5. "Ghost Bamboo," intentional camera movement, shot in the bamboo forest, Kyoto, Japan. 
6. "Cross Hatch Pattern," this is a Satori symbol found in a temple, shot in the rain, Kyoto, Japan.
7.  "Ceiling Triangles," shot inside the IM Pei designed Miho Museum, Shiga, Japan.
8. "Tunnel Walker," shot outside the Miho Museum in the approach tunnel, Shiga, Japan. I didn't wait for the figure to walk in, rather this was a grab shot and I got lucky that everyone in Japan seems to wear black a lot (including this subject.)
9. "Public Market," long exposure shot of the fish monger market sign, Seattle, Washington. A typical shot I know, but I have always wanted to bag this one so bucket list item checked and included in this year's list.
10. "City View Cab Ride," shot from the back of a cab at night (motion blur/paint with light) traveling across Seattle, Washington.

It's hard to talk about 2019 without mentioning the "elephant in the room," as it were. Yes, the majority of my shots came from Japan this year. In 2019, I spent the better part of December in Kyoto and managed to catch autumn in full glory, not to mention take home more than a few thousand shots. Since many of these are still in post, this is my best guess at my best of crop for 2019 (I'm sure if you asked me next month, I'd have different images for you, but it's January and time to make the list, so here you go.)

As far as subject matter, it seems like I'm "sneaking in," more abstract images. By "sneaking in," I mean they are kind of creeping into my aesthetic more and more, or perhaps I am growing more fond (accepting?) of them. I can't seem to do a favorite list, a top 10, or whatever, without thinking about some kind of abstract. It's a trend anyway. Apart from that, 2019 graced me with my usual smattering of architecture, a bit of night work, some of the environment portrait type images I like to do from time to time, and a hint of nature which is always fun. Travel wise, I shot in Seattle, Japan, and close to home, in downtown Austin, the Domain, and the water gardens. I did more of my bed series, lots of water garden images, and then there was Japan. What can I say about Japan, right? (Phew!)

I hope you had a great 2019 and your crop of images was a feast for the eyes. I can't wait to see what everybody has done over the year and hope that you had a great 2019 photographically and other ways too. Happy New Year!

Until next time...

Friday, January 03, 2020

Top 10 List - Kyoto, Art Island, Osaka, Japan

Back from Japan and ready to share some of the things I learned while away. Still can't really believe I went to Japan. Before my trip, I really didn't know what to think about Japan. Guess I always heard stories of anime, ramen noodles, robots, geisha, gardens, and the like but I never quite put the pieces together. Now I can. At least I can say I've been there, did that, didn't get a T-shirt but that's only because there wasn't room in the luggage. I hope you enjoy my top 10 list as much as I enjoyed my travel to the land of the rising sun. Kanpai!

Here are the top 10 things I've learned about Osaka, Kyoto, and Art Island, Japan:

10. Artisans abound. Calligraphy, gold leaf, ancient flute playing, the list of art I got to experience on this journey goes on. Artisans abound in Japan. Kyoto is "old Japan" in many ways, yet it's actually a new, modern, vibrant city in many others. On this trip, I got the sense that, in modern day Japan, the old and the new seem to coexist in a sort of peaceful tranquility. It's almost as if you get the best of both worlds, and I have to admit I rather like that. The artisans are top notch, with Kyoto offering everything from wool dyeing to culinary cuisine, pottery, performing arts, theater, and everything in-between. Sometimes, the old methods are infused with modern conveniences to make things really magical.

9. Stone gardens, rock gardens, so Zen. Many stone gardens in Kyoto were built hundreds of years ago by the same designers. The rocks represent different things, like water or mountains. Legend (myth actually) has it that once a lance was dipped into the sea to form the islands of Japan. Many Zen gardens play upon these myths and legends to incorporate symbolism from the early days into the beautiful gardens we enjoy today.

8. The museum in the mountain. Famed Chinese architect I.M. Pei was given unlimited budget (!) to build a museum in the Shiga mountains, on the outskirts of Kyoto. The result? The Miho Museum, a place I toured and shot as part of my trip. It's an amazing place really. I could make a photographic feast just from the ceilings here and don't even get me started on the tunnels. Phew! I have always wanted to shoot a tunnel. A tunnel by I.M. Pei? Bucket list shot - check!

7. Kyoto is to dye for! Kyoto is home to both indigo and persimmon dyeing, plus a few other methods of dyeing fabrics, cloth, paper, and the like. I got to see this firsthand and managed to bring home not only some great images but also a souvenir. Yes, it's true, I did something I almost never do on my trips: shop! I purchased an indigo dyed wool scarf (something I never do is buy stuff and we really don't need wool items here in Austin but, heck, it was Japan and I was in the mood, so there you have it.) The dyeing makes for great colors and images, very cool to enjoy such vibrant colors firsthand. That was a real treat for the eyes and fun to experience, for sure.

6. Gardens can be made of moss. Kyoto is home to an 800 year old moss garden. Yes, in Japan they have entire gardens made of moss. It's breathtaking! You have not seen a garden until you've seen a moss garden. I hope my black thumb did not accidentally kill anything, as I'm so honored I was able to visit an 800 year old garden of moss. As I contemplated growing something like this at home, I was reminded that it took the expert gardeners of Japan 800 years to perfect Kyoto's garden of moss. I would probably kill it in two days (or less) but, if you are so inclined, you too can visit a garden of moss in Kyoto.

5. The bamboo forest grows tall. If moss gardens were not enough, Kyoto is also home to the famous bamboo forest. Yes, it sways in the wind. Yes, you can hear it growing. If you listen carefully, it makes a sound. We were fortunate enough to tour both the "official" public bamboo forest and one of our very own, a private one. Yes, you read that correctly. On my trip, I got to tour a private bamboo forest. Oh, what fun that was! I got to do ghost images in my own private bamboo forest. As I walked through the rows and rows of bamboo, I realized that it actually can get quite tall so this little fact comes in at number five on my list of things I learned on my trip. 

4. Kyoto has been called the "Land of 1000 temples" for good reason. Kyoto has over 1000 temples, shrines, Shinto hovels, and Buddhist shacks, most of which are on the east side of town, but many of which are all over, literally all over town. There are small "neighborhood" shrines, little temples, slight gardens, and the like, many of which are just as photogenic (sometimes more so!) than the "big boys." Of course, if you have to, if you must visit the "big boys," they are there too. In Kyoto, you can take your pick of temples. Mostly, I opted for temples I thought might not be overrun with tourists, preferring to enjoy the small empty ones, but your results may vary. Good luck and happy temple hopping!

3. You say "Geisha," I say, "Geiko," she says, "Maiko," no matter, the girl's got bling. In Kyoto, they are called Geiko, not Geisha, and they originated in Kyoto (they are called Geisha in Tokyo and other parts of Japan but not in Kyoto.) On my trip. I learned a lot about these ladies, even having lunch with a Maiko. Some facts to share: the original purpose of the Geiko was to serve tea, which they still do, dressed in a tradition kimono and full make-up. Maiko and Geiko dance and perform as well, they tend to study music, learning how to play instruments like drums or flute. A Maiko is an apprentice Geiko and she wears a red band on her collar to distinguish herself from the Geiko, who wears a white band. It takes four to six years of training to become a Geiko, during which time they cannot marry (if they marry, they have to stop their training.) The cost to become a Maiko is significant. She does not get paid, she cannot have a cell phone (she can, however, write letters, which most do.) She gets one tatami mat to live on and, yes, it takes several hours and lots of help to put on her make up. She gets five days off a year. There are only 250 Maiko and Geiko in Kyoto in total. Most of them, once they begin to work, are private contractors and get paid by the tea houses. The kimono they wear can be very heavy and the ornament that adorns their belt is jokingly referred to as a "walking house," because it can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 (or more. They are made with real jewels and the like.) Often the kimono and obi are made with gold thread so they are an expensive, heavy, burden, albeit quite charming and totally great photographic subjects.

2. Islands by the sea take many forms. Japan is made of many islands. During this trip, I got to visit some of them, including Art Island or Naoshima, home to the fabulous (spa like) Benesse House and the glorious Yayoi Kusama pumpkins, which were totally fun. (Yes, I had a view of the yellow pumpkin from my private balcony. Ah, the life!) Japan also has what I dubbed "airport island" and other small islands. A lot of time they run out of room and construct islands so they can put stuff on them, like the airport. It gets things out of the way and, if you get bored, you can always put up a spotted pumpkin. Works for me, fact of life in Japan.

1. "One tatami mat back." It's my new motto! In Japan there are scrolling gardens and strolling gardens. Strolling gardens are designed for you to walk through them, with the view changing as you move about the garden (sometimes, even walking back from where you started gives you an entirely new view of the landscape. You should try this if you ever get to visit an authentic strolling garden.) Scrolling gardens, on the other hand, are designed to unravel before you, much the same way you would view a scroll (like reading.) Most scrolling gardens are designed to be viewed, "one tatami mat back in a seated or resting position" (to quote our guide.) This is a metaphor for life! If you are too close to a problem, get back, sit, and re-think it. Get "one tatami mat back" from a situation to really see it best. It really works wonders for solving problems and, even if your problems are not solved, you enjoyed a quiet moment of contemplation with a wonderful garden view.

Some runners up:
  • The food! Kyoto is a culinary capitol for good reason. There is authentic French pastry as well as Italian, Indian, and lots of other types of food there, not to mention authentic Japanese style food including bento boxes, Ramen, sushi, tempura, and the like, all fresh and good. We joked that we were able to navigate by the they even have several of the American coffee shops there, including a Starbucks Reserve shop (I visited my first one in Kyoto, as I never made it into one when I went to Seattle. Go figure!) 
  • Benesse House art. Like MOMA by the sea, Benesse House is kind of like what you would get if you combined a modern art museum with a beach and the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. It was such a wonderful, inspiring place to visit. I got to see a lot of James Turrell, some Monet, some Sugimoto, and a lot of modern art. 
  • Japanese toilets. Wow! In Japan, they have heated toilet seats, built-in bidets, touch screen technology with a special button to play music. It's amazing really what the good people of Toto have done to such a humble home fixture. 
  • The arcade. In Kyoto, they have a covered shopping area that's like a mall really, with tons of great shopping, restaurants, and the like. It stretches for miles and is fun to visit. If you come out the other side, you get rewarded with a place called Bel Amer which is a chocolate shop that sells soft serve ice cream which is the bomb. I never got to try the swirl but I was told it was white chocolate and dark chocolate mixed, but it's not the white chocolate we get in the 'States, not as sweet but totally delicious. I did manage to get a cup of "regular" chocolate and it was really great. Highly recommend making it down the arcade, up Sanjodori, to find this place and dig into the chocolaty goodness. Oh how I am going to miss Bel Amer and the arcade in Kyoto, it was like a home away from home. 
  • The bullet train. It was a bit tricky navigating this one but, once you hop aboard, it's a wonderful experience. Worth a trip and makes travel across Japan a lot easier. 
You probably don't even have to ask if I'd go back to Japan, rather you're wondering (as I am) just about when I'm slated to move and should you forward the mail. Yeah, it was that kind of trip.

Until next time...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Opportunity Weekend - December 22, 2019

It's winter in many places now and who doesn't love a good bowl of soup? Here's some ramen to go along with your opportunities for the weekend:
That's a lot of opportunity to fit into one noodle bowl.

Until next time...

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Notes From the Road - First Edit

Notes from the road contains tonight's first edit. As part of our travels, we have to prep sample images and be prepared to talk about them. These are mine. I am pulling together eight images for the talk and you can tell from the bunch there is some architecture some natural world, some shot fairly straight and some my usual blend of reflection or just abstract in some way. On the whole, the shooting has been very good here. There is a lot to shoot in Kyoto, it's really a rich subject. Today, I got to eat lunch with a Geisha (look for images of that to follow) and I got to visit with a gold leaf artist. He was a lot of fun, really very entertaining. I'm sure I'll have more time to edit and it's safe to say I've got a lot of images in post now, with post holding up the works for sure. I just don't want to spend quality time with post duties, as this sort of thing can wait until I get home, so I'm doing a rough job-just enough to get me something to talk about while I'm here. All of this with a promise to do more once I have returned home and the shooting is done. Editing can wait until later, for now, there is more shooting, as my days are filled with gearing up, heading out, walking about, taxi rides, lunch plans, and the like. Yes, we are shooting a lot and it feels good.

In other news, I have started jaywalking here so that's a sign I am starting to feel comfortable. I can tell you where there are at least 5 Starbuck's and I know some of the major intersections, although I have yet to figure out the subway. I know where the local (and best) soft serve ice cream is and I've found at least 3 noodle shots you could write home about if you were so inclined. Yes, this place is starting to feel a bit like home for me know.

I'll keep things short as my internet is spotty now. Look for more notes to follow as I can.

Until next time...

Monday, December 02, 2019

Notes from the Rain - Notes from the Road for December 2nd

It rained today in Kyoto. Reading this, you might be thinking, "oh no, not that," but, actually, in many ways we were blessed by the rain. Now, if you've never gone shooting in the rain, there are a couple of "gotchas" you have to watch out for when in the field. For starters, everything gets wet. When I say, "everything," I do mean everything. Your camera (it will get wet, trust me on this) you shoes, your camera bag, your map, your cell phone, yup, everything gets wet, wet, wet. That's kind of how rain works, right? It's almost like, no actually it is, water falling from the sky covering everything here on earth. So, why should camera gear be immune to this?

Sometimes, it's good to have things wet. Streets, for example, look much better wet, so much so that, when they film car commercials, they sometimes hose everything down to make it look like it just rained. Moss on trees looks really cool when wet. Dry? Eh, not so much. (OK, sometimes it's cool too but, trust me on this, it really looks better when wet.) Flowers and plants generally look very cool with little water droplets on them. The rain makes people do certain things too, like carry umbrellas and wear jackets which can look really awesome when photographed. Rain actually softens the light too, and that works wonders for colors. You can get some really intense, deep color when it's raining. It's hard to shoot in the rain, yes, but you can get some interesting shots from it. I've always found rain to be very hard on the photographer, on our gear especially, but lovely if you can manage a shot. It turns you into a sort of "Babe Ruth" of photography-you often strike out but, when you get a "hit" it's out of the park good. Rain can make you miserable, yes, but it can make you pull shots out of your anatomy you didn't think you had in you.

Another side effect of rain is that a lot of times it keeps people indoors-other "normal" people don't like to be out in it. That can make things (well, except for museums, movies, and the like) kind of empty. Such was the case today in Kyoto.

We started out from hotel and decided that, because it was raining, we would try to shoot the market, since that is covered and we could walk around inside. That's one way to get out of the rain. Of course, we were not the only people with this idea. The market was packed, making for hard shooting but interesting shots nevertheless. We took a cab over to market, shot some in the morning, and then decided to go to an outdoor market (actually street area) to shoot and checkout some handicrafts, since these are usually located indoors also. The shopping wasn't our style but, over the course of our travels, we encountered not one but two temples, and we had them both pretty much to ourselves. We got to photograph both of these pretty much by ourselves, sans the typical packs of tourists that sometimes free range themselves into your shots. What a relief!

It was very pleasant shooting the quiet contemplative temples in the rain by ourselves. Almost like a meditation itself, that was. Another moment where we were lost in it, taking our time, working slowly and deliberative, working the shots. As you shoot, subtle movements can make all the difference in the world and, if you have the luxury of working slowly, of really working a location, you often find there is a lot to gain from this technique. Today, that's exactly what we did. Work slow, in the rain, in the temples, lining up the shots. No hustle, no bustle, no timelines, just camera in hand, working with the sound of the soft autumn rain as our soundtrack. In some ways, it was really a gift.

Stopped for a snack and then late afternoon headed back over to Gion to try and shoot the geisha district at dusk. Managed to get there a little late and it was packed with mobs of tourists. We did get to see some back alley streets and even shoot them too before we noticed the signs. They have signs up that you cannot photograph on the private streets there. Managed to put the cameras away and go for some tea instead. Sill really happy we got to see Gion at dusk, even if we don't have a lot of images to share for the experience. It's nice to just experience these things sometimes and we did just that.

Tomorrow, we are going to try for philosopher's path and more Gion in the daytime, possibly more shrines and temples over on the east side. It's calling for cloudy weather which might make for good foliage shots, if we can manage to find some of the red leaves.

Until next time...

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Spending a Quiet, Sunny Day in Gion - Notes from the Road

Today was a wonderful, sunny day here in Kyoto. It was really quite pleasant as we made our way around town. We opted to set out walking and then cab it back to hotel once we petered out, and this turned out to be a fabulous idea. We walked over to the Gion district which is famous for, among other things, being home to most of the geishas. We saw a few of them, but it was more about the experience of the entire district. It really was some great shooting. We stopped to have some tea and chatted with the guy from the tea spot for a while. He was really nice and we talked about Kyoto, life in Japan, Texas, New Mexico, food, and probably a bunch of other things I'm forgetting right now. This shot was taken right near the tea stop and, as you can tell, we also managed to somehow time this trip pretty well with the near peak fall foliage, at least a lot of the leaves in Kyoto right now seem to be red.

Kyoto really seems to be a magical place for photography, at least I am really loving it so far. There is just something so special about the architecture, the food, the people. Even if this trip ended tomorrow, it has been really fabulous. A fabulous experience so far and it's hardly begun, as most of our crew did not arrive just yet. Tomorrow, they start filtering in and we get to meet the other photographers, plus the artisans.

For now, for today, it was really great to spend a day outside, in the sun, walking around, cameras in tow, just taking it all in. I always say that, when I travel, I love to get lost in a place. For a time today, for a short time, I was lost in Gion and oh what a wonderful experience that was.

Until next time...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

I Have a Yen for Some Notes from the Road

Playing around with the camera on the iPhone 11, this one is actually taken from some foreign currency. Speaking of foreign currency, I must confess I have a serious yen for some ramen noodles, maybe a zen garden or two, perhaps a temple, and, heck, there's even a geisha calling my name. Yes, it's true, I'm prepping for my next photo trek. Can you guess where I'll be going?

So far, packing is going OK. I've got a new camera bag (one of these: Kelly Moore Jude Bags in case you are curious) and it seems to be better than the last, although the jury is still out on this. We'll see how it holds up on the plane, as this is the real test. At this point, it's all like stuffing, stuffing, stuffing anyway, we're past the point of order and into the final stretch here. I'm trying out a lot of new things this time around, mixing it up a bit to see what works. Meeting a friend in LA before we travel onto Osaka, Kyoto, and other points in Japan together, and she summarized it best, "Everything with the excuse that, 'oh, well, I need that for Japan' is how this trip is going." Yes, that about sums it up for me too. It's been some retail therapy cleverly (or maybe not so) disguised as a location shoot.

Ah, but those ramen noodles, they are so calling my name! What's that you say, I really didn't need that new sweater? Hey, I've got a lunch date with a geisha, did you expect me to be under dressed for this? Nah, didn't think so!

On the more mundane housekeeping front, look for more, "Notes from the Road" as I can, "Opportunity Weekend" will be on a bit of hiatus, yes, I know my top 10 list will be forthcoming, and please let's all prey my house sitter can figure out how to work the coffee pot and the TV while I'm gone, m'kay?

This time, it's me who's getting the, "safe travels and good light," well wishes. Wish me luck, for I shall travel far in the hopes of getting my next great shot. I am about to embark on my Japanese adventure. Let's hope the travel is indeed safe, the light good, the geisha in fine spirits, and the ramen place can translate my shoddy Japanese well enough to give me a bowl of soup.

Sayonara until next time...