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Analog Adventure in Tokyo

by jgermany

Election season.

Day after day, hour after hour, crisis after crisis you’ve long since lost any sense of normalcy as your reality has been engulfed by your own volition into an endless cycle of work and stress.

Finally the wave of work crashes over you – a long building torrent of tension suddenly crescendos leaving worry, stress and sleeplessness to evaporate.

So for me there was no more logical choice to go on vacation far, far away.

I had a plan.

No beaches, cruises or tropical settings.

Instead I’d travel to Tokyo, Japan.

Really it was one large excuse to eat copious amounts of sushi and take voluminous amounts of photos.

But, somewhere along the way I discovered a love for film.  My newfound affair started with a Rolleiflex T Type 1 medium format camera (circa 1958) and quickly expanded with names like, Velvia, Portra and Ilford (different types of 120 film).

The Rolleiflex is a somewhat brutal looking piece of German engineering.  It’s a TLR meaning there are two lenses, one that allows you to view the image, the other for actually taking the photo.  Their visage is such that they look the part of a STAR WARS contraption rather than a completely mechanical photographic masterpiece.

Yet the brutal machine is a romantic device – and film is a seductress.  Everything is manual.  You load the film, set it in place – push the shutter (nearly silent) and then turn the crank to advance the film.   It feels genuine.  There’s no digital metering, no autofocus, no instant gratification of seeing the moment in time you just captured on a LCD screen.  Instead you have to be careful.  You have 12 shots on a roll of 120 film – as opposed to more than a 1,000 shots using a 64 gig card in a DSLR.

The greatest sensation you receive when using the Rolleiflex is in composing your shot.  You look down unto ground glass, where the image is reversed much like a mirror.  Every reaction to the scene you make during composition must be opposite to what you see on the screen.  It’s a hauntingly disconnected feeling, yet at the click of the shutter you feel like you accomplished a great heist, stealing a moment in time.  It feels good.

So good in fact, that after several days of taking both the Rolleiflex and my Canon 5D Mark II on adventures around Tokyo, I gamely decided to let the Canon rest at the hotel.

It was a good decision.  At the end of the day I shot 20 rolls of film – the results of which tell a far better story of Tokyo than the hundreds of digital clicks from the first two days of my trip.

Film is not without it’s traps and challenges.  Operating a 52-year-old camera without a manual can be a bit of a challenge.  I didn’t load the film properly on a number of rolls leading to scratches on the negative.  But even with scratches the film still had beauty.  Finding the correct exposure was the biggest challenge.  I had to use a light meter and then many times just guess on my shutter speed and F-stop for a given situation.

Film is also complicated on the backside.  You have to get the film processed with each type of film requiring a different development process (B+W Negative, Color Negative, Color Transparency).  If you are truly enterprising you can develop the film yourself.  Even after developing, you need to scan your film and then process it further in Lightroom just as I do my digital files.  It’s a labor of love.

While I’ve dipped my toes into the realm of film photography, I’m still a staunch digital supporter in the field of motion picture. 35mm motion picture film is a truly majestic aesthetic, yet one unattainable for most budgets.

Over the last two years there has been an arms race among camera manufactures to produce digital cinema cameras that allow cinematographers to produce near film quality looks at dramatic cost savings.  On the high end, the RED camera is an equal to 35mm film in resolution.  The canon 5D Mark II has an aesthetic quality rivaling film because it is capable of greater shallow depth of film.  This winter, both Panasonic and Sony will introduce new camera bodies that use cinema glass.  Innovation is coming fast and furious.

Film versus digital is a grand rolling debate, in both the photo and motion picture world.  But there are no right answers.  They are just tools, different cameras, formats, processes and they all have their place.  I’m just happy to have rediscovered the joy of composing using film while on a wonderful adventure in Japan.

Please enjoy a selection of photos I took using my Rolleiflex:

(The complete set can be found here.)

Velvia film yields amazing saturation of colors.  The colorful face was part of larger advertisement in a long underground corridor running through Western Shinjuku.

Tokyo is a mammoth city crawling with people.  I was particularly struck by how many salarymen just tend to wander around aimlessly engulfed yet isolated in a city of millions.

Shibuya station is a busy crossroads and social hub.

I was fortunate enough to capture this moment from a traditional Japanese wedding being held at the Meji Shrine.

This is Hideo Asano.  He’s a former journalist who covered the civil war in Afghanistan, a novelist and a Haiku poet.  He’s also homeless.  We met in Ueno Park, this is his portrait.

A perfect moment.  A large wringed crowd had gathered in Ueno park to see this street performer.  I snuck towards the front to snap a pic and he spied me and struck a pose just as I did.

Cyclist in Shibuya.  It feels as if the whole city is on his tail ready to swallow him whole.

I read somewhere that 1 in 10 Japanese own a Louis Vuitton product.  Tokyo residents’ materialism is ever-present.

Spying an acrobat through the crowd.

Julie Germany – the film scratches and backlighting are haunting but beautiful.

Self-portrait.