A Contest

I haven’t entered a photo contest for some ten years. When I first came to Japan, I had no idea of how to start working on getting my photographs published. I was a newcomer with nothing but a selection of slides I had brought with me and several publication credits in North America. So I entered photo contests to see what that would get me. Naturally, I received twice as many rejections than placements, but the times I placed, even as nyusen 入選(accepted for the exhibition but no prize) or shinsain shoreisho 審査員奨励賞(judge’s award of encouragement), meant my photographs would be exhibited in a gallery or hall and I could add a small notch of achievement to my CV.

Once a stock agency (Ainoa) took on handling my photographs, I was encouraged by a magazine editor to no longer enter contests as it would not look good if someone recognized me as a “professional” but with a low placement in a contest. “Now’s the time for people to start asking you to submit photos, not the other way around.”

However, recently I have not been doing much in the professional department and a friend told me about the Canon New Cosmos of Photography Contest. We looked at the previous winners and had a derisive chuckle over the selected images. Some were appalling, nothing more than point-and-shot snaps of someone’s lunch or friends posing at the beach. What was this rubbish? But the prize money was impressive and provided a juicy enough carrot for the both of us to consider entering.

I toyed with the idea of some joke themes at first (holding the camera over my shoulder and shooting randomly) but then considered seriously the purpose of the contest, which was to show images that were only possible through photography. How about images edited in iPhone apps? The iPhone idea intrigued me. These days, people are capturing marvellous images on very expensive cameras and then editing them in software until they look like paintings. But the camera phone allows people to shoot many fleeting moments that most would otherwise have missed. In fact, I had only recently supposed that we are all becoming “Big Brother” because we are all watching and recording moments (usually of embarrassment) of other people’s lives. That gave me an idea!

My theme for the contest became “images of people behaving as they would in private on the train platforms and in the trains.” For short, I used the album title by a band called Dark Suns and replaced the word “grave” with the word “train”: “Train Human Genuine”. The images were all iPhone snaps of people behaving either a little too privately or inconsiderately at the train stations or on the trains, plus some of people captured at interesting and decisive moments. In a way, I wanted to show how Japanese people’s manners in public can be at times not so proper and exemplary. It was to be a sort of photo journalism piece of real people in commute.

But there was one problem: the contest stipulated that any recognizable human subjects should give permission to having their photograph entered in the contest. I did not know who these people were and had never spoken to them. I decided to try to edit their faces to conceal their identity. The result was some poor efforts at concealing their eyes.

Well, my submission was out in the first round of judging. There were some possible reasons why: the people were still too recognizable; the bad job of distorting their eyes spoiled the effect of the photos; the submission just wasn’t impressive enough; the submission just wasn’t surprisingly mundane enough; the iPhone-captured images weren’t approvable by Canon; showing Japanese people’s bad manners would not make for a good winning submission; and others. So, the next best thing I can do for now is share my submission here with the titles I gave each image. So, here it is:

Train Human Genuine

Ascending Priority - Every day in stations across Japan, disembarking passengers flood the staircases, completely ignoring the descending priority sign. People like me who occasionally have to rush down the steps to reach the train often need strong shoulders to force our way down the descending priority stairs through the dumbwalkers staring at their feet or phones.

Ascending Priority – Every day in stations across Japan, disembarking passengers flood the staircases, completely ignoring the descending priority sign. People like me who occasionally have to rush down the steps to reach the train often need strong shoulders to force our way down the descending priority stairs through the dumbwalkers staring at their feet or phones.

Her Choice - Not an example of bad behaviour at all but rather not an unusual scene in Japan. However, recently the news reported that young people entering seaside stations had to be told to change their clothes as many attempted to board the train in sandy, wet, revealing beach wear. Maybe I needed some shots of bikini-clad babes.

Her Choice – Not an example of bad behaviour at all but rather not an unusual scene in Japan. However, recently the news reported that young people entering seaside stations had to be told to change their clothes as many attempted to board the train in sandy, wet, revealing beach wear. Maybe I needed some shots of bikini-clad babes.

His Secret - Again, not bad behaviour but an amusing coincidence. A man sits beneath an advertisement for a TV program "Youkai Ningen", roughly translated as "Monster Human"

His Secret – Again, not bad behaviour but an amusing coincidence. A man sits beneath an advertisement for a TV program “Yokai Ningen”, roughly translated as “Monster Human”

Otsukare 1 - After a hard day's work in Japan, people say, "Otsukare-sama", an acknowledgement of their fatigue from their efforts. This man was really shagged out. He was alive; I checked! But when the train finally came (over 40 minutes late), he didn't get up. I think he had fallen asleep.

Otsukare 1 – After a hard day’s work in Japan, people say, “Otsukare-sama”, an acknowledgement of their fatigue from their efforts. This man was really shagged out. He was alive; I checked that he was breathing! But when the train finally came (over 40 minutes late), he didn’t get up. I think he had fallen asleep.

Otsukare 2 - Another guy who is probably very glad that the day is done.

Otsukare 2 – Another guy who is probably very glad that the day is done.

Our Space - Two young ladies take up the priority seats meant for elderly, pregnant or disabled passengers. Two girls, four seats. When an elderly woman boarded the train she politely yet firmly requested a seat. The girls obliged without looking up or saying anything.

Our Space – Two young ladies take up the priority seats meant for elderly, pregnant or disabled passengers. Two girls, four seats. When an elderly woman boarded the train she politely yet firmly requested a seat. The girls obliged without looking up or saying anything.

Special Notice - This message intrigued me as it flashed across the message board. The full message announced that a train was delayed due to an act of violence committed against the station staff.

Special Notice – This message intrigued me as it flashed across the board. The full message announced that a train was delayed due to an act of violence committed against the station staff.

No One Offered Her a Seat - It's very common to see young people and some middle-aged commuters seated with their eyes closed, while elderly passengers or mothers carrying babies stand until someone alert and awake notices. This elderly woman seemed not to care about being without a seat as she quite comfortably squatted by the door.

No One Offered Her a Seat – It’s very common to see young people and some middle-aged commuters seated with their eyes closed, while elderly passengers or mothers carrying babies stand until someone alert and awake notices. This elderly woman seemed not to care about being without a seat as she quite comfortably squatted by the door.

The Dance of Commuter Feet - The arrangement of the different pairs of feet gave me the impression of a kind of dance. Shortly after snapping this scene, the young woman with her feet pointed inwards changed her position.

The Dance of Commuter Feet – The arrangement of the different pairs of feet gave me the impression of a kind of dance. Shortly after snapping this scene, the young woman with her feet pointed inwards changed her position.

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