Category Archives: business end of a lens

Waxing Apples

Gordo Bennett is the mastermind behind GorMusik, a music project that combines Gordo’s blazing fretboard skills with his exquisite use of orchestration software (this means that Gordo can compose music that sounds like a symphony orchestra or components of an orchestra are playing). Gordo has been playing guitar since the seventies and performed in bands for many years. In more recent years, he was a part of a project called Simplexity, from which he then departed in order to work on his solo project, GorMusik, which released its debut “Fun in Outer Space“.

More recently, Gordo took part in and played an integral role in the creation of the music on the Colin Tench Project album, “Hair in a G-String“. As well, he arranged music for Josh Leibowitz and Ronald Marquiss and is a contributing composer for the United Progressive Fraternity project. After a busy 2016, Gordo turned his attention toward his next two projects: GorMusik’s forthcoming sophomore release “Progtopolis” and another project called GorFusion.

Gordo and I have been friends via Facebook for some time now, and he has shared not only his music with me but also my photography with others. To show my appreciation for his friendship, last November I sent him a copy of my book “Earth Cycles”. Little could I have guessed that he would send me a message asking me to do the track artwork for his next release, a GorFusion track entitled “Waxed Apples”.

Photography for me has nearly always been “found” photography; I photograph what I see while exploring the outdoors. But here was a concept piece. I had to think about not only an image of waxed apples but how to create such an image in a way that was both album artwork-like and that Gordo would feel suited his work. I had some ideas and looked forward to trying them out.

My image was exactly of waxed apples – heavily waxed, far too waxed. I considered the wax dripping off. That was easy enough to put together. Just melt some wax, dip the apples, place them in a basket on my dining table and shoot. But it was not to be so simple. No stores sold only wax, and so I had to buy a box of white candles and break a few of them into a foil-lined cooking receptacle, like the kind you use to heat milk, and place that in a pot of water for boiling. Our all-electric stove top only accepts certain types of crockery, so melting wax in an empty coffee tin like I did at day camp when I was a kid was not an option.

It took much longer to melt all the candles than I expected. Also, my kids were using the dining table, and so as an alternative I arranged a small table in my workroom, placing it by my window where sunlight was shining through the curtains. The background was a cluttered mess, so I placed a photo frame box in behind the table and hung a plain sweatshirt over it.

When the wax was finally melted, I dipped the apples in and arranged them in a bowl (my mother-in-law’s) and tried a couple of shots.


Then one of the wax coatings popped off as I rearranged one apple. I redipped it in the melted wax, but by now the wax was thickening and the dipped apple became gloppy. Perhaps this was the right look of “disgusting”?


How about taking a bite out of one apple? Ugh! Wax on my teeth after that!


I sent some shots over to Gordo to hear his opinion. He said he preferred the shots where the apples looked like apples. The sun had moved and the light was no longer optimal. Next week I’d try again. For now, all the wax shells could easily be pulled off.


For the next session, I suggested including the band name in there somewhere. Gordo wanted to add GorFusion as well, if I could pull it off. I thought I could easily carve the name in an unwaxed apple that Gordo suggested be in the photo and maybe I could somehow write in the wax of another apple. But this was more challenging than I first believed. Scraping the wax with a hole piercing tool from the screwdriver set, I learned pressing too hard could fracture the wax shell, but too delicately would require carving over the same path several times. Also, I had less success with getting a clean bite in the wax. It also cracked! In the end, this session served to be only another series of test shots. Oh, and my mother-in-law had been given her bowl back, so I had to use a basket that my wife cautioned me not to mess up with wax.


Both GorMusik and GorFusion needed to stand out more clearly. In addition, I was learning that I had to see where the shadows of the curtains were falling at all times so that important areas were not being under lit. Then there was light falling into the basket that had to be blocked, then background had to be checked for shadows and light and wrinkles, and I had to try reflecting light on the darker side of the set up by using a white envelope that was at hand. I shot nearly a dozen frames for each new idea as all the important details were considered, monitored and checked, and apples were adjusted so as to show off their important features (name etching and bites) just right without giving it away that they were only half covered in wax!

By the third time round, I thought I had it, except that the apples I bought were bigger and somehow the wax didn’t adhere so thickly after one dip. Gordo liked the shots but pointed out that the bitten apple didn’t look waxed.



Stooping over my camera in a cramped space with my computer on behind me, I was shooting, checking, adjusting, uploading, selecting, and emailing photographs. At last, Gordo said he was happy with this one. And by the way, I had learned to bite first, then dip in the wax, removing the wax after it had hardened. But I also added some cosmetic work by carefully improving the shape of the bite with a knife. I also had to keep going back to the bite to carve out oxidizing spots that had turned brown.


I felt there was little better I could do with my camera as I had already tried so much. But I had a nagging feeling that there was more to be achieved. And yet I don’t have Photoshop and do very little photo editing. What could I do to push the final image a step further?

I decided to try something using Instagram’s filters. I used two different filters and made some additional adjustments, then sent them to Gordo. He was stunned. He said he particularly loved this one.

I had to admit, I was finally feeling that we were reaching somewhere. Gordo lamented not adding in bassist Joe Serwinowski’s name. At first I thought I’d have to leave it up to him as my lack of photo editing skills left me incapable. But then I recalled the app Juxtaposer which allows you to layer two images and erase the top image as much as you need to create the image of a single photo out of the two shots.

During a Friday lunch break, I tried to see if I could pull it off. Just as an experiment, I wrote Joe Serwinowski Trout & Bass (a play on the fish and the instrument – duh), and snapped an iPhone shot of the paper on a table by a window. I was concerned about getting the right lighting to match the conditions in the original photograph and thankfully noticed that in front of the basket there was a patch of shade. I ran the snap through the same Instagram filter and made some adjustments for colour and tone.

This was a bit roughly done. This was just a test. The final result using Juxtaposer was this:

I sent it off to Gordo immediately because he was officially releasing the track Friday evening his time in Buffalo NY and it was already Friday afternoon for me in Japan. If the music was going to be ready for listening and downloading by then, I wanted the artwork to be ready. The image received Gordo’s unreserved approval. I offered to redo the scrap of paper more neatly but he said it was great the way it was.

Thus, my sessions with waxing apples came to an end. No more need to mess up pots and the kitchen counter with wax. I can’t look at the image myself and see it as artwork for a piece of music. I see it as something I’d been fiddling with and finally made for an Instagram post. However, it is a proud moment to say that I’ve done my first piece of work for commercially released music. Most importantly, Mr. Gordo Bennett is pleased with the result!

The true reward for me was the whole process of formulating a concept and working it through with Gordo, bouncing ideas off each other and trying to make them part of the developing concept, and then finally seeing all the ideas come together in an image that I feel superseded what I had first believed myself capable of achieving.

Waxed Apples!

Deep Into Kurobe

I have to share three brief news items here.

1. NHK World – Journeys in Japan

Deep Into Kurobe. My third job with Journeys in Japan. Watch the preview!

2. 100 Mountains of Japan

The photo book of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains has been re-released with my photo appearing in place of the mistaken photo of Kasagatake.

3. A photo of mine will appear on a TV program on Sunday, October 1. The program’s name is 「出没!アド街ック天国」. 

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Previously, I reported that a new photo book of the Japan Hyakumeizan – One Hundred (Famous) Mountains of Japan – had been published and one of my photographs appears in the book. Very excited about the book’s release, I hurried to purchase a copy only days after it went on sale. Then the story became more interesting.

My stock agency contacted me with questions about a mountain in the Kita Alps known as Kasagatake. As with the photo in the book, they asked me to identify the summit and confirm that the mountain in the photo was Kasagatake of Hyakumeizan fame. I asked what was going on, somehow imagining that perhaps some new interest had come to my photographs or the Hyakumeizan mountains. The story was as follows:

The photo of Kasagatake in the book was provided by another stock agency and it was the wrong mountain. Kasagatake is in Gifu Prefecture but the photo in the book was of a Sanbyakumeizan (300 Famous Mountains – there’s a 101 to 200 list and a 201 to 300 list) that also goes by Kasagatake. The location on the map, the elevation, and the brief summary of the mountain were all correct for the intended mountain but the photo was of a different peak.


Kasagatake of Nagano, mistaken for Kasagatake the Hyakumeizan of Gifu

So the publisher was looking for a photo of the correct mountain and as it turned out, I had three with the agency. As I had it explained to me, the book is going to be reprinted with the correct photo. It still won’t be for some months but when the reprint comes out, I will have two photos in the book!

To Call a Magan

From January 16th to the 17th, I visited Osaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, the next bullet train stop north of Sendai. I was asked to be a foreign travel reporter for a TV program called “Mizu no Kuni Nipppon – Japan: the Country of Water” to be aired on a television station in Kumamoto, the station being part of the Fuji Sankei Group. The program would also be aired a week or two later on Fuji Television during the late night.

I met up with the director, assistant director, sound engineer and camera operator when I boarded the bullet train at Omiya Station in Saitama, and we rode through the morning mist in Utsunomiya, past the cloud-covered peaks of Bandaisan and Adatarayama, and the clear white summit of Azumasan, on past snowy fields to the bare brown fields north of Sendai. From the train station, two people working for Osaki City Hall’s land use and environmental department took us off to the rural areas outside the city.

Our first real stop was Mototaki, a waterfall located in a hidden alcove carved out in layers of volcanic tuff in the small mountain mass of Kagoboyama (加護防山). The water seeping through the layers of tuff was barely a trickle but it was clear and naturally filtered and enriched with minerals leached from the rock.



As we were visiting the area – me shooting away with my camera and the camera operator busy filming this and that – the local caretaker came to the shrine located before the falls. The director said this would be a great chance to speak to a local and ask about the significance of the water. I greeted the old man and first asked if the rock was indeed volcanic tuff. He immediately replied that it wasn’t and that there were no volcanoes around here (I later checked a geologic map of the mountain on the web and found that it truly was tuff). Next I asked about the significance of the shrine. He went on to explain a lot about how in the old days people came here for the New Year’s traditions and the water used to be used for the rice paddies below. These days few people come and the water in the fields is recycled water from the river. I understood that much anyway, but there were many times I couldn’t catch a thing and only looked at him and smiled in interest. After he left, the director said, “I think I understood only half of what he said.” Everyone else concurred. The man had spoken in some local dialect. “If we use that part for the program we’ll have to use subtitles,” said the director.

Closer view of Mototaki

Closer view of Mototaki

Next we drove to the top of the mountain. In the old days, there used to be a shrine on the summit; however, it burned down. We saw some unnatural mounds in the ground and some large stones place in the ground with hollow bowls carved out. These stones used to be for the main support pillars. Ironically, the name Kagoboyama includes the Kanji for “Add”, “Preservation”, and “Protection”. It seems the mountain didn’t live up to its name when the shrine burned down; due to a drought, there was not enough water at the time to douse the fire!

View from Kagoboyama

View from Kagoboyama

We drove down to visit the wide tapestry of rice paddies below. It was unusual to see fields that still retained water during the winter months. Usually the rice paddies are left dry in winter. But here parts were muddy and wet, and a type of wild goose called magan in Japanese and swans waddled about in the mud, searching for rice grains that had dropped off during the previous autumn’s harvest.

Water in the winter fields

Water in the winter fields

As I was to learn, this visitation of water fowl was a crucial aspect for the local rice farming industry. For the time being, however, we drove around and I was filmed walking about and photographing or we went in search of birds in the fields to shoot for the program.

Magan in flight

Magan in flight

As evening approached, we went over to see the Kabukuri Marsh (蕪栗沼)where the birds would all come to roost for the night. The weather had been mixed sun and cloud during the day but the clouds were taking over the sky and a bitter wind blew in from the northwest. A Mr. Saito had been arranged to come and meet with me on the dyke overlooking the marsh. He described how in old times people thought the wild geese and wild ducks were the same creature. But then they learned more about the geese. The birds are actually from Siberia but they come to Japan in the winter and try to fatten up. They eat the dropped rice grains in the paddies mostly. Mr. Saito explained how the farmers made great effort to keep water in the fields in winter to provide the birds with a wetland environment and a source of food. I saw how this benefited the birds, but what did human beings stand to gain from this magnanimous activity? I asked but Mr. Saito suddenly looked awkward and said to the director, “He should just ask me about how we look after the birds.” So I did and got the explanation about how the farmers help the NPO people by observing the birds and keeping records.

As he spoke, the sun began spreading a beautiful orange light between the clouds. I was shivering in the wind and eager to start shooting. At last Mr. Saito wrapped up his story and gestured for us to enjoy the evening light as dozens of flocks of geese came in to feather down for the night.

Geese come in to roost at Kakikabu Marsh

Geese come in to roost at Kabukuri Marsh



As darkness fell, we wrapped up the day’s shooting and headed into town for our hotel rooms and dinner out together.

The following morning we awoke to rain. Nevertheless, we returned to the dyke to watch the birds take to the skies, flock by flock, and start their day.

IFOnce the morning shoot had concluded, the clouds began to stir and soon the sun came out. The crew had to film some scenes of the car driving down the road past the paddies, so I had an hour to kill, roaming about the area until it was time to move on.



We spent some of the morning driving about, looking for scenes of geese to film and visiting another small shrine nearby, though there was not so much for me to do at this time. I just followed along and photographed as much as I could.

Geese in a rice paddie

Magan in a rice paddy

The next big scene for me was meeting Mr. Nishizawa, one of the local rice farmers. He was out tending to one of his fields, making sure water was being diverted into the paddy and being retained by dams of clay.

Mr. Nishizawa at work

Mr. Nishizawa at work

At last I was to learn the secret importance of this operation. In a document from a few hundred years ago, the words “fuyumizu tanbo” (ふゆみず田んぼ) showed up in an explanation about farming practices. It seems that during the Edo Period, local farmers flooded their fields in winter to attract the magan. The birds ate the fallen rice grains and in turn their excrement provided fertilizer. Additionally, the water in the field keeps the mud from freezing and microscopic organisms can continue doing their thing all year just as in the marsh. This means the previous year’s stalks become soft and easily decompose, adding more nutrients to the mud. Crayfish, freshwater eels (dojo), and other larger aquatic critters keep the ecosystem active, too. The net result is more fertile mud for planting and growing rice in the following spring and no chemical fertilizers are necessary.


Mr. Nishizawa invited me to his home for lunch. Well, that was part of the script, so to speak. His house was very new and a little expensive-looking. I asked him how new his house was and he responded that it was built after the 11-3-11 earthquake. Many old farm houses in the area had been badly damaged by the earthquake, but after the tsunami hit, the news focused entirely on that extraordinary catastrophe.

I was served rice balls of just the fuyumizu tanbo rice and I have to honestly say it tasted really good. I felt I could just eat this rice for lunch and be satisfied. But the real winner was the Chinese cabbage. The entire crew agreed that it was so crisp and juicy and served naturally it was a delight. The cabbage was from his garden and watered with water from his well where the mineral-enriched water from Kagoboyama flowed.

After lunch we set off to shoot some more scenes of magan in the fields and then stopped at the Kabukuri Marsh for more bird views. The sunny weather wasn’t going to last as a cold wind blew a messy mass of snow-laden clouds our way.


As we drove north, the snow began blowing horizontally. Our last stop was a sake plant  where they made Japanese rice wine using the fuyumizu tanbo rice. Normally, rice wine is made with a different kind of rice than what is used for mealtime consumption. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of how rice wine is made, I was treated to a glass of the local brew. I can drink sake but I don’t order myself. However, this stuff was actually really good. I was considering buying a bottle when I was told that we were out of time and I had to get back into town to catch my train. As I was quickly being ushered out the door, my tour guide of the plant came rushing up to me with a big bottle of fuyumizu tanbo rice wine.

The short trip was certainly informative, and even though I wasn’t able to capture any views that I consider among my best work, I enjoyed the time I had to photograph and look around at the local scenery.

I am still waiting to hear when the program will be aired. There was a lot of follow up work, including finding photos of myself when I was younger, but the lines have been quiet for a week now and the initial broadcasting in Kumamoto was said to occur in late February. I will update this post when I know more information. For now, I am enjoying a small glass of fuyumizu tanbo saki while I prepare dinner on my days off.

Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock in Print

This week the June issue of “Nippon Kamera” has landed itself on bookstore shelves, and within the portfolio pages near the front appears my contribution of photographs.

Entitled “Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock”, the portfolio consists of six images captured in Utah and Nevada during my visit to that area in October of 2010. On pages 82 and 83, all contributors to the portfolio pages are shown in a small mug shot along with a brief text explaining their portfolio and a briefer bio. I received a complementary copy on Saturday and was very excited to see how my latest published piece turned out.

The first thing I noticed and greatly appreciated was the reproduction quality of the images. My photographs are tack sharp and the colour is great. In one image of very strong reds and oranges, it is a little difficult to discern the details in the setting; however, this is not a fault in the printing but a result of the very warm light of the sunrise shining on the rust-coloured sandstone. That the location is The Valley of Fire makes is very appropriate to have such flaming colours. In particular, I like a photo of two rock towers in Bryce Canyon because the direct sunlight and reflected light offer good contrasts in lighting and wonderful details in the rocks. This spectacular crispness of detail I attribute to the fact that five of the images were captured with my Tachihara 4×5 and the one other image with my Bronica 645. Nothing like medium and large format for sharp images in a magazine page. Nippon Kamera’s scanning must also be really good.

Regarding the photographs, I have only two disappointments. The first is that Zion Canyon, which became one of my favourite places I have ever visited, was represented here in a solitary image of a stone in wet mud near the placid waters of the Virgin River North Fork. All those awesome cliffs and canyon walls reflecting orange or blue light that I had desired so much to see in print were not selected. The other disappointment is that the final image of a rock known as a “Bee Hive” in The Valley of Fire is printed on the page opposite an advertisement featuring a young woman in a very active and dynamic pose. The poor rock, no matter how beautiful, can hardly compete! Couldn’t they have put a less eye-catching image on that page?

The explanatory text was sadly edited down from over 1,100 characters to just over 300. The original text contrasted the rather vertical geologic history of Japan with mountains rising and volcanoes collapsing to the mostly horizontal geologic history of the centre of North America with sedimentary layers from seas, deserts, deltas, and river valleys piling up over millions of years before being uplifted and fractured and cut by rivers. I had to strip away paragraph after paragraph until only a brief summary of the geologic history of the area (the Colorado Plateau) remained.

As for my short bio, here is where the most surprises showed up. I was asked to provide a bio which I did. However, what was printed was a combination of parts of what I had submitted and snippets from my Japanese blog. I had noticed a few weeks ago that someone had been visiting that blog, using my name for the search. Some changes are as follows:

My Tachihara field camera became a Linhof field camera.

I wrote that I came to Japan in 1999. The magazine says 1997 (a vacation trip only).

The magazine mentions that I visited New Zealand. Fair enough. What about all the other countries I have visited? But since they published my New Zealand photographs previously it kind of makes sense.

I wrote that I had self-published a book on the Japan Alps. The magazine mentions my books “Earth Tones” and “Earth Cycles” as well as an older POD book from many years ago called “Nature Song”. This was my earliest effort at self-publishing and done more for fun than anything else because the cost was not economical. I was hoping to promote the Alps book the most.

Finally, they wrote that I am a member of the All Japan Alpine Photography Association and the Society for Scientific Photography in Japan. I requested time out while my daughter was young and did not pay my membership dues for the last two years. Only just this month did I reactivate my membership with the Society for Scientific Photography.

Overall though, there’s plenty to be pleased about. As Michael Saddler of the Canadian rock band Saga once said, “As long as they get the name right.” In the end I am the only one who will care about the erroneous information anyway.

Check out the latest issue of “Nippon Kamera 日本カメラ” in book stores now!

Some of my photographs in Nippon Kamera magazine. Image created with Diptic app for iPhone.

Some of my photographs in Nippon Kamera magazine. Image created with Diptic app for iPhone.

Coming Soon: The Kingdom of Sandstone

The June issue of Nihon Kamera (日本カメラ) should feature some of my photographs from my trip to Nevada and Utah in October of 2010 (which I never finished writing about).

I sent a submission to the magazine back in August, 2011. After a few months without a word, I contacted the magazine in February, 2012 and asked what the status of my submission was. I was told that they were holding on to the photographs and short text and still considering it. For nearly a year I kept thinking about calling. I became worried because in 2010 and ’11, I had four submissions at three other publications disappear – something that had never happened to me in all my years of submitting photographs to magazines. I called at last this January but the editor was unavailable.

I called again a week later and was told the same thing, though the person with whom I spoke gave me his name. Three weeks passed before I called once more, this time asking for the person who had given me his name. He was out at the time. Finally, I called a fourth time, and this time when I was told he was out I explained my situation to the woman on the line. She asked me to wait a moment and then, without given his name or a greeting, a cheerful man came on the line sounding as if we’d already been talking long enough to be on good speaking terms that such trivialities as usual Japanese phone manners were not necessary. I didn’t mind his informal way; his news was what I had been hoping to hear.

The man told me that they were thinking about running my photographs in the June issue. He confirmed that they had my email address (my submissions always include postal address, telephone number and email address but every time I am asked anyway) and said that they would send a PDF later on and ask me then to check it over and provide any essential information not yet included. I am sure my tone of voice conveyed my gratitude more than my words could carry.

The photographs are from Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire in Nevada and Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah. The text contrasts the rather violent and vertical orogeny of Japan’s geologic history with the somewhat sedate sedimentary layering and fluvial erosion of this region of North America, whose periods of volcanic activity and tectonic uplift are not as dramatic as the creation of the Japan Archipelago. Due to the eons of peaceful sedimentation and erosion these spectacular canyons were able to form.

This will be the second time a portfolio of my photographs appears in Nihon Kamera. Previously eight images from New Zealand’s South Island were published.

Not Much to Wrap Up This Year

For the last three months now, I have been trying to come up with a decent next post. I wanted to write about something positive for my present situation, a kind of “keeping the spirit alive” post. This year has been one of slowing cutting back and going into a kind of hibernation. What things I gave up last year – memberships in photo associations, magazine subscriptions, being on a submission list – were augmented further this year as my activity in photography shrank to even lesser levels. In a way, it is difficult to avoid thoughts such as, “I used to climb and photograph mountains,” or “In my 30’s, I traveled, photographed, and was regularly published.” I have to keep reminding myself that this period of low activity is only temporary and that within a year or two I will slowly rebuild my busy-ness.

So, let me consider what the year 2012 brought me in positive respects. I managed at least two day trip outings this year and climbed my 32nd “Hyakumeizan”. I also made time here and there to get out and shoot local scenery around Konosu/Gyoda/Kumagaya, Ina Town, and Higashi Matsuyama in Saitama. These short outings afforded me the opportunity to simply enjoy using my camera and spending sometime with nothing more to do than enjoy a walk in fresh air with charming scenery around. I have yet to compile enough images for any kind of project, however, it has given me a purpose to continue photographing even in areas close to where I live and work.

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Though I sent out only one submission this year and it was returned unpublished, I still managed to get in print in three publications. Fuji Film Japan used an image of mine for the cover of their magazine, an image that was picked out from the stock agency that has many of my images. And Yama-to-Keikoku magazine ran a few of my images in a magazine supplement in January and then asked me to participate in a discussion which was later published in September. I still have one submission out there and I am hoping for positive results.

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Finally, a big thanks to the Kakizawa Clinic in Kumagaya for using my photographs as decoration in the clinic. Every three months a new selection of five images is chosen and displayed and thanks to them I have maintained at least a meager income.

I guess one thing that has helped with regards to “keeping the spirit alive” this year was the purchase of a DSLR. With this I have been able to continue enjoying photography without having to consider the cost of film. Though I still prefer the colour of film, I have taken the liberty of experimenting more with the camera again and that has been fun.

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

It’s hard to think clearly about my plans for next year. I always prepare a list around the New Year and a rough schedule which gets revised once in the summer and once again in October. I have a list already started and one of the top priorities is to push my manager (busy as she always is) to correct my write-ups about foreigners who love climbing mountains in Japan. I had so thought it could be all done by the end of the summer but various troubles cropped up at work this year, including an employee off in hospital for a month, and even when I leave work after 10 P.M. she is sometimes still there. So I hesitate to ask her to get started on checking over my Japanese.

So, here’s where 2012 ends on this blog. I hope to be back in January with a report about a day trip to Harunasan in Gunma and who knows what else.

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama




I like it when I feel like I am busy with photography related work. It doesn’t happen often but on occasion I’ll have a few things going on around the same time. Take last week for example. I received payment for my published photos in Yama-to-Keikoku’s Mountaineers Data Book and my photographs and book on the Japan Alps were returned; I completed a submission about an acquaintance’s English garden and sent the photographs and story off by courier to a gardening magazine that has previously published my work; I sold two of my books, This Little Corner; I received the next selection request for photographs to be hung in a doctor’s clinic (we change the photographs every two months); and I could look forward to beginning my next big project: the translation of profiles of foreign mountaineers climbing in Japan. In addition, I have to prepare my gear for an outing on the 11th to Nikko’s Nantaisan. Yes, it’s good to feel like a lot is going on.

Whenever I submit materials on spec to a magazine, I feel like a salesman going door to door, peddling the wares he represents. I am not actually a good salesperson. My father was a very successful insurance salesman and my sister is making great money selling business software. But I prefer to make photographs and write articles and send them off to magazines, hoping that an editor will like what I have produced and agree to publish it.

So, how is it that I feel like a salesman? Because sometimes I have to go “door to door” in order to find the right customer. No, I don’t literally visit publishers and magazines, but I do send stuff out and more often than not it gets returned to me, unaccepted for publishing. I don’t, however, let that kill my idea. I’ll modify the text a little and write a new cover letter and send the package off to another prospective magazine. And sometimes it is my second try where I get lucky and find a paying customer.

I once sent a portfolio of images and a story about the Japan Alps off to Photo Life in Canada. When they returned the submission I turned around and sent it to Outdoor Photography in the U.K. The story and five photographs appeared in the January 2006 issue. When Asahi Kamera in Japan said my New Zealand landscapes were too orthodox, I sent them off to Nihon Kamera and got eight pages in their February 2010 issue. Photo Life also returned my article entitled, “Confessions of a Mountain Photographer,” (what is it with those guys rejecting me?) but it found a home in the pages of Nature Photographer in the U.S.

Sometimes I have a good feeling about who will accept what. It largely comes from a bit of market research, where I check out a few issues before submitting or planning a submission. Currently, I am hoping and praying that Nihon Kamera will want to use my story on the sedimentary rock empire of the western U.S. (Utah and Nevada photographs specifically). I called them two weeks ago and they asked if I could wait a little while longer for a reply.

But other times, there is only great disappointment. The impregnable editorial office of Photo Life rejected a third submission of mine about cultural differences in photographic approaches of landscapes. I had high hopes because their magazine specifically advertised on the cover that they published stories related to the culture of photography. I thought my idea was taking theirs very directly. Perhaps they just didn’t like the photographs.

I initially contacted Outdoor Photography in Canada with a couple of ideas in 2008. The editor was keen on my ideas and I submitted a couple more. There was talk about a profile piece on me, which later evolved into a possible ex-pat piece by late 2009. But by the end of 2011 the direction shifted more to returning my slides, something that has yet to happen though. Outdoor Photography U.K. received a tailored piece (UK specific) about photographing rocks – a kind of geology as art piece – from me but it got lost, as did another rock art piece I sent to a magazine in Tokyo. Asahi Kamera rejected my second submission to them, so now I am planning a third one that will hopefully be a little more attention-grabbing. And while Gakujin has warmly received both of my submissions to them, the end result was that my initial submission was returned unpublished but two very different pieces got printed instead.

So, one never truly knows what is going to make an editor take notice and plan to save some pages for your work. I do my best to look through magazines before submitting to them but it’s an uncertain world. Sometimes you have to follow closely along with what gets published; other times you have to think outside the box to call attention to yourself. The only thing I can keep doing as a salesman is to keep searching for publications where I think my work has a chance of being chosen. And when one door closes I have to go knocking on the next one that seems most likely to open.

Salesman where you gonna go to sell all of your goods today
Yup, salesman, gonna walk along the street, see friends along the way
Hey, salesman, with your wooden cart that you push along while you walk
Hey, salesman with your secret goods that you push while you talk
You always wear a smile,
Even though you’ve gotta walk a hundred ten miles
Short life span – but the whole thing’s grand

Salesman – The Monkees

Earthquake – My story in Gakujin magazine

Earlier this year, I submitted a portfolio of Rocky Mountain photographs and a short essay to Gakujin (岳人) magazine. After some time, they called me and said they liked the photographs and the captions and essay were all fine but could I send them a short essay about the March 11th earthquake and why I was still in Japan (did I love Japanese mountains so much that I wanted to stay and continue shooting them or something like that). They also asked for a few photos of Japanese mountains and a photograph of me.

I had a story already in mind because I tried to get a newspaper in my Canadian hometown interested in my experiences on the day of the quake and the following weeks. I quickly wrote out my ideas and asked my manager at work to check over my Japanese. I sent the essay along with some photos from the Japan Alps and three snaps my wife had taken of me in the mountains.

The magazine went on sale on the twelfth of August but I received a copy two days in advance. All the photos I sent were used – 6 mountain and nature images and all three of myself. My story was printed with no amendments as far as I could tell. I got four pages. The Rocky Mountain piece was not used.

The results were both pleasing and disappointing. It’s always good to see my work in print and that the story was printed as I sent it and the photos all used is encouraging. In the story, I concentrated on my experience as a foreigner in Japan with friends and family overseas pleading for me to leave with my wife and children. I also wrote about how difficult it would have been for us to leave with a mortgage and car loan, all our possessions and my job. I mean, we could leave but what about once we came back? It’s very easy, I wrote, for people in a safe place to tell me to pack my bags and flee. But what of the consequences after the initial possibility of danger has passed? I concluded the piece mentioning the decision my wife and I had made to raise our kids in Japan and about my book about the Japan Alps and how I want to promote it here. The story itself seems to be good enough and a few people have complimented me on what I wrote.

The disappointments are that the Rockies piece was not used and I am not totally satisfied with what I wrote about the earthquake. Of course, for the Rockies I sent my best collection of photographs and put my heart into the text. If they had not intended to use the photographs then I wish they had simply said so up front. Or perhaps they will use them in a later issue? As for my earthquake story I found the word limit restricting and I feel the part about Japanese mountains was just tacked on a the end. I also just titled my piece “Earthquake” (地震), thinking that they had some idea in mind. In the end, the earthquake title was used with the subtitle “The Canadian Photographer Who Is Smitten by Japanese Alpine Beauty”. The photographs show this. The text is more about the earthquake. Somehow I felt the earthquake title doesn’t work well with the mountain photographs. But if the editor was satisfied with that (I did submit the requested material eight days prior to the deadline) then I guess that’s what he wanted for the magazine.

Overall, I can’t complain. I told my story, mentioned my book, and got my photographs published yet again.

My story in Japanese has been posted here.

The Year of the Vanishing Photographs

This is most frustrating. I just spoke with the editor of Foto Life (フォトライフ) magazine in Japan about two submissions I sent to them, one in November of 2009 and one last year in September. The editor said he didn’t receive either of them and as I am a foreigner he said he would certainly remember receiving any submissions from me (submissions from foreigners don’t happen there). He didn’t even say that he would look into where the photos might have ended up. He just said that he didn’t receive them and if anything comes up he would let me know. Put that together with Outdoor Japan still not having returned the photos they requested from me back in the fall of 2009 and the missing submission to Outdoor Photography in the U.K. and we are looking at some serious problems.

I first began submitting photos to magazines back in 1993 and in all the years since I never had any problems with having photos returned to me. I knew there was a risk that photos might get lost but it never happened. Now suddenly three different companies aren’t returning my stuff. One simply won’t reply to my requests, one admits that they have only a record of receiving my submissions but nothing after that, and now this company says they never even received either submission, though they agreed I had the correct address. I admit I took a chance by sending things by post and not by courier but still what are the chances of four submissions all disappearing within a year or so?

Now the result of a call to another magazine is that they have no record of receiving my submission, though the person in charge is away until Thursday and in this case I sent the submission by courier and I have the way bill. I truly hope that my photographs start turning up. This is definitely a reason to submit scans and not originals, though most of my originals have backups in case of loss.

I will wait and see but I am not getting my hopes up. I have lost faith in submitting original material. Whether it’s the postal system or the staff at the publishers, there’s a problem out there.