Category Archives: Uncategorized

Taisetsusan Television

I knew I should have typed up my final post in the Taisetsusan series soon. This week, NHK World broadcasted the Journeys in Japan episode on Taisetsusan. It’s now on view on demand.

See below.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/vod/journeys/20170912/

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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.

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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”?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Journeys in Japan – The Kurobe River

My adventure in the Kita Alps and around the Kurobe River is now available for view on demand!

Here are some iPhone screen shots.

In with the Beautiful

Just a quick word that a photo I took of Kinpusan – a mountain on the Yamanashi/Nagano border – appears on page 111 in a new photo book about the Beautiful One Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan.

Little Inaka

When my son was born in 2008, I still had a fair bit of freedom. It was a good year for earnings from photography and writing and I was beginning in earnest to complete my book project on the Japan Alps. When I was away, my wife took our infant son to her parents’ home.

In 2010 things changed. My wife became pregnant with our second child and it was not so easy for her to bring our growing boy to her parents’ house as there was not enough space and he was restless. I wrapped up my book project a little early, managed a few more hikes and a trip abroad to attend my sister’s wedding. After that, my adventures seemed to have come to an end, at least for the time being.

Not wanting to give up photography entirely, I began a project of shooting locally. I purchased a used DSLR and chose some places that were within reach. I would wake up in the early morning and go out somewhere to shoot, trying to make it home by 7:30 to help get ready for the day. Three years later, my son entered elementary school and I had to be home by 6:45. We moved house and autumn brought later sunrises. My three years of early morning photography were also temporarily wrapped up. I had, however, amassed a few hundred photographs or more and set about putting them into a book. The result is this: Little Inaka.

The locations are the Sakitama Burial Mounds in Gyoda City, Hatcho Park in Yoshimi Town, a rural area in Higashi Matsuyama City, and a rural area straddling Ina Town and Ageo City. All places are in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

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A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

The Country of Water: Japan

Last night on Fuji Television (March 10, 26:00 to 27:15) the program, “Mizu no Kuni Nippon – 水の国ニッポン” was aired. The program featured four stories from around Japan where water is used for some special purpose. See my previous post for details about my trip to Miyagi Prefecture. Now here are some snaps of my TV screen during the broadcast.





Appointment with #32

My work in the Japan Alps has been on hold since May of 2010, when I left Kamikochi and the Hotakas, and for the time being this hiatus will have to continue. As I mentioned recently, this absence from the Alps has had me eying the local mountains, visible from my area in Saitama. I have positively identified 13 Hyakumeizan with a portion of a distant 14th in view during exceptionally clear weather. One of the mountains is Nikko Shiranesan – 2,578 metres. I first really became acquainted with it in February when I went to consider climbing Nantaisan, near Nikko. I did not climb any mountains at that time; however, I became rather interested in Nikko Shiranesan.

After learning the names of several more mountains visible from around Konosu City, I initially marked Hotakayama for my May long-weekend climb. But with all the rain that fell I came to feel that a mountain completely unknown to me could be trouble if routes had been damaged by the excessive weather. So, instead I looked once again to Nikko Shiranesan for my May hike and 32nd Hyakumeizan. I reckoned that if climbing conditions were poor here, I could still shoot around the local lakes (artificial), visit Senjogahara again, or climb Nantaisan, which never looked that imposing.

I left a little before 3 A.M. and drove to Takasaki, then turned off at Numata. The sky began to take on that clear jewel-like blue colour already at 3:45. By the time I was driving route 120 past Fukiware-no-Taki it was early morning. But I didn’t see much of the sun. Here on the north side of Akagiyama it was steadily getting cloudy as I drove through the peaceful mountain setting. I saw the turn-off for Hotakayama and Oze but I continued on.

As the road ascended, the beautiful fresh verdure of spring gave way to bare, brown trees and patches of snow visible beneath the fallen autumn leaves. Rain began to drop on my windshield. Was it going to rain on the one day that was supposed to be sunny? Perhaps I should have headed west instead of east.

At last at the parking lot near Kannuma Campground, I backed in between two station wagons. It was 6:45 and raining quite steadily, though not exactly pouring. Beside me, a man stirred in his vehicle, came out dressed in snowboarding clothes, and made his final preparations to head up the trail with a snowboard on his back. Other people were also in full mountain rain gear. I only had my reliable Millet jacket with me; no rain pants. I was really sleepy after having had only three hours sleep again and I dozed in the car until 7:30. The rain wasn’t letting up.

Plan B: Drive round to Senjogahara and see what’s happening over below Nantaisan. There it was cloudy and above the clouds were in swift motion. Nantaisan’s summit was mostly clear but no doubt very windy. I decided to take just my new DSLR and leave the rest of the gear in the car (tripod, filters, 6×7 camera…). This was going to be a pleasure walk only.

Senjogahara was pretty bare in early spring but still photogenic. Various kinds of trees often arrested my attention and were preserved in pixels. Having left the tripod meant I was shooting with a large aperture and often resting the camera against a tree to shoot but I was enjoying myself. Soon, the sun began making its way through the clouds and before I was halfway through the course, it was genuinely sunny. What was I doing here when I had a mountain to climb?

Back to the parking lot, I set off to climb Nikko Shiranesan. I had an interest in this mountain because the map showed two ponds below the mound of the summit. There was still snow on the path in most places at first, and then when the path began climbing I was following footprints in the snow all the way. Mostly the going was fairly easy. There were moments of soft snow where I post-holed. I had brought only my small spring crampons in case I needed them. At times I wondered if my new and still unused Grivel crampons wouldn’t have been more appropriate but I managed without much difficulty. The route on my map said it would take two and a half hours but after an hour and 45 minutes I reached one of the ponds. The mountain summit was very close; I could see someone walking on the top. It wouldn’t be long now. I took 20 minutes or so to shoot the open water rippling in the wind over the snow cover that was clearing away at one end of the pond. Then I took on the final steep climb up through more snow to the rocky summit. Three hours after having left the car I was on the summit. The weather was gorgeous – the wind not too cold, the sun warm.

Now was my chance to take a good look around and try to identify as many Hyakumeizan as I could. Hiuchigatake and Shibutsusan were clearly visible, and I also located Sukaisan and Hotakayama, as well as the obvious Akagiyama and the closest Meizan, Nantaisan. But there were many more mountains to be seen and checking the map later I figured that I probably also had a view to Aizukomagatake and Hiragatake. I should have been able to see Tanigawadake but the haze was too strong. I wasn’t able to see anything of the Kanto Plains either because of the haze but I became positive that Shibutsusan is not visible from the Kanto area.

After an hour at the summit, I enjoyed the walk back down, careful to avoid rushing on the steep slopes and accidentally post-holing and possibly breaking a leg. Though there were many cars in the parking lot below, I had actually seen only one person near the summit and a few people on their way down when I was coming up. Getting in trouble up here was potentially very bad.

The light was getting pretty and I couldn’t help stopping at the pond and setting up the 6×7 for some “serious” photography, though actually I was to find a few of my best shots came from my stroll about Senjogahara.

I made it safely back to the car only six hours after leaving it. Given the time I spent on the summit and shooting by the pond I think I had made excellent time on the trail. From there on it was time to head home. There were some tempting stops along the way, especially when the full moon rose. But thick traffic below was going to hold me up and in the end I was very tired from the road by the time I made it home after 9:30 P.M.

Since climbing Nikko Shiranesan, there hasn’t been a day when we had a clear view of it, so I can’t even point the mountain out to my wife and say, “That one was my 32nd Hyakumeizan.”