Although the technology of photography was initially introduced from outside Japan, the Photo History of Japan tells a story that led to cutting edge technology and consummate quality. Moreover, the country itself is extremely photogenic, with its collage of ancient and modern character, and its artistic and natural treasures.
When photography was first introduced to Japan, some samurai disliked having their picture taken. As in other traditional cultures undergoing modernization, they had the impression that their soul was being captured in the image. Others took to it readily as a means of leaving portraits for posterity, or to increase their recognition.
Ultimately photography flourished in Japan, a perfect combination of the Japanese preference for visual imagery and their skills in technology and craftsmanship. Garden parks today are filled with amateur photographers who pride themselves on their photos of flowers in season.
Every mobile phone in Japan comes with a built-in camera that takes high-quality pictures, that people send and share on the Internet.
The technical and quality advances in cameras and photography in the last decade or so are remarkable, when you look at the difference in photo albums created not so long ago. However, a great camera still does not guarantee a great picture. Photography remains a fine art.
A master of visual haiku
While there are many excellent Japanese photographers, my favorite photographer of Japanese subjects is actually a French resident of Japan, David Michaud, who has a website and a book branded under the name of Le Japon. Although his website and blog are written in French, his photography shows views of Japanese life are vivid and original.
In a word, I would call them visual haiku. David’s photos capture the essential qualities of the living moment. His subjects encompass a wide range, facial expressions, hands of craftsmen, the seasons, Japanese architecture, urban life, and Japanese food, often capturing objects and angles that Japanese would overlook or take for granted. His Tokyo Safari website contains an extraordinary video montage traveling through Tokyo’s urban landscape. This website has literally attracted hundreds of people to travel to Japan to participate in David’s Tokyo Safari Tours, which show the city off the beaten path, and leads to highly appealing discoveries evident in his photographic work.
As an initial guide to some of the many sites of David Michaud, I have created a downloadable PDF Mandala Chart called JAPAN PHOTO SAFARI.
A perfect tool for flexible focus
One of the greatest tools and technologies for flexible focus is the camera. It is hard to imagine any instrument which can transport us so vividly to any location on earth, from undersea to outer space. Images can be transmitted instantly around the globe, viewed on smart phones or large screens, printed on all kinds of surfaces and films, with equipment that fits in the palm of your hand.
Most cameras now come with some degree of zoom focus, and really good cameras can capture a detail and leave the surroundings slightly out of focus. This creates depth and interest beyond what you find in an ordinary photo with everything in focus.
Many digital cameras today are equipped with cross hair displays which frame the picture in thirds, like a Mandala Chart. The Rule of Thirds suggests that for balance in composition, subjects should be centered on the intersections of these lines rather than in the center. Photoshop even has a Golden Section Plugin that creates a layer with Golden Sections, Spirals, and Triangles, as well as an overlay for the Rule of Thirds to assist in photo composition. And these proportions have been used by artists and architects since they were first discovered by the ancient Greeks.
Using photos in the Mandala Chart
The frames in the Mandala Chart can just as easily contain text, as illustrations or pictures. If you have a word processing or presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint, then you can easily create a 9-frame Mandala Chart matrix, and insert photos into the frames. You could insert a photo into the central frame to represent the theme of the Mandala Chart, or you could insert photos into one or more of the surrounding frames.
Use your imagination and make your Mandala Charts more interesting to look at and talk about. A picture indeed is worth a thousand words.
Photography can give you more flexible focus through new ways of looking at things. Like travel, photography of distant lands and foreign cultures can open your mind to new possibilities. Why not start with Japan? Take advantage of the time we live in and the technology we have to create new windows on your world
—William Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.