#11. Patterns and routes.
And, some big news.
Greetings again from Tokyo, where the summer weather has been hot and humid, punctuated by heavy rain. I am Joel Pulliam, and this is my monthly newsletter about photography. To new readers who have joined this month; welcome. If you’d like to unsubscribe, the link is at the bottom.
This month, my family and I managed to escape the weather here for a few days with a trip to Aomori, in the north of Japan. The area, with its remote villages and harsh winters, has been the subject of bodies of work by such important photographers as Daido Moriyama, Issei Suda, and Kazuo Kitai.
I didn’t come to photograph, though, but to enjoy the outdoors and the cool air. The high temperature was only 18 degrees (64 Fahrenheit). Quite a change from Tokyo. We canoed, hiked, and clambered around on the rugged coast. We also ate a lot of apples, since this region produces some of the best.
Yet, since I did have a lightweight camera with me, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos.
Returning back to Tokyo, I have some exciting news to share. I have joined the VoidTokyo photography collective as a member.
In previous newsletters, I have written about working with VoidTokyo as an invited guest on their latest zine and exhibition. Wanting to know how the collective came to be, I asked the founder, Tatsuo Suzuki.
He tells me that VoidTokyo was founded out of his desire to put photographs on paper, and not just online. As he was thinking about this, he participated in a photo exhibition that revolved around a single human model and he observed how, “even though there was only one subject there, the modes of expression of each photographer were extremely different.” From this, he says, “I thought that it would be interesting if various photographers took pictures of Tokyo from their respective perspectives, and put them together in one book. That was the trigger.”
He further relates that, “Initially, we had the goal of shooting the ever-changing city of Tokyo until 2020, when the Olympics would begin.” But now, he hopes that VoidTokyo can continue to consider, “how each of the members can evolve and deepen the image of Tokyo in order to photograph, express, and present it to the world.”
Having gotten to know the members, I can vouch for their ongoing dedication to the presentation of physical work, including both prints and publications. While there are a lot of great photography collectives, I truly believe that VoidTokyo is distinctive in having this as their primary purpose, and it is one of the big reasons I decided to join.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with showing photographs online. I do it, and so do all the members of VoidTokyo. Sharing photos online helps us to reach an audience easily, to introduce ourselves to people who are interested in photography but who otherwise might not have found us. (Speaking of which, I’ve taken over the VoidTokyo Instagram account for a week in order to introduce myself. If you’re on Instagram, do check it out.) Morever, the regular sharing of photos online can create communities of people who are in regular conversation.
But there are tradeoffs. Photos online are generally seen for just moments. They become isolated from larger projects, and then they disappear from memory, not to be seen again. Physical work, on the other hand, will stay around as formats change. And well-made physical work is simply more beautiful, more engaging than pixels.
Beyond all that, I have an additional, perhaps more personal, reason: making physical works forces me to decide which images I most care about, which images are deserving of the time and care that it takes to make a print or publication. It is, then, an important part of how I learn about myself as a photographer. I look forward to having the support of VoidTokyo as I do.
By the way, if you’re not already familiar with VoidTokyo founder Tatsuo Suzuki, you can see some of his photography and read about him in this PEN Online feature. I think you’ll agree his work is incredible. His book, Friction / Tokyo Street, was published by Steidl last year, and already seems to be sold out everywhere. If you do see a copy, grab it. It’s full of tense, beautiful images, and the printing is fantastic.
In addition to his work with VoidTokyo, he regularly publishes a personal zine, Tokyo Street, which I love. In it, he often shoots around the quiet residential area where he lives, and mixes portraits with street photos. I’m truly privileged and excited to now be working along with him.
Rounding things off: this month I finished reading A Coast of Trees by A. R. Ammons. It is an exploration of light and radiance, of mortality and mourning, and of humans and their relationship with nature. I particularly admire its lyric centerpiece, “Easter Morning,” in which the narrator laments a broken life, yet finds transcendence as he watches two eagles circling above:
it was a sight of bountiful
majesty and integrity: the having
patterns and routes, breaking
from them to explore other patterns or
better ways to routes, and then the
return: a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brook’s
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.
Ammons once said in an interview that he was trying to, “reach the absolute crazy points where what is happening in my mind and what is happening on the page seem to be identical.” That happens to also be a pretty good statement for what I am trying to do as a photographer.
I’ll be back next month. I am glad you’re a subscriber.