Balloon 01.

From 1979 to 1980 I lived in Tokyo and took a great many photographs, both in colour and in black and white. As is always the way, the pictures I thought were boring and never bothered to print up now seem the most interesting to me, since I was taking them as a matter of record rather than to cater to my rather bizarre ideas of what an interesting photograph ought to be. My favourite photographs invariably seem to have been afterthoughts, or throwaway shots, or fired off to use up a film.

Here are some of the black and whites. Apart from the political rally in Shibuya, there’s nothing much happening – just people going about their everyday business. There are pictures here taken during a visit to a temple, Sensoji, and of shop windows or signs that caught my eye, and some of people on the train (which were taken without actually looking through the viewfinder, so as not to draw attention to myself, which means they’re mostly even softer than usual).

To judge by the pictures of shops, I simply walked up and down my local shopping street, at Gakugai-Daigaku, snapping away with what looks like a 35mm lens, and with my usual cavalier disregard for such niceties as focus and exposure; most of them are far too contrasty. But, taken as a whole, I think they evoke another time and another place.

I don’t know how much these places have changed since 1979, because I’ve never had the opportunity to go back to Japan, but I don’t suppose there’s any shortage of photographs of Tokyo now that everyone has a cameraphone.

Note to Japanese speakers – my own Japanese is very basic and my reading is limited to what I can remember of kana and simple Kanji, so please do correct me if I have made mistakes, or feel free to add any information about the signs or locations.


12 thoughts on “PHOTOGRAPHS OF TOKYO 1979

  1. You are probably much too modest to mention this, so I’ll do it.

    Dr Kermode, (he of the hands both big and flappy), recommended your BFI Modern Classic book about ‘The Thing’, which he described as ‘Terrific’.

    (It’s in the ‘TV Movie of the Week’ section of the Wittertainment podcast. 01:29:03 ish)

    • Thanks! I started out with a Pentax SLR (can’t remember the exact model, but it would have been the cheapest!) with 50mm lens and later swapped it for an Olympus OM-1 with 50mm and 35mm lenses. Most of the shop front look as though they were taken with the 35mm.

      • They’re great pics! Have been enjoying all your recent photo uploads. A friend gave me an Olympus OM-10, which I am now inspired to use 🙂

        • Thank you! Have you used your OM-10 yet?

          I don’t use 35mm film any more, though I still miss SLRs, and black and white – I mostly take colour pictures now. But a friend recently introduced me to Silver Efex Pro 2 software, which enables you to fiddle around with black and white images on the computer almost as much as you were able to fiddle with them in a darkroom.

          • I have used my OM-10 a little bit. Here’s a colour picture I took of a friend recently (we got dressed up and went to the forest): Although I think I broke it the other day. The shutter is jammed open and I’m not sure how to fix it!

            I mostly use film for all my fun photography, and digital for the everyday/travel stuff. Have you heard of VSCOcam software? I use it for iPhone pictures, it makes everything look like film! I think you can get it for other mobile devices too.

            • Oh, those are brilliant! They look like stills from a 1970s movie! (all you have to do now is make the movie to go with them) I don’t know VSCOcam. Don’t have an iPhone, though will maybe investigatefor my iPad Mini, which I think is probably the same camera app.

              Do you know of any camera shops that could take a quick look at your jammed shutter? I assume you’ve tried allt he buttons and levers. Maybe some ideas here: Good luck with that.

            • Thank you Anne! This is why I really like the OM-10. And thanks for the link too – it seems that the mirror isn’t locking back into place after I press the shutter button, and it’s getting stuck. I will do some research, hopefully I can fix it myself! Don’t want to give up on this great little camera just yet…

  2. Thank you for posting these. Very nostalgic. Haven’t been back since 2005, but many familiar places. Loved Asakusa and Akihabara.

    • Thanks for posting. Was Akihabara the electrical goods quartier? My favourite bits were Shibuya – which was my nearest central station – and Harajuku; this was before it became known as a hang-out for young cosplay fans. I’d love to go back to Tokyo; it was a fascinating city to explore.

      • Yes re: Akihabara. Yoyogi Park was always interesting; mainly as a place to saunter to relax, but did feel like wandering into set of Kamikaze Girls occasionally. I agree Tokyo truly fascinating to explore and like you would love to go back. Like many modern metropolises (metropoli?), I’m saddened sometimes by destruction of the old to make way for the new; I used to stay at the very Austin Powers-esque Capitol Tokyu, which was a nostalgic slice of 60s kitsch now replaced by another soulless glass monolith.

        Apropos of nothing, on the gothic horror front, have you have had a chance to catch ‘Penny Dreadful’ yet? Everything League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been (but wasn’t).

  3. Oh, only just seen your post about Penny Dreadful. Yes, I did catch up with it, a bit belatedly. I thought it was iffy on the narrative front – I got a bit fed up with the search for Mina and the repeated encounters with easily defeatable vampires. But Green and Dalton were both brilliant, rest of the cast wasn’t too shabby either; I loved the production design, the theatre stuff and the fact we never got to see Dorian Gray’s portrait – something to look forward to next season, I hope.

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