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A little more on Minamisanriku before I move on. It is impossible to describe what I saw there. Standing in the middle of such mass destruction is overwhelming to the point you just go numb. More than anything, what I felt was confusion. My mind could not comprehend houses in this place, I couldn’t hear children playing, smell food cooking, or touch the texture of a building… it was all scraped clean down to nothing but concrete slabs.
We had hired a cab driver to take us around. It felt invasive so we asked the cabbie if it was OK. Not only was he OK with me taking photos, he knew all the best spots because he had shuffled many people from the press to various locations. He told us that his Father in law was in the hospital when the earthquake hit, so the nurses took him up to the third floor where they thought they’d be safe. The tsunami took them all.
As we drove into the center of where the town used to be, I just got out and started walking. My gf couldn’t bring herself to even get out of the cab, she was completely heartbroken. This is her home country. I walked through meaningless piles of debris…pipes, shattered wood, chairs, tables, blankets, roof tiles… everything that constitutes a a deconstructed home. They have pushed out roads through the debris and made piles 50 feet high and half a mile long. Pile after pile. A few buildings still stand but are completely gutted and stand soulless like skeletons on a movie set.
Because the scale of things was so massive, I was a bit uncomfortable for not having a stronger emotional reaction, until I saw a little girl’s shoe. I lost it. I could hear her laughter, see her smiling little face, and could not bear to think what her final moments might have been like. I read once about a photo journalist who was covering the starvation in Africa, when asked how he dealt with the horror of what he was seeing, he said,”I am doing all I can to help. Maybe my photos will make a difference, but every now and then I just have to put my camera down and weep!” So it was for me, I shot til I couldn’t see through the lens, then I’d take a small break and just sit and look. I still can’t get it through my head.
The day of the destruction, our cab driver had dropped off a fare and was headed back into town when he looked up and saw the tsunami coming right at him. He slammed it into reverse and backed up as fast as he dared. He got away and drove over a hill. There were cars everywhere from people evacuating, so he just left his car where it was and started running back to town. He knew of a hiking trail through the woods, so he hiked all night, and when he broke through the forest the next morning, all he had known was gone. He couldn’t find his house, his neighbors, or his loved ones. His family, with only the exception of his Father in law, had escaped but it still took him two days to find them.
Some people had raced to the top of a hill where there was an old folks home miles from the ocean shoreline. They thought they were safe but tsunami took them all.
As I walked around that shell of a building, there were gurneys and wheelchairs twisted into death sculptures. A soccer ball with a kids name written on it sat on a window sill, carried up from the town below. Inside there were big piles of debris. One thing that caught my eye was a paper with hand prints on it. It was the kind a kid makes when they dip their hand in paint and then make a print on a piece of paper, then sign it as a gift to an elder. I had visions of an old lady cherishing the hand print of her grand daughter until the ocean came for her. Time to set the camera down again.
Our driver took us back down closer to the water where a new fishery building has already been erected. It’s a huge structure right in the midst of all this destruction. There was a salmon run going on during the time we were there and that is a large part of what used to be Minamisanriku’s livelihood, so there were the fishermen, back to work, doing what they have done for years and years. I watched as Salmon came en mass up the river to spawn and die. I’ve seen lots of Salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest but this was different because it was here, in this place, in the river than runs through the destruction. Dead Salmon littered the river banks and took on a whole new and deeper metaphorical meaning. Perhaps it is as simple as a “cycle of life” vision but somehow it all goes mad when mankind gets involved.
The town will be rebuilt but this time up on the surrounding hills while only a few boats in the harbor and a few buildings that HAVE to be near it, will venture there again. Some of the fish farms in the bay have been reconstructed and I saw fishermen motoring here and there in what must be numb routine.
As I stood up on a boat that had been torn in half, I shot photos of the fishermen going about their duties. I failed to look where I was going and stepped off the boat onto a nail, and drove it through my shoe. The nail stabbed through the rubber of my tennis shoe and luckily went right between my toes without even a scratch. I climbed the rest of the way down, looked at it, stepped on the back side of the board the nail was in and pried my foot loose. I shrugged,”Whatever”… and kept shooting. I honestly believe had it driven through the dead center of my foot I might have had the same reaction. It was a perspective check. After all, what is a stupid little nail wound in a place like this?
A young man we met is in charge of the first festival in Minamisanriku since the tsunami. We met with him and his business partner in the Hotel Kanyo where we stayed. As we sat in this luxurious place, amusingly named “Blue Line Tea Rounge” (yep they spelled it with an “r”), we asked uncomfortably if there was any way we could help. “Just let people know”, he said. The Japanese are unaccustomed to asking for help but give it graciously and abundantly when a need arises.
There is a custom on New Years in Japan where children are given decorated envelopes of money from relatives and friends. It’s called “Otoshidama”. A while before we left for Japan, my gf came up with the idea to give as many envelopes as we could to the children of Minamisanriku. Her idea was to put a $5 American bill in each envelope with a paper listing all those who donated. While it isn’t a great deal of money for each child, it is the idea that someone in America is thinking about them and that those people do care, that means more. The 5 buck bill is worth more in metaphor than in reality… especially given the exchange rate. I suspect the children in Minamisanriku will keep those bills for many years.
My gf handed them over $3000. in Otoshidama envelopes. The young man and his business partner got teary eyed and literally sat and stared at us not knowing what to say or how to say it.
Money had come in to the area through the Red Cross and other agencies but very very little of it had been distributed even all these months later. But here in this room there was a direct gift from a few in the US to them, with no strings, no red tape, and 100% going to the children. I was happy to be part of it.
We slept that night uncomfortably comfortable with images in our heads of hope amidst devastation, peace in the middle of chaos, and people resuming their lives surrounded by shattered pieces of what it used to be.
Tomorrow we are off to Fukushima. The dead nuclear power plant is on the other side of the mountain from where we will be.
It has started to rain.
Nov 13, 2011, 8:58:37 AM
Got up early for a short meeting…admittedly a bit hung over. The meeting went well and after a couple cups of coffee, I was fully awake and the aspirin had kicked in. My gf, my friend Jim, and I, LITERALLY went to Denny’s for breakfast. Our curiosity was killing us. We HAD to know what Denny’s in Japan might offer. Well….I can tell you this… you can’t find natto in Denny’s USA but you can here. Although I like natto, I had a more traditional fare.
So what better way to spent a morning then to take a nice walk to Harajuku. It’s about 2 miles or so from where I am staying at the Tokyo Hilton. HOWEVER, the way I went , it was about 4 miles. I literally took photos on my way there so I could find my way back. Tokyo isn’t an easy place to navigate. I FINALLY found it and walked around just loving all the people watching. I gotta say, Harajuku girls are hot. They look like little dolls. I looked all over to find a Tshirt that said Harajuku” on it. I thought it might be a good one to auction off here on DA to support the Japan relief efforts. But all I could find was T shirts with “Los Angeles” or “New York” written on them!! Geeeez.
I bought my gf a cute set of pink “Hello Kitty” chopsticks. While it baffles me why a grown woman would be so enamoured of “Hello Kitty” stuff, I have no idea…but whatever. Back at our room, we were having a drink with friends when I gave them to her. Since I can’t read Kanji, I had no idea they were personalized and had name on them that was NOT hers. It would be kinda like buying your wife a coffee mug with “Mabel” written on it when her name was Fran. NOT good. It was made worse by the fact she knew a girl by that name and DID NOT like her. It was compounded by the fact she didn’t like the color. How was I to know that pink EVERYTHING is FABULOUS….EXCEPT for chopsticks. Needless to say, the teasing I had given Jim the day before about not having enough money to pay for his meal, was returned today.
I strolled around and took a few photos but not everyone likes having their photo taken, so I mostly shot places and crowds.
I had to be back at the Hilton by 3:30 for another meeting. I arrived at EXACTLY 3:30 exhausted and sore.
Then I had another speaking engagement to dash off to, so there was no rest for my weary legs. Jim and I were the guest speakers and the studio where we were to speak was only about a mile away. We got lost…. again.
We had the foresight to rent cell phones for our stay in Japan, so after 3 phone calls we arrived half hour late. Part of Jim’s talk also involved him doing a monologue from “King Lear”. He played Edmond convincingly. Of course, after the applause died down I had to say,”WOW…that was amazing Jim. I had no idea Edmond was gay!” He did a double take, then burst out laughing.
We had a wonderful sushi dinner after the studio stuff was done. We found a lovely little hole in the wall resteraunt with AMAZING food. We ate til we were about to explode and then toasted Sake. Thankfully, we made our way back to the hotel without getting lost.
Jim retired for the evening but my gf and and I went to Shinjuku Hanazono to an annual festival held at a huge temple there. It was amazing. We had been there last year and remembered it was being held this time of year. I was amazed at the things you could buy there. When I get back to LA, I might post some of the photos. There was a wall of lanterns about 150 feet long and about 40 feel high and priests performing lots of rituals for luck, for family, for friends…and I think pretty much anything you could imagine.
I bought some spices to bring home. Can’t wait to cook with them. We walked up this BIG staircase, tossed some coins in a fountain, rang a bell, and clapped three times. It was charming.
Tomorrow we are off to Osaka. Sake anyone!????
I’ve been hearing and reading about an interesting new phenomenon in the head shot world. It seems there is a new trend toward shooting video for head shots also known as Moving Head Shots. The idea is to then go back and sift through the images for a still shot that is the “ultimate moment” captured to print or use on line.
What I am amazed to hear is how many people think Moving Head Shots is not only a good idea, but that it will somehow revolutionize the world of head shots. Some think Moving Headshots will redefine the way a portrait is captured and that it will improve our art.
Part of this thinking (Moving Headshots) has been set up by the digital revolution. Back in the day, a photographer was limited to 36 exposures on a roll of 35mm film. That meant he had to be aware of moments that were fleeting and he had to be specific about what he chose to shoot and the timing of when to push the button.
These days, photographers have huge memory cards that hold hundreds of photos. Where a photographer used to shoot 3 rolls of 36 exposure film (108 frames), now it is not unusual to shoot 200-400 images in a session. This is not necessarily a good thing because more is not always better.
In so many areas we have replaced quality with quantity. I even see photographer’s web sites where they boast “unlimited” number of images.
The photographers who have attempted to shoot video (super high resolution video) and then sift through the images for the “perfect frame”, have found this task daunting to say the least. If you think of shooting 24 frames a second over a period of time, it takes VERY LITTLE time to amass HUGE numbers of frames. For instance, if a photographer shoots video at 24 frames a second and he shoots for 10 minutes, he will have 144,000 frames to go through for a head shot. If his client is wanting to shoot 3 or 4 “looks”, then he can conceivably end up with over half a million frames. I’m wondering how many agents will be willing to look through half a million frames to find the “perfect” head shot?? How many clients have the time to go through that number of frames?
Basically – it’s not practical – and is counterintuitive to what a good photographer is about. One of the gifts of a talented photographer is knowing WHEN to push the button. Not only when, but having the ability to set up a situation where this magic moment CAN happen.
If an actor comes to me wanting 4 different types of head shots, I will shoot anywhere from 15 to 50 frames on average. I listen to what my clients needs are and provide the shots they want. Perhaps 35 years in the business gives me some insight into how to set up a shot and make it happen. Perhaps enjoying the company of the people I shoot makes for a relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps it is because I ask people to be specific about their ideas for the images they want.
For whatever reason, I seem to shoot fewer frames and have a higher percentage of “winning” photos than beginner photographers who hope quantity can overcome lack of quality.
All the great photographers have been able to set up a shot, be clear what their objective was, and know when to push the button.
It is this “magic” that separates the mediocre from the marvelous. I have had instances where I shot less than 10 frames with a client because I KNOW we got the shot. Half a million frames would not have changed that fact.
Video is good for video but for head shots, it’s not a good idea.
Thank you for reading my article about why Moving Headshot is not practical for working actors.