Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Intensive Image Recording in 1990-93 - Why?"

I was recently asked to respond to a few questions regarding my image-recording in the early 1990's, with my response to be in a Japanese language on-line article.  Since my English will be translated (I can write in Japanese, but badly and with bad grammar), I think it's essential to have the original English posted in case there are any issues that arise from the Japanese version.  Regardless of the vastly overused term "direct translation", most things translated between radically different languages (and English and Japanese are radically different) cannot be translated directly, so there is always a shift.  Anyway - here goes.
The first multi-part question (about what I am, what planet I'm from, etc.) is one I'm often asked and always somewhat at a loss to answer.  If you introduce someone who designs computer hardware for example, you can simply say "Steve, let me introduce you to Bill.  Bill is a computer hardware engineer over at Intel".  In my case, it's a little more complicated.  I spent a lot of time studying photography, and I consider myself to be a photographer, but since professions are (generally) defined by how someone gets hard cold cash in hand, and since I've never earned a living from photography (other than some small sums earned for freelance photography jobs), I can't (popularly) be introduced as a photographer.  This used to bother me, but I've since come to regard it as a badge of honor almost.  I look at the people who are called "professional photographers" and often they're just technicians with expensive equipment and access to salable subjects to aim their cameras at.  Many are not very artistic....  Artistic photographers quite often can't make a living at their craft, since the world (generally) doesn't respect art.
In any case, while I initially wanted to make a living with/from photography, it quickly became apparent that that wasn't likely to happen, and in describing the photos I took in text, the value of writing became increasingly apparent.  So can I be introduced as a Photojournalist?  It's a better fit than Photographer, but not the complete picture.  There's also technical writing and whatnot.  Maybe I should just call myself a "21st Century Scrambler" as in scrambling to make a living and continue my craft (of image recording and writing).
The next question I was asked is, what do I consider to be the most substantial changes to Japan since the 1990's.  Now this one is rather difficult to answer.  I think the best answer I can give at the moment (I'll continue to think about this one, and probably start to think of a slew of things to say) is to relate a two-part experience I had.
The first part is what you can see and hear (and possibly feel somewhat) through the 1990-93 videos of Tokyo that I took and have posted to YouTube, specifically the scenes of Shibuya.  I was in Shibuya every week back then and got quite used to the atmosphere of the area and the set of feelings you would get while walking down the street.  Less the visual element than the feeling in the air - a kind of collective resonance of the thoughts and feelings of everyone around me.
Second part:  I ended up spending my time mostly in other areas of the city and didn't spend time among the street crowds in Shibuya for many years.  And then in... about... 2007 maybe?  I'm not sure of the year, but the evening is very sharp in my memory.  I went to Shibuya to re-experience the old feeling of walking in the crowds - as shown somewhat in this 1991 video:

1991 - Shibuya Evening Walkabout 渋谷夕方散策散歩 (911123)

I started walking down one of the streets... joining the crowds... looking around and seeing the same age group of young people around me and expecting to tune into the vibes from the area, as I so often did in the past, but....  It didn't happen.  Something was wrong... well... not wrong exactly, but very clearly different.  I looked around, trying to figure it out: "What is it?  What is so different?  Mainly the same scenery... a few new stores, buildings, and whatnot, but pretty much the same scenery, the same young people... the same... wait....." and then something came into conscious thought.
It was one of those things that is so basic, fundamental, and just plain obvious, that it remains elusive to conscious thought, since the brain allocates no resources to things that are overly obvious.  Probably you're ahead of me on this - but here it is anyway.  The reason the thought-vibes were different was because; while the people around me were of the same age group I used to walk among, they were a completely different set of people!  The young people I used to walk the streets of Shibuya with were now middle-aged - at home with their kids or working late as part of middle-management or whatever.  The people around me were different people.   So obvious, so simple, and so overlooked!  How can you be surprised that the world changes into something different when a different set of people take to the surface of the earth under their own power?
The last question has often seemed kind of a mystery to me as well, but the more I think about it, the simpler it appears.  The question is why did I take so many pictures back then?  Everybody does now, but it wasn't a popular thing to do back then.  Reread that last sentence and you have the answer.  I had a 30fps image and sound recording machine in my hands - I looked around and saw that Tokyo was rapidly changing, and everyone seemed to be only interested in New!-New!-New! and so I felt quite driven to record things that were clearly not going to be around very much longer.  Now when I'm at some event and everybody - every man, woman, grandmother, grandfather, child, and space alien has their cameras (via micro-computers) in hand recording things, I usually just leave my camera in my pocket.  What's the point?  The event/time is being vastly over-recorded already.  There's no need for me to add to it.  I looked ahead - back in 1991 - and felt there was a genuine need to record the world I lived in before it was irrevocably changed - as it indeed came to be.
Well - there it is.  Now I'm nervous about the translation.  Anything translated is going to be shifted.  Will my intent be faithfully formed into Japanese?  I wonder, but I don't have the time right now to attempt to write the above in Japanese.  (To the translator: If my meaning is unclear in places, feel free to contact me with questions so I can clarify things.)
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon