Flashback: Nara

I went to Nara as a day trip from Kyoto. However, it definitely deserves its own post. Nara was one of my favorite places in Japan not only because of the wild deer, but also the temples and forest.

This is Todai-ji Temple, which houses the world’s largest indoor Buddha.

I took so many pictures of the deer, it’s ridiculous. I thought this one was particularly adorable, though.

I saw a camphor tree like the one in “My Neighbor Totoro.” It was so beautiful, sitting there along the latern-lined path leading through the forest. I was so glad to see one while I was in Japan. I kept looking around for forest spirits to appear, but all I saw were tourists.

This deer looks timid and innocent, but about a minute later it accosted a kiosk worker for the food in her hands. Those deer were the best.

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Flashback: Kyoto (Part I)

In Kyoto, I stayed in an amazing guesthouse/hostel called Ichiensou. It’s located in Gion, the “geisha district.” I met a lot of different people from all over the world and had some very…interesting experiences going to Japanese bars with them. The first photo was taken just around the corner from the hostel. Japanese people use bikes as a main mode of transportation much more than Americans do, so seeing Japanese businessmen riding bikes was nothing too out of the ordinary.

This is my room at the hostel. It’s traditional style with tatami mat floors, futons, and paper walls. I actually found it to be quite uncomfortable, but my host, Yashi, kindly offered me an extra futon and all was well.

I saw a few geishas in Kyoto, but this is the only one I was brave enough to take a picture of (and that was only as she was walking away). There was a group of German tourists beside me on some sort of tour that all began snapping photos of her very openly as she rushed by. I felt bad, even though I knew she must have been used to it.

This was taken in the Sagano bamboo groves. Being in the quiet and solitude of those groves was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. I reveled in the cool shade and lingered there for a long time, wishing I could stay all day.

Flashback: Tokyo

Oh, Japan, how I miss you. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I was there. Last May, I went on a 10 day trip, starting in Tokyo then moving on to Kyoto. I actually finagled my school into paying for the whole thing with a travel grant, the premise being that I would look at spirituality in Japan. I ended up doing a lot of soul searching myself.

My photos from Tokyo pale in comparison to those from Kyoto, but I managed to snap a few good shots around the city. It rained most of the days I was in Japan (and every day I was in Tokyo). I did my best to shield my camera with my clear purple umbrella and a makeshift water cover made from a shower cap.

While in Tokyo, I stayed in a ryokan in Asakusa. This is a picture taken just down the block from the ryokan. I think you can see the sign for the best ramen place in the world somewhere here. Mmm, ramen…

Of course, I visited several shrines and temples in Tokyo.  I really enjoyed my time there. It was quite a “Lost in Translation”-esque experience. I was completely alone and didn’t speak Japanese apart from “Eigo ga hanasemaska?” (Do you speak English?) I found the metro to be the most difficult part of being in Japan. How anyone navigates that maze is beyond me.

And, let’s not forget my inspiration for the trip: Totoro! The Ghibli Museum was incredible. The building is painted in pastel tones with winding staircases and a rooftop balcony. Not a great picture, but you can see Totoro in the ticket booth (and my reflection in the glass).

Stay tuned for a flashback to Kyoto, coming soon to a blog near you.

Olvera Street

As part of our second John Free Workshop photo shoot, we returned to Olvera Street. I wasn’t expecting to get anything different then when we were there the week before, but we stumbled upon a church that was just letting out some sort of mass. There were lots of children dressed in white gowns and suits.

Several women lined the streets peddling jewelry and crosses. Not wanting to bother them, I started to take pictures from a few feet away. “Get closer!” John told me. “Get her hand!” So, I reluctantly approached one of the women, got less than a foot away from her, and snapped a few shots. Needless to say, the women were getting annoyed with our group, but we stayed for some time to photograph the scene.

After we left the church, we saw that a dance had begun in the square next to the entrance to Olvera Street.

All in all, it was another successful shoot.

Union Station

I’m currently taking a street photography course with the legendary John Free. On our photo shoots, John pushes us to break the invisible barrier we have between ourselves and other people. This makes the majority of us students scared and uncomfortable. John schmoozes with strangers like he’s known them for years. Sometimes he asks for permission to take a picture but usually does it blatantly or while pretending that he’s photographing something else.

Most photographers prefer the safety of a landscape or flower. Flowers can’t yell at you or pull a gun on you (and John has certainly has stories about the latter). Yet street photography is extremely important both as art and social commentary. It was difficult at first, but I’ve gotten much better at taking a chance and snapping pictures of strangers that will produce some sort of reaction from the viewer.

Oh, and the course is strictly black and white photographs only. However, I’ve chosen to break that rule here when I felt the photo was more powerful in color. All of these were shot with a fixed 50mm lens. I did not use zoom on any of them.