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Photography Tour to Japan #3 : Camera of choice and format of choice at Letters from Japan

Photography Tour to Japan #3 : Camera of choice and format of choice   no comments

Posted at 11:17 pm in Photography in general

One question that photographers often entertain when they travel is which camera to bring with them. Of course, when an airplane is involved, you cannot bring everything so choosing which cameras to pack becomes a serious as well as an entertaining question for photographers.

For this trip, I am bringing two cameras with me: a 7×17 banquet camera and a 4×5 field camera. It may sound a little crazy to carry these large cameras for a shooting trip where we will be relying upon public transportation for travel. Of course that doesn’t deter me. This old banquet camera has been my camera of choice for the last couple of years. Still, this will be my first trip with the big cameras traveling this extensively and without a car. I’m sure it will prove to be an interesting challenge at times, but I hope I can enjoy the whole experience.

When I started using the 7×17 camera, I connected to the work of Lois Conner. Conner created beautiful images of Chinese landscapes with a sense of place and a dynamic composition. She uses the elongated format so adeptly and I became intrigued by her description of how she works. For her, the difference between regular format and these panoramic format cameras is about more than seeing.

She describes that when she composes in say, an 8×10 format, that it is done such that it visually radiates from the center. In other words, an image has a main feature in a photograph which acts as a visual locus, and the rest develops around that. Whereas with an elongated format like 7×17, it becomes more effective to create images with a sweeping narrative as if you are reading a photograph, usually left to right. Certainly she has been influenced by her own studies of Chinese scroll paintings and learning about how painters traditionally frame images whether horizontal or vertical.

I have been primarily shooting 7×17 for a couple of years now. When I went back to Japan last December, I was interested in shooting sceneries of Tokyo with 7×17 format. I wanted to see if I could create visual narratives of the busy streets of Tokyo similar to how I shoot in Philadelphia.

One issue I had while I was in Tokyo especially when I was in my own neighborhood was the narrow streets. I suppose that I had become so used to the size of a typical American street and forgot how narrow the streets are in Japan. Narrow streets mean that you cannot step back far enough to photograph unless you have to have a lens with a wider angle of view. Unfortunately, I ended up not shooting in my neighborhood simply because of this.

I did manage to photograph other sceneries while I was in Tokyo. Near Tokyo Bay, I carried the camera around wondering how rivers flow and work. Also, around my grandmom’s neighborhood, I photographed the street scenes. I have always been intrigued by how visually chaotic and confusing these small streets are in Tokyo. Unlike streets in Philadelphia where the majority of the streets are organized in grids, these streets have a sense of life as if they are some sort of organism.

This time, I am interested in photographing small streets in Kanazawa (with hopefully a little different approach ) as well as the coastal views in Wajima and Suzu. As always, I am open to anything that challenges me visually, so we will see what images I will come up with at the end of the trip.

By the way, I am so used to this elongated format now that I can no longer take horizontal pictures with an 8×10. Now, I primarily use this format for portraiture and I shoot vertically. The 8×10 now seems constricting in a way I never saw before. This sounds funny, but it is very real to me.

Carrying these two cameras, a tripod, film holders and many films in very humid weather will be quite an exercise. Aside from the images of these beautiful places, this trip will provide a much needed workout.

Written by projectbasho on August 28th, 2008

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