Sadly it is not that easy.
My application had sought a residency in Tokyo, and such was the nature of the announcements in those days, I had over eighteen months to dream about the prospect before I took up my three month term in Takada-no-baba on the Yamanote line in deepest Tokyo. Takada-no-baba, the home of the mythical Astro Boy, whose tune is played each and every day to announce the departure of the Yamanote Line commuter train.
So, arriving in May of 1996, I was carrying the full weight of a post-graduate degree earned in mid-life, a desire to make art above and beyond anything I had ever done before, and to explore a Japan that I had a small knowledge of and a large number of Japanese photographer friends from whom to seek advice. A serious load to carry. Apart from a small stipend to cover a bowl or two of rice per day, the jewel in the crown was the 2LDK that was mine. This translated into two tatami floored rooms (multi use – sleeping/relaxing/working/creating), a dining room and kitchen (basically the same room) plus a toilet and what turned out to be a fairly luxurious bathroom. Although the bathroom was of the totally wet Japanese style – requiring dry clothes to stay outside.
I was making photographs on my first morning, having arrived at the apartment late the previous evening; and my first glimpse of Tokyo was this scene. It is the ubiquitous clothes hanging rail (seen on the narrow deck of almost every Japanese apartment) as seen through the paper covered (Shōji) windows from my sleeping futon.
I was to struggle with this pattern for most of my stay. As can be seen from the battered Polaroid salvaged from my scrapbook, the laundry drying facilities and the nearby suburb are almost one and the same. I attempted a Mondrian-like interpretation, utilizing water colours left over by a previous tenant.
I also worked with my Hasselblad 6x6cm camera, thinking that medium format would clearly be the answer. Using the square format does exercise the mind in an alternative way, but it is not necessarily the answer when composing a rectangular subject. Even the seductive double notches on the left hand side of the negative are not enough to define the shot as strong and artistic.
As is often the case with creativity; I have found that either the first or the last image taken in a session or on a project can be the definitive photograph. This may have something to do with the initial reaction to a situation and a gut response; or after a period of exploration, there comes a complete understanding of the topic and an ability to resolve it, photographically, with the last final frame.
In this case it was the first frame. Taken with a Canon EOS 1N, using Kodak T-Max 400 film and processed at my dear friend’s darkroom at Striped House Studio in Roppongi (Takuya Tsukahara). The construction of the window is clearly seen, the latch is visible, the clothes hanger forms a pleasing pattern and there is a typical Asian asymmetrical construct about the image. An image that I am proud of, but one that troubled me during my entire stay at Takada-no-baba.
Aah, such is creativity.