Creativity Has Never Been Easy

Having obtained a treasured Artist Residency from the prestigious Australia Council for the Arts, I knew that fame beyond my wildest dreams would follow!

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.

Ian-Poole, Shoji_Composite

Shōji Screen, Takada-no-baba; © Ian Poole, 1996.

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.


Takada-no-baba Window Scene; © Ian Poole, 1996.

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.


Shōji Homage to Mondrian; © Ian Poole, 1996.

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.


Hasselblad Version; © Ian Poole 1996.

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.


Tokyo Shōji; © Ian Poole, 1996.

5 thoughts on “Creativity Has Never Been Easy

  1. Yes, a witty and elegant play on a theme of Piet Mondrian. Its one of the rewards of a general arts education that insider jokes like this get delighted appreciation. For people away from the art-scene who have never heard of Mondrian it may be a case of one man’s A.R.T being another man’s W.T.F…as usual.


  2. A great commentary of ‘place’ sense data interpreted thru photographs and then … reinterpreted as a memory in words nearly twenty years later. We look forward to the photos you made on day two …


  3. Wow! Great blog entry. I want to know more. More of this story. Your photos of the shoji screens make a lovely use of light and shadow. The hanger shadows are wonderful and surprising. Thank you.

    I live in Nagoya. This is my 3rd return. The first time I lived in Tokyo as a university student. 7 years later I returned with my husband and lived in Numazu in Shizuoka-ken. Now we are older and our 3 children are grown and living in the States. Each time I return, I fear it won’t be as good as the last. Every time is different. Every time is what I need at that time in my life.

    Thank you, again. I look forward to more. Will you continue with your Japan theme? If you are interested, come see my photoblog. I look forward to hearing from you.


    • Great to hear from you – thanks for you comments. I would happily chat further about Japan (; and yes, I will be writing and posting images about Japan.


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