Summer’s End

It’s the equinox. Up here in the hills, they’re cutting the rice, burning stubble in the fields that makes the mountains hazy and layered. Fruit ripens on the trees, the grocery store is fragrant with grapes and crisp nashi pears. It’s the end of summer, but it feels like the start of something. Short days have beginning in the air.
We went out exploring. Shimosuwa can seem like a small town, but it’s not really. Here in the hills of Nagano, off the main roads and away from the rattle of the train tracks (little S, now sixteen months, seeing a train says “kan-kan-kan-kan”, the sound of railroad crossings in Japanese), there are isolated villages tucked away amidst wild forests and in steep ravines.
Up in those isolated villages there are old shrines, old houses, and mostly old people working in old fields. They are beautiful and fragile, these places, teetering on the edge of the future.
I’m slowly putting together a gallery of these rural places, images that aren’t famous scenes or iconic buildings, and don’t quite seem to be townscapes or landscapes. You can see the beginnings of it here.

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swan lake

It feels like it’s been a long winter, here in Shimosuwa. The high hillsides are still white, the distant mountains snowtopped, and nights fall far enough below freezing to film the glass doors with a frosting of ice.

Having a little one around makes the winter feel longer. Wrestling her into her snowsuit for even the smallest adventure is much like a python eating a crocodile. Here, generally the python wins, and we go out, Sefryn bundled in red insulating layers against the cold.


Having a little one around means there’s not as much time to work at the computer, and less still to get into the high country with my camera, but I’ve made a few short trips to photograph the winter both on my own and with Stephen and Sefryn.

Having a little one means it’s been a long time since I wrote here: thoughts scatter and are often left unfinished, as are the dishes, articles to write, the laundry. The universal story.

But back to the winter. Every winter, tundra swans (Cygnus bewickii) overwinter here in Nagano Prefecture, waiting out the cold in the open water where streams run into Lake Suwa, as well as on the fast-running Sai River near Matsumoto at the edge of the Alps.

In the snow on the dark water, the white birds are especially beautiful.

*I’m offering these images for sale as a series of editioned prints of wildlife.

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for my grandmother

Fay Bayly

February 5 19Granny00121 – July 12 2012

My grandmother was a storyteller. Her life was an adventure, and she brought us up on stories; whet our imaginations with wild tales of breakfasting with gypsies, boarding school ghosts and nudist teachers, of the Bangalore bazaars, polo ponies, Maharajahs, tigers, pre-war puddings, lavish dances, train journeys, and revolutions. These wild tales shaped our imaginations, drove our wanderlust.

She was a creator. She made spaces for people to be in, collected eclectic art, created conversation pieces and conversation, grouped objects with unique knack and confidence, made forlorn and forgotten houses into something vibrantly living again, where people came together amidst a constantly-changing collection of wonderful things. She taught us about the beauty and the history of things, feeding our creativity, bringing out the artistic in all of us.

Granny was a personality: a commenter on politics, on people, on architecture and society. She had a subversive, acerbic wit, a dry, cynical take on both the past and on change. She was outrageous and unapologetic in her opinions, piquing our curiosity, influencing how we see and think about the world and inspiring independence in us.

She was glamorous, fearless, strong, and generous. She gathered people around tables. She had a flair for cooking and entertaining; she brought people in to the family, fed them curries and cold collations, and looked after them in ways they needed badly. She stood behind us through our projects and dreams. She was one of my greatest supporters, and even as she was winding down she unfailingly asked me, every time I called, if I was writing my experiences and adventures down, keeping me on track, even from a distance.

We brace ourselves in advance for the loss of our grandparents, but even things you’re expecting can tear your heart out; there’s the emptiness where a person was and is no longer. I will miss her dreadfully—I already do—but I do not doubt that she will continue to shape me.

I’d like her to know that I’m writing this down.

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changes & changing

I bought a new camera bag recently. There was nothing wrong with my old bag, really, but the hip strap no longer fits around my expanding girth and I needed something to carry my gear around Hong Kong in, while researching and photographing article about tea.

Hong Kong is everything that Tokyo is not, and I was enchanted.

 Maybe I just needed a break (I’ve been tired since September, for non-work-related reasons), or maybe I needed a change of scene. Either way, I’ve come back refreshed and inspired, doubly in love with Japan, and determined to learn more about Asia in general.

I’m not sure, however, amidst the changes and changing that will be happening around here in the next couple of months, where I’ll be able to find the time.

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Time, tilting away from the solstice, sends us headlong into autumn.  Summer slipping out gracefully. Rice ripens, nights cool. It’s been a busy summer, and I’m just coming up for air, surfacing to say I’m still here.

Nikon D700. 1/200s at f5.0, 70mm, ISO800.

In the meantime, my article on the Izu Peninsula came out in the Japan Times, and another on London was published in Kansai Scene.

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somewhere I have never travelled

Having written a lot of copy for a travel company that specialized in Japan, there are a lot of places I know about but have never been.  Kenrokuen Garden was one of these.

A lot of our recent trip around Japan was about getting to know the country, seeing for the first time places we’d only read about, no matter how in depth. Very little can prepare you for much of this country: it is so rich in history, in landscape, in variety. It takes me a long time to digest experience.

We started by going north into the last of the snow, where beech groves, knee-deep in snow, were bursting into light green leef, and then struck out for the sea on Japan’s cloudy coast. Where Noto Peninsula  joins the mainland, we came to Kanazawa, a green city with wide straight streets and one of Japan’s most famous gardens, the lush green Kenrokuen. I’d read about it extensively, in travel guides and websites and travel blogs, looked at photographs and read the history, and written about it, about the waterfalls and the fountain, but seeing it in the morning light with everything green and golden was something else entirely.

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another glimpse

Nikon D700. 20s at f32, 80mm, ISO100.

There’s something about the ocean.
Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood summers beside it, listening to the waves breaking on the rocks, watching the tide roll in, looking in tidepools and exploring the rocky shores and sandy beaches. It draws me back.
I live in the mountains. The sea is, at best, a day’s drive from here. This sea is on the remote south coast of the Kii Peninsula, a rugged, rocky shore where low mountains meet the Pacific. We camped between the shore and the hills, and all night we listened to the waves on the rocks.

There’s something about photographing the ocean.
Maybe it’s because of the way it moves: no two photographs will look the same. At dusk, the light changes so rapidly, too. Dark comes rapidly in through the blue air. Everything is magically transformed: waves are smoothed out to white around sharp rocks. The horizon fades into the sky: blue meets blue.

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