back to basics

Derided as "hipster", I nevertheless recently joined the mass of ubiquitous fixies in central Tokyo. I was fortunate enough to snatch up a good deal on an in very decent shape Kusaka-made Vivalo Pro Special with geometry that happened to fit my body shape perfectly. It sports a very unique paint job; it's listed as "champagne gold" but It's more like a metallic pink silver. The Vivalo logo decals are understated as well which is a plus. 

Naturally, there was a bit of a learning curve in getting used to riding fixed. It was rather unsettling initially the feeling of having  your feet in constant motion, especially on long descents and cutting tight corners. There is also some paranoia when riding without a rear brake and inebriated through Shibuya (There is a $250 fine per missing brake). But after a week of darting through the back streets I was in love. 

Cycling has always been about the perfect tactile connection of man to analog machine. Riding a vintage Keirin frame can then be likened to shooting an old-school Leica. It's raw simplicity takes you back to the basics and elicits a greater consciousness of action. It's quite intuitive to slow your cadence accordingly to how fast you want to go; the resistance to stopping makes it feel like you are taming a wild mechanical beast. The direct connection to the wheel heightens your sensibility to the pavement. The unparalleled craftsmanship of this NJS certified frame is not unlike a vintage M; sImple, elegant with attention to detail and sturdy as hell whilst feeling balanced. 

 Vivalo 8630 Pro Special, Sugino 75 BB and 47T S-Cubic Crank, Dura-Ace 17t Cog, Kashimax Aero crocodile seat, Hed Jet 6 Front Aero wheel, Velocity Rear Wheel

Vivalo 8630 Pro Special, Sugino 75 BB and 47T S-Cubic Crank, Dura-Ace 17t Cog, Kashimax Aero crocodile seat, Hed Jet 6 Front Aero wheel, Velocity Rear Wheel

The stiffness of a track bike amplifies rough patches in the road a bit but it's now my everyday weapon of choice and i'll use it for anything within central Tokyo. I'll still take the Pinarello out for 100km in the mountains or on social rides but for as light and technologically advanced as carbon frames and modern shifting systems are, personally it just lacks that intangible some may call "soul".

State-of-the-art wind tunnel testing, laser-cut and mass-produced by anonymous, automated robots in a pristine, sterile factory versus hand-made steel by a master artisan in a humble workshop;  a parallel i liken to digital vs. film. All have their merits of course but for that feeling of pure primal joy nothing in my book trumps riding fixed and shooting film. 

Just the other day i took the day off and rode down to Yokohama Chinatown to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It's the year of the sheep, which happens to be my year so this must be it! Here's to a legandary, life-defining year. 

 Vivalo in Yokohama Chinatown

Vivalo in Yokohama Chinatown

the journey

The notorious Eric Kim was in town a couple weeks ago and invited me to speak at his workshop. I was completely apprehensive at the idea but after some rather unrelenting prodding, i found myself curating images and trying to envision what i would even talk about. 

"Just be yourself and talk about your journey in photography", he said.  Why anyone would even give a rat's ass about my journey in photography was beyond me. But EK had already announced it to his students so there was no backing out now. 

Culling my library was naturally nostalgic. I wanted to highlight my shift from "postcard" landscape photos to SP and portraiture as well as the desire to rid myself of the "one trick pony" moniker for nudes in hot springs. The presentation was about 40 minutes and i showed 50 images spanning the last 6 years.

Whether or not there was any benefit to the audience, i was able to learn quite a bit from this experience. I had never talked about my personal work to strangers before and just being able to articulate your feelings on the spot is definitely a worthwhile skill to have. 

減り張り(merihari)

So, i've semi-recently taken the plunge and have acquired a digital camera (gasp!). Map Camera, an oft-frequented camera shop in Shinjuku, had a campaign where you can pay for a camera in 20 installments at 0% interest. The timing couldn't have been better; i had recently lost a couple gigs when the clients required the data the night of the shoot or the morning after.

With film, meeting those demands proved impossible so i was mulling the idea of finally going digital. With the stars aligned, i found myself the proud owner of a Sony a7 with the 35mm Zeiss Sonnar. With an adaptor i was also able to use my Leica 50mm summicron. 

After a few months of extensive usage, i feel i can now make a fair assessment of this camera. For fear of delving into yet another film vs. digital debate, these are merely my thoughts on this tool for meeting my needs. 

The only thing i really missed from shooting digital was not the ability to see my shots immediately on the screen or even the ease of post processing with photoshop or lightroom; it was the ability to change ISO any time. I am not by any means a prolific shooter, without a specific concept in mind it can take days before i even finish a roll. I tell you, shooting just a few shots at ISO 400 in the day and then needing to shoot at night on the same roll can be extremely frustrating. I am also not financially prepared to have 2 bodies around, thus it was refreshing to have that freedom. Now what sets the Sony a7 apart from a mere digital camera is it's full-frame sensor with the ability to produce great results up to 6400 in such a small package. 

 dim cafe lighting @ iso6400

dim cafe lighting @ iso6400

A new skill that needs to be acquired on the Sony a7 with manual focus lenses is mastering peaking. It takes some getting used to; the coloring (i set mine to yellow) of edges in focus is distracting at first but i've come to find it not so bad. It is harder as you can imagine on lighter backgrounds. 

Rikugien, Komagome

Another feature of the Sony a7 is its OLED electronic viewfinder (OVF), supposedly one of the best in the industry. While it's much better than shooting with the rear LCD, the lag time even in decent lighting leaves much to be desired when shooting street.  It's passable when the subject is relatively stationary but for more active shots with multiple subjects, it's quite a challenge.

 Almond, Roppongi

Almond, Roppongi

 Shibuya

Shibuya

Ergonomically the camera fits in my hands well, though i do have relatively small hands. No qualms with button placement for shooting; all the essentials are easily accessible without taking your eye off the finder. A welcome feature is the 3 custom keys you can adapt to your needs ( i set my C1 button to magnification for fine tuning focusing). One minor gripe is the location of the zoom-in and scroll buttons during playback; i find streching my thumbs between buttons a nuisance.  

As we're on the topic of cons now, a significant issue is battery life. Documentation says 300 some odd shots per charge but with the camera constantly on i last about 4 hours prowling the streets. Turning the camera on and off as needed and carrying extra batteries are not the most elegant solutions but will have to suffice. There is about a 1 second gap between on and taking a snap that needs to be taken into account.

 prowling the streets in Kyoto

prowling the streets in Kyoto

There is a term in Japanese 減り張り (merihari) which translates literally to "modulation" but refers more to the wave-like variation of life in general. Everything undulates as there can be no good if there's no bad. Shooting with the Sony a7 and its benefits and pitfalls has provided a new unique alternative to documenting one's reality for better and for worse.

resolutions

Happy new year.  I was able to take a nice 2 week vacation back home and returned to Tokyo refreshed and the batteries recharged. Got bitten pretty badly by the year of the snake but it's time to gallop in the year of the horse. 

Had a chance to meet up with the infamous Eric Kim and engaged in an interesting and inspirational chat that gave me some good food for thought. The paths of our professional lives have not been dissimilar. The impact of certain events have shaped and made us reevaluate what is important in life and the pursuit of happiness. 

Perhaps it's due largely to being raised in a materialistic first-world society, but often times we find ourselves always needing to add something to make us happy. The never ending cycle of wanting to own that new gadget, getting that promotion, buying that bigger home, hell, even nailing that hotter chick; it's not unlike the trying to experience that first high again rabbit hole. 

However, instead of always trying to add things to make us happier, perhaps it's equally if not more important to subtract the negative things. I was never good at math. 

The great Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Here's to a new year. 

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a beautiful pain

A couple months ago, during an impromptu session at an oft-frequented watering hole, a friend told me he had dropped a significant sum on a new bicycle and was looking to sell his current relatively modest stallion. Intoxicated or not, his generous offer piqued my interest and a few days later i was a proud owner of a hardly-ridden Pinarello decked out with Campy Super Record and Shamal Ultra wheels.

I have been into cycling for a couple years now. It's my form of transportation of choice and rain or shine you will find me pedaling through the streets of Tokyo weaving through horrendous taxi drivers and drunken salarymen. Building my previous bike from the custom steel frame up was my new expensive hobby alongside photography and it became my "baby".

I was always apprehensive to get into the spandex-clad, carbon-riding masses; there was always some aura of "douchery" for lack of a better word. Perhaps it's the mass-produced, made in Taiwan, overhyped and even more overpriced carbon frames to the ridiculous brand-whoring billboards that is modern cycling fashion that turned me off. While not the speediest or lightest, riding a custom hand-made vintage steel frame was art, not unlike developing your own film and making prints.

My hard-core cycling friends always derided me for being "hipster" but welcomed me nevertheless for a 100km maiden voyage into the mountains of western Tokyo. The burning sensation in my quads up a 6km stretch with an average 12% grade reminded me of CCS cross country finals some 20 years ago. There's pain and then there's this beautiful pain; the latter gives you a great sense of accomplishment complimented with breathtaking views and an adrenaline pumping descent. I was hooked.

Cycling has always been about the 'Culture of Mechanical'—a.k.a. the raw, tactile connection of the human animal to a beautiful, efficient, analog machine. The parallels to film photography was not lost to me, and both are some of the few things that make me feel alive and human. They are both at once stimulating and humbling. While i am not completely sold on carbon (not used to babying my bikes) and still appreciate the purist feel of steel, it has allowed me to open my horizons and experience a new zone of sensory pleasures. Without such emotional grounding i would be lost in this crazed existence.

 Masamasa cro-mo frame, Shimano Dura-ace 7700, Mavic crank, Time Fork, Hed Jet 6 aero wheel

Masamasa cro-mo frame, Shimano Dura-ace 7700, Mavic crank, Time Fork, Hed Jet 6 aero wheel

 Descent down Wadatoge

Descent down Wadatoge

 Pinarello FP3, Campagnolo Super Record, Campagnolo Shamal Ultra Wheels

Pinarello FP3, Campagnolo Super Record, Campagnolo Shamal Ultra Wheels