All of the holiday decorations are down and stored and some sense of normalcy is finally returning to the household. The air in Tokyo is crisp and the sun is shining. New Years is right around the corner.
The end of December always seems to sneaks up on me. It has been a hell of a year and I can honestly say that there is no better time to be a photographer in Japan. What actually happened during the these months that flew by so quickly? Here are some of the highlights from 2017.
January - Travel Editorial Photographer
I brought in the new year with my camera in hand. For the first week of 2017, I shot sunrise to sunset in Japan's Yaeyama islands for the stunning Ritz Carlton Magazine, the hotel chain's chic quarterly publication. I couldn't have asked for a better way to kick January off and was thrilled to finally see some of Okinawa and the isolated island chain.
February | Food Photographer
February is usually a very slow month for photographers, at least the ones living in cold climates. This February was surprisingly different. The shortest month of the year started off with an editorial commission for Qatar Airways' Oryx Magazine. Focused on the art of Japanese cuisine, the assignment took me through the backstreets of Shinbashi and into the basements of Shibuya. But more, the assignment allowed me to try my hand at making incredibly cute, panda shaped onigiri, a skill that I will use to impress my two year old son in months to come.
With the assignment for Oryx completed, I packed my bags and headed to Sapporo to complete my first travel assignment for The New York Times. For three days I shot 36 Hours In Sapporo. It goes without saying that I was beyond stoked to see the piece published.
But February's tour with The New York Times wasn't over. I headed back to Tokyo and immediately began work on my next job for NYT Travel department. The assignment focused on Tomigaya, one of Tokyo's up-and-coming neighborhoods.
March - Portrait, Concert, and Travel Photographer
March is such a tease, always tricking me into thinking that winter is over. And though the days were warmer, spring was really yet to arrive. I started March with a string of chilly portrait shoots and then moved my attention to Konzerthaus Berlin, one of Europe's finest orchestras. Tokyo was the first stop on the group's Asian tour and I was thrilled to be at Sumida Triphony Hall to capture every last note.
After a couple of months of being heavily booked, it was time for a bit of time away from the job. But that doesn't mean I took time away from the camera. In fact, I spent more time behind the lens on vacation that I did during the first months of the year.
Saudi Arabia based photographer Roger Gribbins and I decided to put a big check on our bucket lists and headed to the mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. For a week Roger and tramped from Thimpu to Paro, slept in local farmhouses, visited monasteries, and learned to play one of the most difficult lawn dart games known to man.
April - Couples and Travel Photography
Spring finally arrived and, as always, portrait photography really picked up in April. My calendar was relatively full with pre-wedding, individual, and family portrait sessions. Believe it or not, I even had a portrait shoot with a certain Royal Family.
However, the portrait shoot that stood out in April was Justin and Victoria's pre-wedding session. I was stoked to spend a few hours with Justin and Tori, causally clicking the shutter in some of Tokyo's lesser-known neighborhoods.
Before April was over I was back at it for the NYT, this time for 36 Hours in Tokyo. From ritzy bars to classy bookstores, the assignment led me to some gems that, until then, had yet to discover.
May - Editorial Photographer In Japan
My favorite highlight from spring was an editorial photography gig for The San Francisco Chronicle. For the longest time, I debated whether or not to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to tour Tsukiji Fish Market as a tourist. I was glad that I didn't because the SFC assignment led me directly to Tsukiji, the busiest fish market in the world. Even though the job started at 3:30 in the morning, I was wide awake as soon as the smell of over a million freshly caught fish hit my nose.
June - Travel Photographer
Much of my work from the beginning of 2017 was editorial and/or travel based and helped to beef up my budding portfolio. I eventually want to house this work separately from my portraiture work. So at the beginning of June, I started the design process on a new website just as the heat in Tokyo was ramping up. While I didn't launch the effort until fall, I spent my share of red-eyed hours behind the screen to create andrewfaulk.com.
With so much focus given to the new platform, my mind was locked on travel photography. I was glad for it because my next big job had me jet set for Langkawi, Malaysia where I penned and photographed a travel feature for Ritz Carlton Magazine's autumn issue.
July - Portrait and Drone Photography
July is a month I always look forward to. Every year my family and I return to the motherland to spend time at our mountain home in Asheville, North Carolina. The weeks in in the Appalachians are wonderful. Cool air. Calm night with fireflies. Meat constantly on the grill. I also manage to squeeze in a few portrait shoots throughout the summer to break up the stretches of couch-potato-bliss.
July's portrait sessions were amazing. But, I must admit I was constantly distracted throughout July by my new favorite toy. Like many other photographers, I got bitten the drone bug and broke into my piggy bank to buy a DJI Mavic Pro.
As a remote-control car lover and a video game fanatic, the child in my couldn't resist the latest photography craze. I guess you could say it was love-at-first-flight (Yes, lame word play). All I wanted to do during July was zoom my Mavic Pro over the mountains of western North Carolina.
Side note: I named my drone Lawrence. I am pretty sure he loves me back.
August - Travel Photography
Before heading back to Japan, I decided to make the trek to India, a country that continues to ignite my curiosity. I went to see Leh, a region (whose largest city shares the name) in Jammu in Kashmir that I have wanted to visit for years. I only had five days to make the trip and learned a few lessons about Indian travel the hard way. Read more about that particular photography trip and how it went south here.
September - Travel Editorial Photography
Safely back in Japan, I was ready to kick off the fall photography season. September got off to a great start with another assignment for The Times. But this job didn't have me scurrying around any of Japan's metropolitan areas or turning my lens on a plate of scrumptious food.
Instead, I meandered south to Koyasan, a monastic retreat and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by goliath cedars and moss covered statues, I covered the esoteric Buddhist monasteries and the monastic accommodations available in Koyasan. Read more about the assignment and my experience in Koyasan here.
October - Travel, Family, and Event Photographer
The editorial string continued into October. Next up came back-to-back travel jobs that took me to Osaka, Japan and then onto a smaller town along Honshu's western coast. In between the two locations, I made a stop in Kyoto to have a family portrait session with the Howard family.
Up next was an event for the South Australian Government. The soirée showcased the regional delicacies and wines from, you guessed it, South Australia. It was my first time shooting for the regional government as well as my first time sampling kangaroo which was, in itself, a 2017 highlight.
November | Portrait, Couples, and Tour Photography
As always the November calendar was full. Japan has such an amazing fall season and I will be surprised if November is ever an easy month to get through as a photographer.
My November began with blogger Alejandra Guardado, the force behind Sprigs of Mint, a newly launched fashion and travel blog. I was stoked to spend some time with Ale developing visual content for her Sprigs of Mint project.
November rolled along and it started to feel more and more like autumn in Japan. The change in temperature was soon followed by the orange, yellows, and fire red foliage. I had the opportunity to work with several couples who had come to Tokyo in need of pre-wedding portraits and made portraits of several friends in hopes to "up their Tinder game."
And then it was time to turn my lens on the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Instead of a one-off performance like Konzerthaus Berlin's Tokyo stop (see March), BSO contracted me for their entire 2017 Japan tour. I documented the Grammy winning orchestra's jaunt through Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo, and spent time with the group on, off, and beside the stage.
December | Portrait Photographer
As always, end of the fall was stunning. December is, without a doubt, my favorite month of the year in Tokyo. The last of the leaves fell from the trees and I pulled out all of my tacky sweaters. But before throwing in the towel on 2017, I pulled a string of family and individual portrait sessions.
My last highlight was made in a sleek conference room at the Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, Hitman, etc) headquarters here in Tokyo. I was sent to the creative hub to photograph Yoko Taro, lead writer and creative mastermind behind Nier: Automata, one of most critically acclaimed video games of 2017. I was given twenty minutes with the masked, mysterious developer and was stoked to see final images published in Game Informer's December issue.
All in all, 2017 was huge. I worked a lot. There were some successes and a ton of failures (failures are such a blessing). I learned more about myself as a photographer and as a creative than in previous years. I had the chance to photograph a lot of cool stuff in some even cooler places and I couldn't be more grateful.
What does next year look like for me as a photographer? I have no idea and I like it that way. So here's to the unknown and to new beginnings. I hope that your next cycle around the sun is fruitful, peaceful, and positive.
Happy New Year!
More On the Blog
Editorial Website Launch
Over the past year or two, I have shot a lot of editorial and travel work. Many of these stories have now been featured in some of the world's most well known publications. Some of the work was strictly personal. Regardless, I have waited a long time to present a new collection of imagery on a fresh platform.
I am so very excited to share my brand new editorial photography website and look forward to updating the platform regularly in the coming months with features shot throughout Japan and beyond.
Head on over to andrewfaulk.com to see what I have been up to these past months!
If anyone has the art of food down to a science it is the Japanese. Everywhere you turn there is some sort of delciousness being prepared. From full blown kaiseki meals to surprisingly light tempura dishes, Japanese food is known for its simple flavors and exquisite presentation. Even school children enjoy this cultural tradition when they open their lunches to find animal shaped rice balls and carefully carved vegetables.
This February, Qatar Airways contacted me with a very specific challenge. The in-flight magazine wanted me to explore the art of Japanese food. Commissioned to shoot Empire of the Senses, an editorial exploring the art of Japanese cuisine. While on assignment, I was tasked to align my photographs with Oryx's March theme completely dedicated to "taste." With this in mind, I made my way to some of Tokyo's finest restaurants to shoot (and nibble) some of the finest food Japan has on offer.
Naturally, I was very excited to accept Oryx's challenge. I was also excited to see the piece come through design and into the hands of readers on all Qatar Airways flights. Read the full editorial piece here.
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Behind The Shoot | The Kenyan Maasai
We are saturated with images. The internet has given us a never ending stream of photographs. Everyday, I see an image that blows me away. Perhaps I see something that makes me curious or that inspires me. Perhaps I come across a photograph that is technically sound or a shot that took great effort to create. Just as frequently, I come across photographs that are simply beautiful.
I am often tricked into thinking that the person capturing these frames is some sort of superhero photographer with unlimited access and/or resources. In many instances, they are. Photojournalists are indeed risking their lives in war zones to document our world. Nat Geo photographers are on assignment for months to get splendid shots of our natural world. High profile portrait photographers are given exclusive access to celebrities and events. But, not every image is captured out of position or because of deep client pockets. Sometimes, great photo opportunities happen by chance.
When a group of Kenyan Maasai visited a school I was working for, I simply asked them if I could make some portraits. With permission, I spent fifteen minutes making portraits of the Maasai. There was no planning involved. There was no contract or access point. I simply asked a group of people for fifteen minutes of their time. Imagine that.
What can be learned from this? Not all photographs are special because of the extreme effort it takes to make them. Photographs are special because of their subjects.
3:10 on a Saturday
As the train doors opened, the platform bustle entered the car. Considering that the Tokyo bound, JR Line train had been absent of sound since the the last station, the voices were jarring. But the chatter was secondary to the barrage of unmistakable rhythm. Somewhere near, taiko drums were being hammered. I had to see it. Though I was exhausted from my family portrait shoot in Shibuya, I grabbed my gear and pushed against the human river flowing into the train.
It isn't hard to find Japanese festivals. A matsuri will be crowded with throngs of people. The drums will be beating and the smell of festival food wafts in the air. I didn't know what kind of festival it would be. But I knew there would be plenty to see.
Using my ears as guides, I exited the station and turned a few corners. And there it was, the Kichijoji Autumn Festival. In contrast to a western autumn festival, the Japanese don't have a million pumpkin-spice-whatevers for sale or antiquated images of American Indians sitting happily with small pox infested colonists, What the Japanese do have is a sense of belonging, cultivated by deep cultural traditions.
Like most autumn festivals around Japan, the cultural eye candy in Kichijoji were the mikoshi. A mikoshi is a palanquin used as a portable shrine. Shinto followers believe that the mikoshi is a vehicle to transport a deity here on earth. To move a deity between a temple's main shrine and a temporary one (i.e. during a festival), a mikoshi is used. Frequently resembling miniature buildings, the mikoshi are beautifully accented with ornate architectural features. Gold leafed pillars, stone roofs, etched wood siding... It's all there.
Yet, before resting a mikoshi on an uma (meaning horse in Japanese) those carrying the mikoshi jostle it wildly as to amuse the deity within. Lines of men and women dance and chant in unison, while the pole bearers shake the mikoshi and the deity (Mind you, if I were a god within one of these shrines, I would have no choice but to yak my yakitori everywhere).
An hour later, I had exhausted a memory card and had treated myself to a few highballs and street skewers. I had exchanged hugs, hive fives and bows galore all without seeing a single gourd. Rest assured that next autumn when I hear the taiko drum beating, I will get out of the train in into the streets of Tokyo.
I could hear it from blocks away. Bustling. Shouting. The familiar muffled-bullhorn-yap of a policeman on a megaphone. Riot? Protest?
With the election days away, tempers flared in the capital of Japan as hundreds of Turkish nationals gathered near their embassy in downtown Tokyo to cast early ballots. The crowd, mixed with both nationalist and pro-Kurdish supporters, caught the attention of Tokyo's Metropolitan Police as brawls began to break out in the streets. The mild chaos that ensued highlighted the ongoing tensions between the People's Democratic Party (pro-Kurd) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogran. Turkish elections will be held November 1st.
Muay Thai Madmen
1989's Kickboxer was a not-so-blockbuster that knocked the socks off of every dude is America. In order to avenge his brother's paralyzation, Kurt Sloane (Jean-Claude Van Damme) takes the good fight to Tong Po, Thailand's undefeated Muay Thai madman. The movie is full of Hollywood violence and 80's cliche. Though pure fiction, the film is freaking awesome. What isn't make believe, however, is the art of Muay Thai and Thailand's national obsession with the sport.
Muay Thai is an integral part of Thai culture. The sport has existed for centuries. For an ancient Siam, Muay Thai was the art of the battlefield, an essential close quarters technique. Because of this, King and commoners alike became obsessed with Muay Thai. Despite its violent nature, Muay Thai was even taught as a part of school curriculum up until the 1920's when the nation appealed to reason and acknowledged inquiry rates. It was then that the art went into the gyms and clubs spread throughout the country.
The 1930's ushered the most radical changes in the sport. Cups to protect the groin were introduced and gloves (instead of fabric strips) went on the hands. Stadiums, instead of makeshift rings and courtyards, began popping up during the reign of Rama VII before the second world war.
Muay Thai Today
The fascination persists. Imitating the sport is as much of a Thai's childhood as learning songs about the elephants that foreign visitors now ride atop of. Several nights a week, radio and television stations broadcast the fights to millions of loyal fans.
Outsiders question the obsession with a sport so violent that during the reign of the Tiger King, hands and forearms were bound with strips of horse hair to inflict more damage upon the opponent (Even ground glass was mixed with glue and spread over the strips). But those familiar with the sport agree that the obsession can easily be explained.
At each Muay Thai event there is ceremony. There is ritual. From Chang Mai to Bangkok, Chiang Rai to Samui, Thais and farang (foreigners) fans alike understand that Muay Thai is much more than violent fist-a-cuffs. It is an art form clouded in both mystique and tradition.
Make sure to check out a Muay Thai fight the next time you are in Thailand.
As a portrait photographer, it is always pleasant to receive an assignment request that gets you out of town. Not only do I love traveling and experiencing the Korea that lays outside of Seoul, I love the opportunity to take my camera to shoot subjects that are out of the ordinary for me.
The assignment was dual. I was sent to Busan to not only capture a cover for Hong Kong Express' UO Magazine, I was to also shoot several locations for a shopping editorial.
Model Angel Jion and I hopped on the KTX on Friday afternoon and s[ed our way down to the southern tip of Korea. We had some time to kill so we went to the beach and ate a pizza.
We woke early and headed out to Gamcheon Village, an artist community on the outskirts of Busan. For a couple of hours, Angel and I explored and took advantage of our time on assignment. Once we had the shots we needed, I sent Angel back to her hotel and I got to work on the second part of the trip.
Soon enough, I had all of the good gravy I needed for the editorial client. I gave Angel and rang and we decided to meet back up. With the magazine cover and editorial completed, Angel and I spent our remaining time in Busan exploring the streets and making portraits.
All in all, a decent weekend with a great company (and a cover shot to boot)!
Jazz Kerouac and the Jazz Men of Seoul
Before I started my photography business, I got lost in books. I still do, but not like I used to. I wasn't always a fan of reading until college. It was then that my friend Dennis turned me on to the Beat Generation. Up to that point, my literate life basically consisted of Cliff Notes and tattoo magazines.
But thanks to my mate Burns, my late teens and early twenties were filled with the likes of Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Kesey. However, it was the stack of Jack Kerouac novels that I loved most.
Kerouac's staccato verse instantly produced mental images of cigarette wrinkled men blowing their horns with air as fast as their lifestyles. Just reading about it made me want to be a character in the book. I could visualize the scene, hear the jumpy beats and see the beatniks swaying and dancing.
Though, I didn't feel the need to patron the jazz clubs of North Carolina (Are there any?) to prove my visions correct. I perceived to know what jazz clubs were like simply by reading the prose of Beat Master Jack.
Fast forward a decade. No longer do I read Kerouac (Nor do I have the desire to jump in boxcar heading across the country). I have traded my love of Beat literature for a love of Canon and Fuji manuals.
Though I must admit, when a client sent me out for a look at Seoul's thriving jazz scene, I realized that I had the opportunity to again flirt with the scenes Kerouac once set for me. As a portrait photographer, Kerouac fan and musician (the later is debatable), photographing some of Seoul's jazz men was a welcomed editorial commission.
Spending several evenings in Seoul's jazz clubs, I did not find cramped, smoke filled basements and leathered jazz masters. There were no beatniks screaming, "Blow!" I couldn't find a trace of Charlie Parker or Dean Moriarity passed out under a table (Seriously, you must read On the Road no matter how cliche it may now seem). In fact, I found the exact opposite of what I had expected.
In Itaewon's All That Jazz, middle-aged Koreans sat nibbling on lavish cheese and fruit plates. Hongdae's Club Palm hosted lovers more interested in batting eyelashes at one another than the stand-up bass being plucked. Likewise, Once In a Blue Moon's dress code was surprising for even Apgujeong. I was almost turned away because I didn't have a sport's coat. Seriously, it just felt stuffy.
The closest my formative, Kerouac visions came to reality was in a small venue a stone's throw from Hongkik University in the hipster enclave of Hongdae. Without the pomp and circumstance of the other haunts, Club Evan serves bottled beers and crams youthful jazz fans as close to the stage as possible. While there is no blue smoke, there is a lively atmosphere that, I suspect, would make Kerouac proud.
With the editorial assignment finished, I found myself both satisfied with the images and the fact that I had actually been inside a jazz club. In fact, I had been in every jazz club in Seoul. Now, I am dealing with my desire to rummage through a sealed box or two to find some Kerouac novels.
"He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets IT- everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows its not the tune that counts but IT."
- J. Kerouac
Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portraiture, editorial, event, and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.