Japan Polaroid – Making a photo book

As a photographer, I tend to be drawn towards people. Which means that my work revolves mostly around portraits and street photography. Street photography because I’m not just interested in people, but people within spaces, be they banal, or epic in scope. I love natural light, and details, and I am endlessly fascinated by primary and complementary colour schemes. So in a way, Japan is a perfect place to photograph, because it encompasses a lot of those things which I find interesting, while also being dear to my heart on a more personal and spiritual level. Because of this connection, I have always wanted to set a photo series or project there. As it is not somewhere one visits every day, especially coming from Europe. On the 4 trips I have been fortunate enough to make to the country, I always carried along several different means of visual documentation. Always film. On this particular trip in 2016, I decided to go a lot lighter than I had done in the past and took a single film camera. My Polaroid SLR600. 


Japan is a place, for the most part, that is seen through a very particular lens by foreigners. I use the word lens here purposefully, as we are talking specifically about photography. It is natural for foreign eyes to be taken by people in Kimono or Yukata walking around in the wild, to be fascinated by the otaku culture, and interested in the many quirks that the country and its inhabitants have to offer. I too am not immune to these images, but for a photo series, I wanted to take a different approach. Somewhere between street photography, and elements of the everyday. Shooting on instant film, and being limited in terms of number of shots, focal length, and exposure (as well as the volatile nature of newer film stocks with evolving chemistry), also meant that I had to be a lot more considerate of what I was taking, and how it would all come together in the end. But I also didn’t want to be so rigorous as to stifle the capturing of natural moments and my own discovery of the country. And this is how I eventually ended up with the final series of photographs, which I feel strikes a balance between what I guess one can call the real Japan, and the Japan that one expects. At least I think so. 


In terms of design, I was inspired by Wim Wenders book of Polaroids, and the exhibition of the photographs from the book that I saw, which I found really interesting. There’s also the question of sizes, and if you should try and portray the polaroid as it would be seen in its original state, or if you take some creative license to vary it a bit depending on the image.


I chose the latter, and tried to organise them in a way that was coherent, but also putting the images in their best light, giving some a more featured showcase to show off the content of the photograph, and others to balance each other out.


One major design element I went with was placing the colour photos on a black background, and the monochrome images on a plain white background. This helped them pop a little bit more, and also gives you an immediate indication of what kind of images you will be looking at next. It’s a self-published book, and I think for a first attempt at that, it came out pretty close to my expectations going into it. 


I’ve been wondering how to put this down in words, talking about the book and my approach. Photography to me is a very organic thing, and so I subscribe very much to the idea of a photo speaking for itself. However, I also appreciate when there is a story behind it, that allows you to understand the nuances around the decision to photograph something, especially on film where that choice is a lot more thought through and decisive, than with the shoot and forget, sort it out later mentality of digital. I think the easiest way is just to talk about some of the images from the book, my memory of them, and my motivation for taking them in the first place. 

Japan Polaroids 0

So this was the very first photo of the trip. I thought it was a good way to start the book (and this breakdown) because it encapsulates a bit of what I was trying to describe earlier. It’s not a photo that screams “Japan” when you look at it. There are people in a space, seen from behind and with no real signs in the environment that could indicate that it is not in fact anywhere else in the world. But there is something about people waiting for a bus at an airport early in the morning that was interesting to me. And that I was going to be one of those people on that bus they were waiting for, meant it kind of held more significance in the image for me as a memory as well as a subject to photograph. I feel, being the start of the book, it communicates the feeling I had of arriving, to anyone looking through the series of images, knowing that what they will be seeing is part of an overall journey. 

Japan Polaroids 1

This was among the first images I took knowing it could make an interesting page. We were walking over a bridge when I spotted a group of friends hanging out in the river area below. The water level was low, and so they were able to walk right down the middle. It was an interesting image already, but then the group separated leaving only one person behind, and it was such a striking scene, that also felt like the essence of Japanese summer to me. I was hoping for a sharper image, but with the impossible film formula at the time, plus trying to grab the shot quickly before the scene changed, it ended up coming out rather surreal and dreamy, which I actually really liked. The little chemical burn at the top also adds to that sense of nostalgia.  

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I didn’t have any real plan for when I was going to shoot colour or black and white. I just kind of went for whatever was the first box of film I grabbed from my bag. This is one of the few candid portraits in the whole book, and I think it’s an interesting one because again, other than the DJs being Japanese, the image doesn’t exactly scream “Japanese”. It was a kind of fireworks party by the bay in Yokohama that some friends took us to, as they were performing (One of them is on the right). It was a pretty local thing, and I just liked this moment of people having fun and partying. This was taken with the flash, and as you can tell right away, the black and white chemistry is a lot more stable, which I found made a nice contrast with the colour images in the book. 

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This shot had a specific purpose, which was not entirely successful. All the times we have been to Japan, we have never gotten a clear view of Fuji-san. On this drive out of Tokyo towards Nagano, we spotted Fuji, just barely, in the distance ahead of us. And I thought I would try and capture it on film. You can’t make it out at all in the photo, but I really love the way the blue of the sky came out with the rolling clouds on the horizon. And the burn in the corner also felt rather natural to the scene, 

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Another landscape/nature type photo. I took it for the tree in the middle of the shot, which is I believe native to Japan (I couldn’t tell you what kind it is). And I just thought it was really interesting the juxtaposition of that tree on the side of the road with the landscape in the distance, and the buildings. Again, lovely blue skies, and you can almost feel the heat, which is almost exaggerated by the polaroid effect.  

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There’s a fun story around this image. The second time I went to Japan, I came across a banana milk drink that was only in the Itoen vending machines, and it was delicious! So when we went back I thought I’d try it again. However it proved to be very very hard to find (I’d clearly taking it for granted that the machine at the station near where we were staying had it, but no more). So every day we went out, I looked at every single vending machine we walked by, with no luck, for pretty much the entire trip UNTIL, in the last few weeks, we went to the Nakagin Capsule tower, and low and behold, they had some! In my joy, I decided that it was worth a photo. And as it turns out, this photo ended up being one of the most important in the whole book because as of this year, that drink does not exist anymore ANYWHERE (I’ll be happy to be proven wrong on this. Just be sure to tell me WHERE you found it!!). So I shall always have this memory to cherish, and people who are familiar with Japanese vending machines, get an image of something that was rare, and now non-existent. They can only experience it through this photograph. And for me, that’s the beauty of photography, and photobooks, because it really is a small piece of a moment in time. 

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One of the intents I had, beyond just taking street photos in Japan, was to try and photograph seemingly mundane scenes of everyday life. I was drawn to the woman on her phone with the bikes behind her and the group of people walking past in the distance. I think it works well in black and white, and it can also suggest a kind of narrative. the image itself is not amazing, but I feel it captures that idea of just regular everyday Japan, which exists alongside the people and tourists in kimono, or the usual things one expects to see in Japan as a foreigner. 

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I had intended to photograph one of the girls from the maid cafe there in Akihabara. Here is one instance where I was for sure fascinated by the site and having a completely foreign gaze. However, the photograph turned out to evolve into something a lot more interesting. The “maids” are notoriously camera shy, and seeing as pretty much every tourist with a camera or a phone is trying to photograph them, one can imagine that they have developed ways of avoiding lenses whenever possible. Trying to make sure I got a sharp and usable image with no one walking by in front of the camera, I took my time trying to find the frame, and she spotted me. Of course, they are very non-confrontational about it, plus I was some distance away, and I noticed her through the viewfinder, slowly creeping into a doorway behind her, effectively shielding her from my view entirely. I tried to grab the shot before she was completely out of shot, and of course, at that moment someone also happened to walk through my shot. The result is something that is both mysterious, voyeuristic, and very layered I feel. Just looking at the photo the scene appears to be just a busy city street in Japan, but then you look closer and you can just about make her out hiding in the background, with the foreground out of focus, and the tease above in the sign, featuring what could have been. 

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Surf photography, like skate photography, is one of my preferred subject strands of photography, because you are documenting a vast subculture that exhibits so many different elements in terms of people, style, and interesting environments. In the case of surfing, that environment is, of course, the sea, and the beach. We were out on a steaming hot day, hot enough that walking barefoot on the sand was equivalent to walking on fire, and we came across what looked like a surfing club, or school of some sort. There were what looked like pro surfers, and a bunch of people who seemed like they were just starting out. The lead woman also had a really cool look, and I knew I had to photograph them somehow. I ended up getting them just as they were heading out to catch a wave, and I find the scene and the surfers so majestic and epic, especially in black and white. I decided to make this the cover of the book as I felt it was something very Japanese in nature for those who know, while also offering a side of Japan that exists, but is outside of the realm of tourist Japan, which tends to reside in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka for the most part. Here we were in what was effectively a young student surfer vacation spot, and the energy in this shot kind of reflects what we experienced there ourselves.  

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In the temples, people tend to photograph the main buildings and the gates. With good reason as they are striking, imposing pieces of architecture, and indeed a very classic symbol of Japanese culture. But I find every time we went to the temples, I was always drawn to the statues of the gods at the gates. I love how the people in the foreground are ever so slightly overexposed, and the statue almost invisible beyond the wire protective mesh and the dark enclosure. It is imposing, striking, and almost alive. It wasn’t how I was expecting it to come out, but I was pleasantly surprised in this instance with the surprise the polaroid gave me. 

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Another common site, and one that foreigners and locals alike have a soft spot for. As soon as I spotted Totoro in the window of this house as we walked by, I knew I had to get a photo. In fact, I was obligated to. It must have been a kids room, as you can see other toys along the window sill inside. I also liked the window and how it popped out the side of the building like that on the concrete wall, with the power line crossing the frame. The shot ended up slightly overexposed, so you can’t really see the detail in the Totoro plush toy, but he is such an iconic figure that I kind of feel most people would recognise it. Plus being a Japanese photo book, there are only so many characters it could be. I like that it’s a relatively normal scene otherwise. 

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I really liked how this came out in the end, with the two people just about in the right exposure, mirrored by the two deck chairs in the foreground, the sea almost bleeding into the sky. This was taken in Naoshima, which is touristy but not necessarily so well known that it is a destination for the basic traveller. It is one of the more peaceful images in the book, and I think has a timeless quality to it. Again I felt it was important to show a variety of different landscapes and environments throughout the series, and so I did make a conscious effort to include a good number of more natural landscapes and environments to counter the idea of the urban metropolis that is Tokyo. 

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Small details like what a gardener wears in Japan, and how they take care of the many natural parks and gardens in the country, are things that I personally find quite revealing of a countries culture and their approach to life. He was taking a lot of care doing the work and I couldn’t help wondering just how long he is out there every day, and how one manages to cover every little corner that needs tending on such a hot day. The man amongst the trees with the rays of natural light piercing through I thought was quite beautiful. And luckily the polaroid captured some of that essence. 

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This features two traditionally Japanese things. Vending machines, and people in masks. I admit I was looking at the masked man, but I did like how he featured in the frame with the vending machines and the little stall side by side, and the AC unit above. Again, signs of summer. This was taken from the inside of a moving train just leaving the platform, and I guess it kind of reflects the urgency one tends to find at train stations, of people rushing off or on, or trying to pass the time in transit doing practical things like getting a bottle of water, or a magazine, or a pack of cigarettes. A simple everyday scene that we can all relate to, but with elements that show us how the other half lives. 


Tony aka ツ / Tsu, is a photographer and visual artist based in France. His work comprises a mix of portraiture and documentary photography mostly on film. His work is self-described as, organic straight photography, and is inspired by the work of people such as Raymond Depardon, Gordon Parks, Diane Arbus and others.

You can buy the Japan Polaroid photobook here

Find him on Instagram @tsuphotoworks

And explore his other work at tsuphotoworks.com

He also works as a filmmaker, and you can find out more about of his film work here

Learning to shoot film in Japan

I got inspired to write some thoughts on my experience learning to shoot film in Japan because of the way I shared my work with my family after my trip. Like any good business school graduate I created a slideshow with maps, information, and of course my photographs as a means to share my stories. In the process of creating this I was able to relive not only my experience in Japan, but my journey learning this medium and becoming a stronger photographer.

So I thought it might be fun to share some of those thoughts here and hopefully leave you either:

  • Inspired to pick up a film camera and shoot or
  • Laughing at my misgivings if you’re a seasoned photographer


In early 2018 I embarked on a three month trip to Japan. I wanted to be in one country for three months to soak up the culture as best as I could and Japan’s culture is awesome. I mean that quite literally – Japan is an awe inspiring country full of natural beauty, massive urban centres, welcoming people, and an allure that comes from perfect balance between history and modernity.

Was I a photographer before this trip? 100%, unequivocally, no. I owned a Nikon D3000 for a few years but never spent the time required to learn how to use it properly or develop any photography skill. So when I left for Japan without that camera I forced myself into choosing to pick something up upon arrival or go about my journey with my phone and my notebooks.

It was pretty early into my trip that I realized how fortunate I was to be in such a cool country for so long and I was eager to find a way to capture the charm of Japan. My good friend Sam (you know him as the other half of Box Speed) pushed me into getting a film camera, “Japan is the film mecca”, I can still hear it in my head. He recommended that if I want to get into this I should try to find a fully manual SLR, which is now my recommendation to anyone who asks me how to get into film photography. I cannot thank him enough for the introduction to this medium.

Unbeknownst to me I didn’t really take his advice though because what I ended up getting was a Yashica Electro 35 CC, a decent rangefinder that shoots aperture priority only. I meant to buy an SLR but my broken Japanese, the store owner’s broken English, and a shit Google translate did nothing to help me out, paired with my literal zero knowledge on cameras I walked out of this cute shop with my dinky rangefinder. It did the trick for two weeks until I realized the light leaks were terrible, and exaggerated in any amount of daylight.

My 0th frame on an analog camera

This is how my first four rolls went:

  • 1st roll: some good shots, loading, shooting, dropping off for development was seamless
  • 2nd roll: loaded incorrectly but didn’t know until development results were 100% blank
  • 3rd roll: (see 2nd roll)
  • 4th roll: finally back to seamlessness but started seeing the leaks
I actually like this shot but you get the picture

Luckily I found a good deal on an Olympus OM10 from a store in Kyoto called 三條サクラヤ写真機店
with a manual shutter speed adaptor and the rest is history – well kind of. I shot 15 rolls of whatever Fujifilm 400 speed was available with my OM10 over the course of roughly two months but this is the start of where learning something equally complex as it is rewarding, like film photography, in a foreign country and on a time sensitive trip is a double edged sword.

On the one hand when I look back at my work from Japan I still feel that romance I love with film and I can put myself back into my shots and remember the sights in my viewfinder and the feelings I had pulling the camera away from my face. But on the other hand I knew I left things on the table by not taking advantage of what you can do with film because I wasn’t focused on truly learning.

I try to conceptualize this in two buckets:

Not testing things out

First of all I didn’t shoot any black and white with my OM10 while I was there (thank you for the gasp, I too regret this). I also didn’t shoot any professional grade film. Is this the end of the world? Of course not but if I had the chance to do it again I’d experiment more, I’d try harder to get out of my comfort zone and create works of art that challenged me.

And not trying to get better

I also didn’t have any access to editing software, like Lightroom which I use sparingly now. I’m not a huge editor of my work, I prefer to keep things simple but what I enjoy the most about using Lightroom is cropping and analyzing my work with the rule of thirds, golden triangle, etc. Whether or not I end up actually cropping is another matter but I find value in comparing my work with those well established standards to find trends and get better. I definitely relate this to my previous thoughts on being more intentional when you shoot.


I’d like to leave you with reiterating what I was saying earlier because albeit not perfect, Japan was an amazing place for me to fall in love with film photography. Every setting you could want to shoot you can find in Japan and as my good friend told me, it is the Mecca for film. Next time I’m back I’ll be applying what I’ve learned and developed since being back home to create pieces that inspire me – and I hope to be back soon.

Much love,


Seoul Mini Photo Essay #1


Over the weekend I visited Seoul for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been back to Korea, so it was almost like visiting for the first time. I honestly didn’t have a ton of time for sightseeing and photography as I spent most of my time with family, but I did manage to get a little shooting in.


First, a small note on gear. I actually did the opposite of my last trip to Tokyo and this time I brought 3 cameras and a variety of film stocks (both b/w and color). I brought my Yashica Mat-124G (with the intention of selling/trading it), my Konica Big Mini and my trust Leica M2. I also brought some bulk rolled Tri-X 400 and 2 rolls of Fuji Superia 400. Although I brought 3 cameras this time around, I actually only ended up shooting the Leica. I never even took the Konica Big Mini out of my bag and I traded the Yashica Mat-124G in for a Sony DSC-RX100, thus getting rid of my last medium format camera and making the full leap to 35mm only (a topic for another blog post).


Like I said before, I had barely any time to shoot during this short 2.5 day visit. I only got in one roll of Fuji Superia 400, one roll of Tri-X 400 (pushed to 1600) and one roll of Portra 400. During my first full day I visited Namdaemun market, with the intention of checking out the camera stores. I’ve heard great things about both Namdaemun and Chungmuro and their film camera stores. I wanted to visit both but only had time for Namdaemun (I’ve heard Chungmuro has a better selection of film-specific gear!). I highly recommend visiting both if you’re in Seoul! The smells and sounds and sights are quite something.


As I was trading in my Yashica Mat-124G and saying goodbye to medium format (for now), I managed to grab some Kodak Portra 400 as part of the exchange. I used to shoot Portra all the time, but haven’t shot it in about a year and a half. This is due to many reasons, but mainly price. I just couldn’t justify paying for expensive film when there were cheaper options out there. I also had a period of shooting only HP5+ for the better part of a year. But when I got my hands on some from the trade I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I shot it again.

The warm pastel tones of Portra give it that classic 35mm film look and the dynamic range is to die for. I overexposed it to hell and back and everything came out really nice. I seriously missed shooting this film. I’m definitely going to start shooting it more often now. Even if this trip wasn’t too productive photography-wise, it served as a re-revelation to the wonders of Portra. tumblr-71

Although I didn’t get to shoot too much during this visit, I definitely enjoyed the few shots I got. If it wasn’t for this trip I wouldn’t have shot any Portra and fallen in love with it all over again. I’ll definitely be back in Seoul sometime in 2018 or early 2019. Hopefully I’ll have more content after that trip.


All photos shot on a Leica M2 and Tri-X 400 (pushed to 1600) or Portra 400.

Scotland and Iceland: Intentionality – Mini Photo Essay

In June of this year I joined my family for a two week trip to Scotland and Iceland. We spent ten days in Scotland travelling north from Glasgow, through the highlands, and making our way to Edinburgh before we jumped to Iceland for a four day adventure.


I made this trip an opportunity to work on my intentionality when it comes to photography. I still consider myself as really new to film, even though I’ve been shooting for the better part of eight months. I primarily shoot to capture moments in my day to day life but as I learn more about this medium I try to shoot more and more with the intention of finding a scene, composing it, and capturing it. Maybe that seems like a nuanced difference but for me it’s an attempt to change my approach to photography.

I embarked with something a bit fancier than the usual “cheapest 400 speed you offer” so I ended up bringing five rolls of Portra 400, two HP5 Plus and two Tri-X 400. Why the variety? While I strive to become more intentional in my approach to photography I need to be purposeful about how I utilize a given stock of film. As for gear the only camera I owned at the time was my trusty Olympus OM10.

There are two things I noticed when I kept intentionality at top of mind,

  1. First was that I was more willing to take risks with composing because I was trying to shoot out of my norm, basically it forced me to get out of my comfort zone
  2. Second was that having constantly gorgeous new scenery all around you makes it harder to be purposeful because I wanted to capture everything!

These differences are what I think about when I go back to these shots. I can see some scenery shots here that didn’t challenge me as much, like this shot from the Quiraing landslip on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It’s not necessarily hard to line up where you want the horizon, capture this rugged landscape, and get it in this shot. Could I have done more to add some character to this shot? I very well could have but it’s not something that was top of mind because of that second point above, sometimes you just want to mindlessly capture gorgeous sceneries like this.


And I look at this one from the Reynisfjara black-sand beach on the South Coast of Iceland. I was under a cave staying dry and just people watching and taking in the desolate scene. I knew I wanted to shoot something here that was more than just the sand and the cliffs because that wouldn’t do any justice to what I was seeing around me. I thought if I could contrast the ominous setting with something bright and warm then that would achieve my goals. I ran out into the rain to create this shot when the two vibrant ladies were contrasted with the sand – and in that way I challenged myself and got what I wanted from the scene.


The more I think about it I figure it’s not hard to shoot with intentionality in mind. Does it require more focus on your subject and the composition? Certainly. That’s what it’s about by definition, but at that same time a requirement to focus gives you the time it takes to challenge yourself and to become a more vulnerable photographer.

It takes a whole lot more vulnerability to want to share the ladies in the poncho shot because it took me a lot more thinking and it’s more personal than the Quiraing shot. I’m sharing my own thoughts on what I wanted that image to look like and I get to benefit on a discussion related to those thoughts. So overall, being intentional and being vulnerable to share that intentionality forces you to grow and become a better photographer.


Maybe this all seems like an obvious point but I just wanted to share where I’m going with my photography and I hope some of you connect to that approach, if not I hope you enjoyed the shots.

All shots developed at Kerrisdale Cameras in Vancouver BC, black and white shots scanned by me on an Epson perfection v550.