Friday, 6 November 2015

Head-spinning heights

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

I was lucky to get to take this 360-degree shot from the roof of a 20-storey building in Tokyo for a PR advert for the new Ricoh Theta S camera. It was a bit palm-sweating to hold the camera on a selfie-stick so that it leaned over the edge of a 20-floor drop (well, I felt safe, but if the camera dropped…!) But it made for a neat cityscape and included the passing shinkansen.

The final rotatable and explorable image is not for easy export to print, below is the ad as it appeared on the page of the Foreign Correspondents' Club magazine, Number 1 Shimbun.

Thursday, 29 October 2015


Two long-running magazines originally named after characters from Popeye feature, well … their namesakes. Brutus is about Japanese wine, but features an interpretation of the character Brutus, And the Olive is a special edition "magazine book" (mook) with a model made up like Olive. Why they were originally named after Popeye (as was the magazine Popeye) I don't know.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Just a drop…

… in a recently quiet blog. An animated gif of my photo of a a water drop from a bamboo pipe.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Last days

Last October I photographed inside an old, private Japanese house (for a potential project which hasn't come to fruition yet). Here we are in April, and the house is now torn down after it was decided only in February it couldn't be kept up any more. It survived the 1923 earthquake, the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, the 2011 quake (and survived both quakes even though parts of its extensions are just supported by wooden poles on top of stones). But it couldn't survive the commercial needs of maintenance. I couldn't go inside to photograph last week, but thanks to a friend's introduction, the workers allowed us to photograph the house from outside. These are a few before-and-afters.

The house had been inherited a long time ago by Christian nuns. They were still living in it when I took the photos last October but they are now elderly and have moved to another place. There was no one left to maintain the place now – not enough Christians in Japan to fund its upkeep, I guess – and so it was sold. And not enough rich people who want to spend money reforming or maintaining such a place of their own. So my guess is, an apartment block will be built there since there were two joined houses and a sizeable garden before. Everywhere, wooden things with character disappear, and concrete things without replace them! (Of course, new buildings are earthquake resistant, but then this one survived two very sizeable quakes!)

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Story hacking

Here's a magazine oddity. This month WIRED UK and WIRED USA have the same cover feature, about attempts by North Korean defectors to send USBs etc with data about the outside world into North Korea with the aim of loosening the powerful grip of the dictatorship. Obviously a case of sharing content between the UK and US issues, you'd think, with just a different design approach. Oddly, not.

They are different stories written by different writers with different photographers, even if sometimes taking photos of the same people. (An attractive female defector gets a full page portrait, subtly different, in each.) 

And yet, the magazines do share stories and images – the story on sex workers who are missing a now-banned website appears in this UK issue a month after it was in the US one.

Well, I guess someone wasn't talking to someone. Or magazine owners Condé Nast are flush with money! (Or simply want to get back at NK for the Sony hack?)

Anyway, it happens to be a design master class – as both magazines are design masters – in which the US issue comes out on top. Better cover, better cover line. None of the militaristic power of the UK photo, which presumably sees the shot of the defector in front of missiles as a sort of parody of a dictator shot. Its cover line needs the logo to be read as well – which is unusual – but the change in colour adds to the confusion. (Apart from there, confusingly, being no "hacking" involved. That prominent cover line is simply to get people referencing NK from recent news.) The UK leads its feature with a nighttime shot of balloons being launched across the border to drop USBs in North Korea. The US demotes that project to a paragraph that says its a largely failed attempt compared to smuggling by people. (And The UK follows the NK article with a feature on quiet hideaways, confusingly – since the NK article is all about defectors – headlined "Escape". The US moves on to beer and an interesting article on the illnesses and industrial accidents in Chinese factories making tech products.)

The US cover is a great illustration that brings down Kim Jong-un, which is a better summary of the story than the empowering (militarily) of defectors that the UK approach goes for. All very interesting from a design view though.

Monday, 29 December 2014

What is "it"?

My cover design for the January 2015 issue of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in-house print magazine (online here).

Journalist Matt Alt writes in the issue about Pharrell Williams' video for a new track, "It Girl" and its animation roots in "lolicon" (or Lolita complex – the self explanatory interest in prepubescent girls).  Matt wrote a piece in the New Yorker explaining the artist's lolicon links and more about the whole shebang to a readership it might have passed by. The video's producer, pop artist Takashi Murakami responded publicly on his Facebook page. So this Number 1 Shimbun cover (for Matt's follow-up article about the unexpected response to his New Yorker piece and with more about lolicon's history) plays on an obvious connection with Lolita, lolicon and pop. It's designed to make you feel uncomfortable.

If I even got to design a cover for that great work of fiction, Lolita – which is lowered to a common denominator daily in Japan by its association with lolicon, and the Gothic Lolita, Sweet Lolita fashions etc  – this would have been it. Since I may never have gotten that opportunity, here was a chance to use it!

Pharrell has been forgiven much because of his hyper-infectious, singularly positive track "Happy", which has been used in YouTube videos from Sudan to Ukraine, by British muslims and Okinawan residents, and which was accompanied by the great 24-hour music video. So he largely escaped the criticism (to say the least) of his co-written "Blurred Lines", which left main singer Robin Thicke with a non-selling follow-up album and taking the rap. Pharrell's album GIRL – pitched as celebration of the female, presumably in response to all those events – features "It girl". Perhaps Pharrell just didn't realise what he was associating with…