Yanaka, Tokyo | 2005

I remember taking this photo on a 初写真散歩 (hatsu shashin sanpo) the first week of January, 2005. hatsu shashin sanpo is a made up word indicating "the first photo walk of the new year", and is a play on words like hatsumoude ("the first visit of the year to a shrine to pray") and hatsuhinode ("first sunrise of the year") that Japanese use (and do) at the beginning of every year.

The photo was taken in Yanaka, a quaint area of temples and shrines, a few museums, old-timey shops, and Yanaka Cemetery, one of Tokyo’s largest. Most areas of Tokyo, and indeed the country, are deader than a door nail the first week of January, but while not teeming Yanaka was busy that day on account of 七福神巡り (shichifukujin meguri), a short pilgrimage tour to visit seven temples and shrines of Shichifukujin, the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.

I had spent most of 2004 shooting with my 35mm rangefinder, so as a change I took out my Mamiya 645 Super, the first "serious" camera I ever bought. I decided to shoot color slide film, also a change. Alas, as a photo walk the day was mainly a wash -- I wasn't "feeling it" much that day, and later when I got my film back one of the rolls was missing and I never did get it back. But I did get this shot, which I had only half-remembered taking.

And I do mean half -- the right half. I didn't see the two walking figures on the left, much less notice that one of them appears to be sight-impaired, until I looked at the transparency a couple of months later.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and with street photography in particular it seems an undeniable part of the magic. Nevertheless there is still some embarrassment on my part to admitting that I didn't see this picture in its entirety when I shot it. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I noticed those drooping chicken heads either. I knew it was some sort of meat-processing company, and I certainly knew those were dead animals of some sort. As best as I remember it, I took the photo because I thought it strange that a) such a business would have large plate glass windows allowing such a clear view inside, and b) they would be working during oshougatsu (New Years holidays). I remember being worried the workers inside would shoo me away if I took too long to set up the shot, which helps to account for (or excuse) the fact that the viewfinder was not fully explored, or the decisive moment not consciously executed.

Most -- perhaps all -- of my "winners" are like this. That is, those shots I can barely remember taking. Conversely, almost all of those photos where I say to myself, I can't wait to see how that turned out, are ultimately not worth waiting for. (Naturally I'm talking about film photography here. Digital photography is a whole other dynamic, one I'll perhaps address at another time.)