Japan Through Canada’s Gaze

A year ago this week, I was preparing a solo photography exhibition in Tokyo. Technically, it was a collaborative installation with a musical partner/friend. My photography. Her piano performance. Japan Through Canada’s Gaze, as we named it.

We’d worked on the preliminaries for months. We had only one evening at our disposal due to scheduling conflicts and geography, to select and edit over 150 photos. We stayed up til the wee hours of the morning editing the selection curated (mostly) by my friend. They all came from the first half of my second trip to Japan. By 3am, my eyes were chafed red and I had to stop because I was seeing spots, and also needed to catch a long bus ride the next day around noon.


Gotokuji cat shrine | Rikugien | Hiroshima Leaves

Modern VS classic motif. Asakusa.

I worked fast, and less efficiently than I would have if I were in the comfort of my own home, with my own laptop, with proper sleep, and an adequate amount of hours in which to edit to my liking and not just so the printshop wouldn’t cut off vital parts of my shots or adjust the color casts in ways I never asked them to. Yup, that run-on sentence just exemplifies the essence of being out of breath, time and accuracy under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I felt I did well. I was working on a PC when I’m used to Apple. I was using a Japanese interface, and my friend needed to translate pop-up warnings and guess which settings or filters I wanted, since she is neither visually nor technically inclined. Just trying to describe what I meant by hue or contrast was a challenge, not because my friend doesn’t speak English (she does), but because she has little use for such terminology in her life.

Headlights on wall at dusk. Mitaka.


Hiroshima pine | Yayoi Tengu. Beppu | Jigokudani. Beppu.


The print orders were made by her while I was in China. I had to trust my colleague’s eye (which I attempted to tune to my own by explaining certain visual preferences as i edited in front of her), as well as the judgment of the printshop staff. In fact, some images were too dark, too bright, too flat, but i accepted the compromises just to produce an output.


Art business. Saizeriya eatery | Installation prep. Monten Hall.

By silly luck, we were forced to drastically reduce the quantity of images on display at the event venue, so I was quick to eliminate most shots that didn’t live up to my standards. The venue itself became its own entity, as surfaces didn’t handle our adhesive or mounting methods as expected. The layout and spacing of the room also forced us to get creative with the interactive parts of the installation. My friend had built a replica crosswalk to represent the Shibuya Scramble crossing depicted in the image used in our promotional materials. We also wanted to use multiple slide projectors to produce overlays of transparencies across drapery surrounding my partner’s piano, but had to content ourselves with only one projection. A second was shown on an adjacent wall as a slide show timed to the color and tempo of the live music.


Installing artwork | Testing projectors. Monten Hall.

It was an interactive piece, but our audience was shy, and by halfway through the event, we decided to write up a small posterboard to explicitly tell onlookers to feel free to walk around the room, on the crosswalk itself, and even do so while the music played. A few brave souls did the deed but most stayed seated at least until my friend finished her sets.

Our friendly note to attendees. Monten Hall.


The entire event was an incredible learning experience for us both. A lot of unknown factors influenced the outcome (which was not necessarily a bad thing). I have new fans; new friends. I hadn’t exhibited my work in years, and my friend had not performed publicly in almost as long. I took this as our warmup for bigger and better projects in the future, whether together or separately.


Japan Through Canada’s Gaze. Monten Hall.


In my partner’s case, she has been putting together more performances in Japan. Over here on the other side of the world, I’ve been fleshing out my artistic persona online after a few years of hiatus and not being sure what I wanted to do next in my artistic pursuits. I started doing portrait photography again. I started ‘seeing’ more of what’s around me instead of just capturing it. Seeing is so important to someone with a visual disability. The concept of the Tokyo show was to show a Japanese audience how a Canadian sees their world. And I’m a peculiar Canadian, at that. I don’t ‘see’ what most photographers (or people overall) see. I’m glad I was able to share my vision with a larger group of eyes.


Aside from the making-of and the event photography, the images included in this post were all displayed March 26th, 2017 at Ryogoku Monten Hall, Tokyo, Japan.

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