Tokyo is one of my favourite cities and I was keen to produce a series of photos exploring what makes it such a special place.

The mixture of different cultural elements and influences in Japan’s capital city seems to have produced a style which is unique to itself. Combining inspirations ranging from ancient Far Eastern traditions to playful retro-futurism, the benign lunacy of the stage show in Kabukichuo’s Robot Restaurant is a great example of this.

Robot Dancer #2
Robot Dancer #2

In searching for subjects, I was particularly drawn to the tiny yakitori restaurants and bars that are clustered together in the alleys and archways around some of the main train stations.

The people who frequented these places were especially interesting; once they left the main streets and entered these tucked-away areas they seemed to let their guard down, relax and become happy.

It felt as though each of these small pockets of hospitality provided a sense of community within the otherwise anonymous lifestyle of the vast metropolis.

Tiny Restaurant #5
Tiny Restaurant #5

During my last visit to Tokyo I went to an autumn festival that was taking place in the suburb of Kichijoji. This was a great opportunity to experience a Japanese street festival, where local community groups and organisations loudly carried their respective shrines on hefty palanquins though the neighbourhood. Immediately after stepping out of the local train station I got caught up in the action and ended up in the thick of the joyful procession.

Kichijoji #5
Kichijoji #5

Many big cities are full of vibrant colours but, as with this project, I often choose to work in black and white when shooting these environments. A photograph without colour seems to be less constrained by the expectations of being a true to life representation and so can be more impressionistic, having accentuated shapes and more leeway in exposure and contrast.

Of course both colour and monochrome have their strengths and the decision of which to use can be also be based on the proposed outcome of the project (e.g. screen-based display, darkroom prints, printed book, etc.)

Shibuya Train
Shibuya Train

The Shibuya Train photograph is one of my favourites as I feel it is evocative of the city’s essence but in an everyday and subtle way. The train was rattling past on overhead tracks as I stepped out from a bar and so, without much thought, I looked up and took a snap shot – using whatever shutter speed and aperture that was set for the previous photo.

The fleeting moment was forgotten until I checked the negatives and was pleasantly surprised with the result. The pronounced grain texture from the ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional film seems to suit this type of image and works particularly well in large prints.

Pachinko Parlour
Pachinko Parlour

My gear for this project comprised a couple of Nikon FM3A bodies with three Nikkor AI-S lenses: 24mm f2, 50mm f1.2 and 105mm f1.8. Each lens was fitted with a yellow-green filter, which I occasionally removed if I was in a particularly dark environment and needed all the light I could get for focussing and exposure.

ILFORD HP5 PLUS is my usual film, but I will also use ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional at times. Many of the evening shots in Tokyo were taken with HP5 PLUS and pushed two stops.

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The Photobook

When planning this project, I decided to produce a limited edition of 100 books so that I could allocate more budget to using high-quality materials and finishing. As the book design included 74 photos, it would have been impractical for darkroom prints to be tipped-in but I was keen for the images to have a similar look.

The Tokyo Photobook
The Tokyo Photobook

After some experimentation I decided to use a Konica Minolta Bizhub Press to digitally print the pages. Digital printing still has some way to go before it rivals traditional offset printing for colour reproduction quality, but it does work well when only using the black toner for monochrome images.

When printing on silk art paper (in this case 170g/m2 Condat Silk) the result can be quite similar in appearance to a fibre-based darkroom print. It also seems that, in comparison to half-tone screens, the application of toner particles to create tonal gradation more closely resembles the clusters of silver deposits that form the image in a darkroom print.

After printing, the pages were case bound and metallic hot foils were debossed into the synthetic leather-look cover to form the Tokyo graphic.





Print exhibition: Shinjuku Night

To complement the book launch I made a set of 12 gelatin-silver prints to exhibit. This series of photos, called Shinjuku Night, is taken from the book and portrays an evening in the entertainment areas around Shinjuku train station.

Most of the photographs were a straight print from the negative with a medium-high filter (2.5 – 3.5) on ILFORD Multigrade FB Cooltone. For a couple of prints I did slightly burn in some unwanted bright areas using a low contrast filter (00).

The print size for this exhibition was 12½” x 8¼” (32cm x 21cm) and 20½” x 16¼” (52cm x 41cm) when framed.

Exhibition photos
Exhibition photos

The images in the Shinjuku Night series were made using available artificial light sources to give a chiaroscuro effect. Being predominantly dark with strong highlights, I chose to mount the prints within a thick black window mat to make the illuminated subject stand out.

Rather than use a traditional white-walled gallery space, I wanted a darker and grittier location to better suit the images. The venue I eventually chose had polished concrete walls that seemed to fit the style of the photographs well.

~ Paul Bradshaw


Credit: Exhibition photos by Ying Wu



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About the author

Avatar - Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw

Originally from England, Paul has worked in Hong Kong as a photographer and designer for the last 13 years. During this time, his business projects have involved working with international luxury brands. However, for his personal work he likes to get far from...

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