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  • Writer's pictureShawn Griffin

Disposable Tokyo

I've shot the hell out of Tokyo...

Tokyo is by far, shamelessly, my favorite city in the world. There is a feeling that I've only experienced 3 times in my life. When I had my first meaningful kiss, when I first saw a live walrus in person (hey, everyone's got their weird thing), and the first time I got off the plane at Narita airport in 2009. But the "Tokyo feeling" wasn't a one-off experience. I found it to be a reoccurring feeling every single time I'd see the "Tokyoへようこそ" sign.

This I used this feeling as a major influence for my creative work and inspired me to photograph the city like insanity. This made every trip to Tokyo result in 4 memory cards worth of photos for me to edit and spending the majority of my trips looking at the city from behind a camera.

I once went to a wedding with an overly elaborate cake that had a trim of icing around the base of the cake which no one seemed to manage picking up with their cake slices. I freaking love wedding cake icing (we can probably add that to the above "feelings" list) so I decided to take a knife and collect all of the missed icing, piling it up on my slice of cake. This resulted in me getting a bit of a queasy, being unable to dance, and making the highlight of the wedding events (for me) being eating so much icing that I would write about it in a photography blog years later.

What I'm trying to say, photographing Tokyo became like eating too much wedding cake icing.

I started to not experience Tokyo because I was too busy trying to show everyone else my experience of Tokyo. I no longer had as many interesting of stories, I stopped remembering exactly what I did outside of what I was photographing, I wouldn't meet as many interesting people, and I would leave Tokyo with nothing more than 3,000 photos and $3,000 USD in debt from Harajuku (exaggeration... sort of...)

In photographing Tokyo non-stop I ended up eating too much wedding cake icing and, thus, wasn't dancing.

In December of 2016, I was scheduled to return to Tokyo for a friend's wedding. The opportunities for photography and (and icing) reared their tempting heads, and I was determined to change up my approach. My trip was going to be 4 days long. So, I made the frightening choice of leaving all digital cameras at home (except for my phone... let's be real) and purchased 4 disposable Fujifilm cameras... taking only one out each day.

This caused me to re-approach Tokyo, my photography, and my relationship to both in a completely different way. For one, I was scared. Scared because, what if I saw something amazing, tried taking a photo with this dinky ¥400 camera, and it didn't turn out? What if the extreme flash went off at the wrong time and everyone think I'm that creepy guy with a camera? What if I try cranking the film at the wedding, someone hears, and everyone turns to laugh at me for using a silly, plastic camera (this actually happened... multiple times).

It made me use a new kind of medium that I wasn't used to. By testing out a new kind of camera (than what I'm used to) it allowed me to give myself more experimental freedom. Taking photos I normally wouldn't take to see how it would turn out. It forced me to think about factors that I used to have full control over with my DSLR that I hadn't been without since my early days of college film class, making me assess light, tones, focal length, and white balance internally rather than with meters and menus. And it resulted in photos that look completely different in style and subject than anything I've shot in Tokyo before.

It also forced me to NOT be behind a camera and to enjoy the moments of being in Tokyo. While photography is my passion, it isn't my life. By carrying out this experiment, I realized how many moments I mentally threw away because I'd have a photographic record of it doing the job for me. This allowed me to have just enough photos to reminisce over the experience while still keeping me in the moment enough to recall stories of encountering a robot penguin, being randomly propositioned for sex by a very obvious undercover cop, or awkwardly fumbling my Japanese when greeting my friend's husband at their wedding. Taking with me stories I'll remember, photographs to immortalize the experience, and an acceptably moderate amount of wedding cake icing from the Agatsuma/Yamasaki wedding.

And I was still able to dance...

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