Recently in Photo - Photographs Category

I was at the CP+ convention last month when Fuji unveiled the X-Pro1 and played with the camera a bit. I have to say that I was very disappointed in its lens work. Basically I found both the auto-focus useless as it hunted far too much, even in a well-lit environment. I was never sure of whether the focus was achieved unless I was in EVF mode, which seemed to defeat the purpose of an optical viewfinder.

In manual focus, the stock Fuji lenses seemed to be very "detached" from the focus ring. I didn't have the confidence that I could snap focus like I could with a Leica M rangefinder.

The worst aspect though of manual focusing was that there was only one manual focusing aid -- the magnified view option. This is good but is now a bit dated.


I decided instead to get a Ricoh GXR base camera and plan to get an M-module very soon. I've already tested this setup and I found that the contrast-highlight manual focus option on the GXR is very fast and accurate -- as accurate as my rangefinding focus. Will report on this setup more as I get more experience with it.



Comparison Reviews

Sensor SizeM4/3APS-C
35mm Equiv.2.0x1.5x
Sensor Megapixels1616.312.3
Viewfinder MPix1.44
VF2: 1.44
RearMonitor KPix4606101230920
RearMonitor TouchYesNo
Mic-InYesNoYes (custom)No
Body Weight (g)394272425450370

Note: The GXR is the GXR A12 mount for Leica M

I'm not sure how I feel about this mix of static and motion image that Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg are calling cinemagraphs. Some are quite beautiful like this one below, others are a bit more meh.

See more at: Jamie Beck e Kevin Burg – Cinemagraphs

Dear Karen,

I have been following your site for may many years now and thought I would send you a link to a project I am working on.

Although I am now working in the legal industry, my AB is in Anthropology and I have been a photographer for many years, working closely with the Silverlens Gallery in Manila until now. I have had two shows with them in the past, but this next one really brings in may background as an anthropologist much more than the previous two.

The project can be viewed here:

Just wanted to share that. I have enjoyed your website, and continue to read it over and over. If ever you are in Manila, pleas let me know!



Fascinating! Be sure to look at the flickr feed! - Karen

VivianMaier3468.jpgFrequent contributor Nate sent me a link about Vivian Maier - a Chicago nanny who took over 100,000 photographs over her lifetime. Her material is breathtaking. Her photos were discovered in an abandoned storage unit by John Maloof, who is now curating her material. His blog is here: A nice newsclip from WTTW is here:

AinuKomonjo0048.jpgDr. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney at the University of Wisconsin has been digitizing some very old Japanese texts about the Ainu first people. The real benefit is that there are wonderful drawings of the unique clothing that the Ainu wore, which indicated which clan they belonged to.

The user interface has to be one of the worst I've ever used, but still with a little browsing, you can get images like the one to the right.

One of the more interesting panels at the Association for Asian Studies meeting Chicago was the Japan Image Use Protocol Guide workshop. This was organized by the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources.

Basically, the Image Use Protocol Guide is designed to help academic authors and publishers navigate the somewhat circuitous path to getting image use rights from Japanese copyright holders. The most useful portion for me is the Permission Request Templates that you can use to send to image rights holders (museums, publishers, etc.) asking for permission to reprint photographs in your papers and monographs.

The protocol guide is still in the beta stage and they are asking for comments:

Global Compassion is running a series of photographs from:

Masaru Goto is a highly regarded Japanese photographer known for his compassionate documentary work “highlighting the plight and resilience of ordinary people caught in conflicts, suffering under oppression, or economically disadvantaged.’

This exhibition is entitled “NIHONJIN, BURAKUMIN: Portraits of Japan’s outcast people.”

You can see the exhibit here:

DMC-LX2.jpgOne of the doctoral students asked me in May which digital camera he should get for his summer predissertation fieldwork. He was leaning towards getting a digital SLR but I suggested he instead look at high-end compact digital point-and-shoots -- specifically the ones in the 8-10 megapixel and $400-600 range. He ended up getting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2.

Just as I believe that film rangefinders are superior to film SLRs for ethnographic work because of their portability and inconspiciousness, I think the high-end compact digital camera has now come of age. They now have just as many megapixels as their dSLR brethren and if the engineers can work on the noise reduction of high-ISO images just a little bit more (and put back in optical viewfinders), they'll be perfect.

Fast forward a month later and I'm in Japan looking at the various options for my own fieldwork this summer and fall. After a couple of hours playing with the various cameras at Yodobashi Camera in Umeda (Osaka Station), I ended up choosing the same camera -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. Here are the things that I particularly like about it:

  • 16:9 frame format (4:3 and 3:2 selectable)
  • 24mm equivalent on the widest angle, about 100 mm on the tele
  • 10 megapixels
  • SDHC compatible -- I bought an 8 gigabyte SDHC card for it
  • Movie format (MJPEG)

There's some shutter lag, but if you prefocus you can take sports photographs with a little practice (see photograph of one of my informants playing ball). I'm also playing with the movie mode and finding it isn't nearly as unusable as I thought it'd be.

Now the big news is that the new Mac OS 10.4.10 update now supports the Lumix RAW format of the LX2. I'm storing all my fieldwork photographs in Apple Aperture and using its powerful organizing indexing functions.

There's a very nice review of the new Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 ballhead on

For many years, the Arca-Swiss B1 Ballhead was the standard by which all other ballheads were judged. The Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 Ballhead replaces this model and delivers the same performance in a smaller size and at a significantly lower price. There is not much to dislike about this change.

The reviewer compares it against the old standard, the Arca-Swiss B1 (which I have and love and review here on my website) as well as the Really Right Stuff BH-55.

Read more....

Steve Borsch has an excellent blog entry on why using Picasa's web album is a particularly bad idea -- because posting your images on it gives away all of your photograph's duplication rights to Google, without compensation and in perpetuity:

Your Rights

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Picasa Web Albums. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Picasa Web Albums and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Picasa Web Albums, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through Picasa Web Albums, including RSS or other content feeds offered through Picasa Web Albums, and other Google services. In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services

"Promoting Google services" is very vague. A coffee table book about Google could be construed this way. Definitely an advertising campaign -- how pissed would you be if Google used your photograph on billboards across America and didn't pay you a penny? They have every right to since you gave them that right.

Furthermore, this is hidden in the Terms of Service which no one reads. How many other photo sharing sites have similar rights grabs in their TOS? Previously, I've blogged about why you should never enter most photo contests, but now it appears you shouldn't ever post anything on the web unless you own your own server.


For the past four weeks, I have been following the northern land route of the Silk Road from the ancient capital of Chang'an heading west. I've been visiting various archaeological sites (mostly dealing with 4th-8th century Buddhism) along the way. The above photograph was taken near the Mogao cave site at Dunhuang, right on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

I'm heading into the Taklamakan Desert in the next few days, heading further west towards Kucha and then Kashgar. Then we head down the southern route of the Silk Road, before arriving at Urumchi. My Leica and Canon are holding up well and I'm looking forward to sorting through and posting the photographs when I return.

I suppose it goes without saying that I'm having the time of my life.

Here's an interesting fellowship announcement that dropped in my emailbox:

I am writing to you about the S&R Foundation, which sponsors a wonderful award for young artists in the fields of music, fine arts, drama, dance, dance, photography or film. Awardees receive a $5000 cash prize, and the Foundation also sponsors a gallery showing, concert or other showcase for the winner. It's a great opportunity for a deserving young artist.

Eligible applicants are 18 years of age or older, currently NOT enrolled as a student, and contribute to U.S.-Japanese understanding.

I was wondering if you -- or anyone you know - has any Japanese or Japanese-American former students who could be good candidates? (Or Americans who have incorporate Japanese techniques in their art could also be eligible.) We are interested in expanding our applicant pool, and would appreciate it if you could pass the word on to anyone you think might be appropriate. Please let me know, and feel free to pass along the news.

The deadline for applications is October 1, 2006. Go to for more information.

Meta: New Haven Road Race

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CRW_6286.jpgThis morning was the annual New Haven Road Race. It just happens that the race runs right by my new house on City Point. If you look at the course map, I live near the intersection of Howard and Sea street on the very bottom. My whole block was out to cheer the runners (and two wheelchair racers) along.

P1020002WTMK.JPGI'm writing this right now from conference room #4 of the United Nations in New York, where we're in the 6th session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. I'm observing the proceedings that are going on this week and next (August 1-12).

Why is there a need for an international convention on disability rights? Aren't people with disabilities covered by previous international conventions on human rights?

I've now uploaded my photoessay coverage of the 2005.05.12 disability protest in Japan to my web gallery page. Organized by DPI-Japan and several other major disability organizations, this is the fourth and last national protest against the proposed Grand Design of social welfare services for people with severe disabilities.

For background information, see my earlier coverage of the 2004.10.20 demonstration, followed by the 2004.12.13 demonstration, and the 2005.02.15 demonstration.

The photographs in this series were taken with a Leica M7 film rangefinder and 35mm f/2 Zeiss Biogon lens. The film used was Fuji Neopan Acros 100 for the black and white work and Fuji Provia 100 for the color work. They were scanned on a Nikon LS 4000 Coolscan film scanner and processed in Adobe Photoshop CS.

All of the photographs on this site are copyright 2005 Karen Nakamura and cannot be used without prior written permission.

Continue reading the "2005.05.12 disability photoessay."

I'm still recovering from the two week field trip to Tokyo, Akita, and Hokkaido that I took a few weeks ago. I've finally finished processing and scanning the film, but haven't gotten around to organizing the some 50 gigabytes of data. I'll be posting a full gallery from the trip to this blog, here's a sneak preview:

This is from the disability protest organized by several groups on May 12, 2005. This particular photograph is of Hiroko Nakamura (no relation), the head of the Center for Independent Living in Matsue (Shimane Prefecture), reading a statement to the representatives of the Lower House of Parliament. Taken with a Leica M7 and 35mm f/2 Zeiss Biogon on Fuji Acros 100 film

Naked man with CP on highwayHara Kazuo is a Japanese documentary filmmaker (and photographer) famous for works such as the The Emperor's Army Naked Marches On. His first film, Goodbye CP (さようならCP or Sayonara CP) was made in 1972 with the cooperation of the radical disability group Aoi Shiba no Kai (青い芝の会), which was composed of people with cerebral palsy (CP). The film's portrayal of the plight of people with severe disabilities in the early 1970s in Japan was darkly disturbing and the film was criticized for its tone at the time. For several decades, Goodbye CP was not widely available but Hara's production company Shissho Productions has recently rereleased it on DVD and VHS (Japanese language only). Dartmouth's Jeffrey Ruoth has a good write-up of Hara's filmography.

The New York Times has a wonderful slideshow by photographer Robert Stolarik (registration required) of cab drivers spending time waiting for rides at Kennedy airport. Depending on where they came from, they play soccer, cards, dominoes, or backgammon, pray towards Mecca, or engage in other activities like studying for their citizenship exams. A wonderful example of the multiple ethnicities that make New York City such an exciting place to live. Next time you take a "shorty trip" to Queens from JFK, remember to tip your driver well. He might have been waiting in line for several hours before picking you up.

Photo: Buddhist cat

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I met this fellow while walking in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo last November. It was a gorgeous autumn day and I was on my way to a Center for Independent Living for people with disabilities in the area. For some reason, Bunkyo ward has a lot of cemetaries and Buddhist temples. In Japan, we associate Buddhism with death and burial rituals. The cat is sitting on a family gravestone -- most people in Japan are cremated and buried in family plots. To the right of the cat is a wooden placard, made by the temple priest. It reads "Namu-ami-dabutsu" (南無阿弥陀仏) and is a prayer to the Boddhisatva Amitabha/Amida who promises that all believers who chant this will be given everlasting life in the Pure Land. For more information, google the Jodo Sect of Buddhism.

Equipment: Leica M7, 90mm f/2 Summicron, Fuji Provia 100F.

Behind the temple pagoda is a powerful, highly collimated white spotlight. It appears in all of the photographs as a comet-like beam.

Equipment: Canon 10D; EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L; Velbon Charmagne tripod; Acratech Ultimate head. Settings: f/3.5 1/4 sec @ ISO 800.

Kyoto is having its annual festival of flowers and lights (a loose translation of 京都・花灯路). The path from Chionji Temple to Kiyomizu Temple is lined with lanterns and large flower arrangements. This festival extends from March 11th to the 21st. All of the shrines and temples are open until 9:30pm and are lit up splendidly.

Kiyomizu Temple (above) is one of Kyoto's most beautiful temples and certainly the best place to see the city at night. Unfortunately, it's only open in the evening a few times a year. If you wear a kimono, all of the buses and subways as well as all of the temples and shrines will give you free admission during the festival period. Alas, my kimono is in St. Paul. The irony.

I have about 200 photos from this evening. I'll be posting them slowly to this blog and then later uploading them to my gallery. Oops, it looks like I have to fix my Photoshop copyright stamp script, it's now 2 years out of date. Just noticed that...

Equipment: Canon 10D; EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L; Velbon Charmagne tripod; Acratech Ultimate head. Settings: f/3.5 1/2 sec @ ISO 800.

Photo: Hyogo Evening Skyscapes


I took a series of photographs this evenings from a balcony in Itami City, Hyogo Prefecture. There was too much light pollution for astrophotography, but I have some nice skyscapes. These have been posted on my PAW gallery:

Equipment: Canon EOS 10D

I open the new year with some photographs from my visit to a Kyoto shrine on New Year's Day. Rather than visiting the larger shrines inside the city which were sure to be packed, my partner and I decided to go to a shrine on the western edge of Kyoto....

Full story and photographs here:

Update 2005.01.05: reports that over 93 million people in Japan visited shrines or temples in the New Year's period. Given that the population of Japan is 127 million, that's pretty impressive - about 73%. Does anyone have stats on church attendance in the U.S. on Christmas?

Happy New Year


The year 2004 ended on a very sad note. My hope is that this new year will open with humanity showing its better side. Please give to the rescue effort in any way that you can.

This is my new year's card (nengajo 年賀状) for this year. Nengajo are Japanese traditional season's greeting cards. Unlike American Christmas cards which are sent and arrive rather randomly from Thanksgiving to December, nengajo are collected by the Japanese post-office starting December 24th. You have to stamp your postcard with "nenga" otherwise it is delivered immediately. Properly marked nengajo are stored by the postoffice and delivered in one huge pile on the morning of January 1st (yes, the Japanese post office works on New Year's day, it's one of their busiest).

You're supposed to send cards to all of the people who you were indebted to in the year because they helped you in some way or another. This is a rather Japanese concept - that one is continually indebted by the help and assistance of others. In reality, this means that you might send out about 100-200 cards a year to all of your kin, co-workers, friends, company management, vendors, etc. etc.

Managing nengajo lists requires a major database. The ones on the market are quite sophisticated, such as Atena Shokunin to the right here. It will let you know if the person you are sending the nengajo sent one last year, or the year before (missing two years in a row frees you of the obligation to send one in return); if there was a death in that family (you send a bereavement card instead of a nengajo); fill in the address using the 3+4 digit zip-code; print the cards and so forth.

Receiving a big bundle of nengajo on new year's is exciting. Tradition has it that you should do your own nengajo so each one is unique. Also, each official nengajo postcard comes with a lottery number pre-printed on it. If you match digits, the post office will give you small presents. For folks that receive 300+ cards, this means that you can usually get several sheets of stamps, Hello Kitty post office items, etc.

p.s. You're also supposed to send greeting (and gifts) in the middle of the year as well (ochugen お中元) and department stores make a big fuss about this, but many people don't get around to that.

The end of the year


Many people in Japan spend New Years Eve at home watching TV. NHK, the embattled quasi-public TV network always broadcasts Kohaku Utagassen (紅白歌合戦; Red White Sing Off)*. Two teams of celebrities compete singing Japanese enka and pop songs. Sort of like a giant karaoke competition. This year we were supposed to have Korean soap drama star Bae Yonju but he couldn't come. Rumor was that he was asking for more than NHK was willing to pay. Instead, another Korean soap drama star came. I'll have to comment on the current Korean-boom (韓流; hanryu) some other time.

* Update: The popularity of Kohaku has been dropping in the past several years. Asahi News reports that this year, it fell below 40% for the first time (39.3% to be exact).

Instead of watching TV at home, my partner and I went to our local bathhouse (sento around ten pm. Although sento began to decline in popularity in the 1970s as the demographic shifted to nuclear families with their own bathtubs, they have staged somewhat of a comeback in the last decade. Renamed Super-Sento or Kenko-lands they now feature jacuzzis, hot/dry/mist saunas, salt rubs, herbal tea baths, and hot spring baths. You can arrange to get your hair cut or an oil massage too.

In Japan, cleanliness is literally a religion. A large part of Shinto is dedicated to physical and spiritual cleaning. My favorite documentary photograph is Tomoko being bathed by her mother taken by Eugene Smith. It reminds many people of the Pieta but its setting in the bath has Japanese spiritual connotations as well. The water is washing away not only the pollution that poisoned Tomoko, but also the sense of guilt of her mother towards her daughter. There's some controversy over the withdrawal of the print from circulation.

At the sento, I spent most of the time in the outdoor hot spring (露天風呂 rotenburo) soaking away the stress and spiritual and physical dirt of the old year while gazing up at the night sky. What could be better? We spent about three hours at the sento and walked back home around 1 am. In the distance we could hear the bell at the local Buddhist temple bell slowly toll 108 times (除夜の鐘; joya no kane) representing the 108 desires of humans.

This year is the 17th year of the Heisei era of Emperor Akihito. It is the Year of Cock (酉).

New Year's events in Japan

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Practically every shrine in Japan will host a New Year's event. It is perhaps the most important day in the Shinto calendar as it involves the cleansing of all of the previous year's impurities and the welcoming of a fresh new year. I'm always impressed by how quickly we Japanese disposed of the previous lunar calendar unlike our Chinese brethren and now celebrate New Year's on January 1st on the Gregorian calendar.

Your local city newspaper or the Japan Times has information on the major shrines. Many train stations also have pamplets with descriptions of the various shrines and how to get there. If you're in Tokyo, go to Meiji Jingu in Harajuku for perhaps the largest crowd in Japan. In Kyoto, hit Heian Jingu.

Each shrine will have its own array of chachka* (stuff to sell you) from amulets that protect your house, your car, or make sure your wishes will come true this year. So bring some cash as well.

* I misspelled this originally: it's either tchotchke or chachka. It's a yiddish word meaning junk.

Equipment to bring: an SLR or rangefinder with a lens range of 24mm to about 90mm will suffice for most purposes. The events do tend to be extremely crowded. You won't be able to easily use a tripod although a monopod might work. Film speed around 100-400 should suffice. Don't plan to take pretty pictures of the actual shrines, for that pick another day. But you can get good crowd pictures as well as maybe some shots of the priests at work. A large camera backpack may mean you will be smacking some poor obaachan in the face, so try to keep your outfit compact.

ps. The major events are usually at Shinto shrines (jinja神社) and not Buddhist temples (tera 寺) - although many larger temples also hold events (it's also a bit confusing since many of the major temples also have shrines on the same grounds; and vice versa). Shrines can be recognized by the torii(鳥居) or giant red gateway as well as the folded white ribbons (gohei御幣) dangling from thick ropes (shimenawaしめ縄) tied around trees. This site has good information on the various accoutrements of shrines:

Tokyo Millenario


A new event this year was the Tokyo Millenario (official site), located near JR Tokyo Station, Marunouchi side. The Millenario hosted crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. The day we went (December 26th), we had to wait in line for over an hour to see the Millenario.

What is a Millenario? It's a giant Christmas display in the form of lighted gateways. According to the material being handed out, it originally came from Spain. Kobe City was the first to sponsor a Millenario for the year 2000 New Year's. Tokyo's Millenario was smaller but just as jam-packed. The display is being held December 24,2004 -January 1, 2005.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Photo - Photographs category.

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