Here’s this month’s addition to our ongoing series of profiles of Kyoto-based photographers. Each photographer chooses five of their own favorite pictures and tells us a little about what those pictures mean to them. This time I asked a former Kyoto resident, Chris McCooey. Before leaving Japan, Chris was the photographer for the excellent Time Out Shortlist Kyoto (which I have reviewed here). Chris says,
Having rediscovered the joy of photography early on during my time in Japan, I’ve amassed a large collection of images to choose from. I shot around 10,000 images for the Time Out Kyoto book alone! I began my selection process by simply scanning through small previews looking for images that stood out, even in a small size and for images that have always fascinated me. From those few hundred I narrowed things down by looking for strong elements of composition, light, color and/or contrast and impact. The final selections, for whatever reason, resonate with me. Your experience may differ, and that is part of the allure of photography. Like music, photographs touch each of us differently, with varying intensities that are completely independent of the ‘quality’ of an image.
This image was shot at an event held at GAIA which may or may not still exist in eastern Kyoto city. I was fortunate to attend several events here, filled with music, dance, art, laughter and friendship. There I found a mix of foreigners and Japanese who seemed to share a love for a lifestyle more deeply rooted in personal growth and discovery than accumulation of goods and ladder climbing. Despite what might at first glance appear to be a homogenous society, Japan is rife with fascinating subcultures. While not technically perfect, the fluidity of this image has always engaged me.
If memory serves, this image was captured on the grounds of Kanga-an, a unique temple nestled in a neighborhood a few blocks north of the Imperial Palace. Small scenes of simple beauty abound in Kyoto and my love of photography enabled me to slow down and become more aware of them. I’ve tried to maintain that simple sense of aesthetic in my professional work. (Ed. Click on the image above to obtain a bigger picture)
On one of my many weekend sojourns around Kyoto I stopped at Kitano Tenmangu. I’d been looking for an opportunity to try out a new photography technique and found this combination of light, repeating patterns and lines to be a suitable subject for it. Some of my fondest memories are of these long rambling hikes around Kyoto hoping for one shot out of several hundred that would be the proverbial icing on the cake of a peaceful and utterly fulfilling day.
Of course, living very close to the Kamo River, I spent a lot of time strolling it’s banks, picnicking, cycling and honing my skills shooting birds. I must have deleted thousands of photographs of birds over the years but a few were interesting enough to hang on to. I’d often thought about doing a series of works based just on the life that exists along the Kamo River. Perhaps one day I’ll get that chance again.
It’s impossible to deny that the beauty of Kyoto’s hanami (cherry blossom) season is breathtaking. I recall walking down small residential streets festooned with pink blossoms, with a smile plastered on my face as I made my way to the train station and to work. Not always such an easy task at other times of year.
That being said, it was the fall that was always my favorite season to explore Kyoto with a camera in hand. When the sun is low and backlighting the vibrant leaves, the impact of color is a feast for the eyes. This particular image was shot at Kyoto Botanical Gardens, an oft-visited place for myself and a lot of other photographers in any season.
For those of you fortunate to be still living in Kyoto, I encourage you to take whatever camera you have and start exploring. It was mostly a solitary adventure for me but you many find it more appealing with a friend. Look for the light (and the shadows), change your angle (crouch or climb), move your feet (all around a subject if possible), shoot a lot (it’s digital!) and then print and show your best ones (despite the convenience of digital imagery, there’s nothing like holding a gorgeous print in your hands). I promise you that your ability to capture stunning images will improve and if you should ever have to move away from Kyoto, you’ll treasure those images for a lifetime, as I do now.
After living in Kyoto for 14 years, Chris McCooey and his wife Iori moved back to his hometown of Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada in the spring of 2009. Prior to leaving Japan, Chris was commissioned to shoot the images for the Time Out Shortlist Kyoto book, a job which enabled him to really explore a lot of unique places throughout Kyoto and cemented his decision to give up teaching and become a full-time professional photographer. Upon his return to Canada, Chris launched his portrait and wedding photography business, Lakehouse Photography. While the challenge of growing his new business in a small town has been daunting, the excitement of following his dream and living his passion rewards him daily. His work may be viewed on his website: https://www.chrismccooey.photography/