LUKE CASEY – “Japan Changed My Approach To Photography”

Luke Casey travelled from the UK, where he grew up, to live in Japan for two years. In this article he discusses how his photography method evolved during his stay.


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When I first arrived in Japan I just wanted to take photos all the time. It was all so new and exciting to me and everything looked really exotic. I had a digital camera and went around taking photos of EVERYTHING for about a year. After a while though, I stopped taking so many and picked up my old film camera. With film, there is always a decision you make when you take a photo, unlike digital. You have to consider the scene more and click the shutter at the exact right moment. I love this process so much and I think this somehow comes across in the photos.


Using film also means you are much more selective with the images you take and I started to adopt this approach more and more. The results were great. When I got the films processed and scanned I would upload them onto Facebook and get a really good response from everyone back home in the UK. Like the image of the baseball guy; to a Japanese person I guess this would just be a normal, everyday thing, but I guess being from the UK I had never really seen baseball games before and seeing the Japanese kids in their baseball uniforms with the kanji characters on their backs was really new to me. I thought it seemed to symbolise the whole ‘East meets West’ thing quite well. People back home were interested in this stuff.


In my second year of being in Japan, my friends and I began to scratch a bit more under the surface of the country, and getting the language down meant we could begin to understand the culture in a deeper way. We branched out from the usual gaijin (‘foreigner’) hang-out spots and tried to connect with Japanese people more, discovering some really beautiful places through them. With this, I also began to see a darker, lonelier side of Japan underneath the glitz of purikura – the infamous Japanese photo sticker booths. I started to perceive the sadness in some individuals and the landscape, or maybe it was me who was feeling sad at that time? My friends and I used to visit abandoned towns and theme parks together which felt haunting and sad.


The photos with the crowds of men were part of a small town tradition called ‘Hadaka Matsuri’ (The Naked Festival). I happened to stumble across it and the moment I turned up I knew I was experiencing something really special. I had been in Japan over a year by that point and everyday life had started to feel a bit more mundane, but when I arrived at this event it was a really refreshing and exciting moment because I was reminded of what Japan could be. I knew when I was taking the photos that I would have some great shots, which is such a rare feeling. It was all on film so the day I got it processed I was really excited to see how they would turn out. I was really happy with the results. Those pictures have been shortlisted in lots of photo competitions including one for the Guardian, one for The Times and one for the Travel Photographer of the Year Award. The photos are super popular with people, which is great, but sometimes I feel as if I’m just living in their shadow, chasing something just as good. I’ll get some more winners soon I hope!