Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Encountering a Character All Dressed Up for a Matsuri...

On the train on the way to work I heard a jingle-jangle of bangles and bobbles and looked up to see a man dressed up as a seemingly walking museum of Japanese pop culture. He sat down at the other end of the train while people stole quick glances at him. He himself seemed to be absorbed in text messaging on his cell phone.

I wanted his picture. So I got my camera out from my backpack, switched lenses and double-checked the camera settings. If this man got off at the same stop as me, I would be ready...

As luck would have it he got off at my stop. I got off behind him and encountered the hot afternoon sun blazing in my face. Not wanting to shoot towards the sun I circled around the station and approached him from the opposite side. "Excuse me..." He was still busy text messaging and listening to his iPod as well. Finally he looked up and acknowledged me. "Your clothes are really interesting. Can I take your picture?"

He agreed, but asked me to wait as he put on his "hat." The sun was bright casting extreme white-hot patches of light and shadows. I shot as quickly as I could as he was waiting for the next express train. Towards the end he asked me to photograph him from behind.

I asked him if he often dressed this way and he replied that he dressed up for the Gion Matsuri that day in Kyoto. I thanked him as his train arrived. A very quick encounter. I was lucky to get a couple decent shots, but still wish I had more time to talk with him and take better photographs.

Visual anthropology, street photography and photojournalism all share the challenge of shooting in less than ideal situations. And they all can benefit from extended fieldwork rather than quick chance encounters. But it is still better to have shot something than never to have shot at all... or something to that effect. I'll keep an eye out for this guy and maybe I can talk with him further about his costume.

He seemed happy to be photographed. One might assume he was dressing for attention anyway. But it was important to get his permission. Would he have given permission to just anyone? Did it matter that I was polite and respectful? That I was a foreigner? That I spoke to him in Japanese? These are all part of the ethical considerations of doing visual anthropology in public.

Was this man doing cosplay? How did he choose the different parts of his costume. There's everything from AKB48 to Hello Kitty to Hanshin Tigers to Pocket Monsters to loose socks to traditional enka singers... What other pop culture icons can you identify? Is this man a walking representation of Japan?

1 comment:

Gonçalo Veiga said...

That was a lucky encounter. It would be interesting indeed to explore why he chooses to dress that way. Congrats on the blog.