by John Shingleton
In the last couple of years Steve has kindly published a number of my contributions on his blog the most recent two were on the XVario Leica and most recently an opinion piece on the curse of digital photography. Sadly that last story although it was intended to provoke serious thought and reflection generated many what I consider very unfair comments and a level of unnecessary personal abuse and although I pride myself on having a reasonably thick skin the overall experience left me proclaiming that it would be the last time that I ever put my head above the trench with an opinion piece or indeed any other story on Steve’s blog! And yet here I am again.Well this time hopefully noses will not be put out of joint. I originally posted these pics on my personal blog but a number of friends have urged me to give them wider exposure as they are a unique glimpse into another era so here’s the story and the photos.
Back in 1979 I went to Japan on a business trip. Japan was an exotic and mysterious destination then. In Tokyo only the main central metro stations had the station names in western script so navigating the metro unaided was a challenge. Westerners were still very much an oddity outside the main centres. Very few people even in Tokyo spoke any English at all. Taxi drivers spoke none. They could not read western script so unless you had your destination written down in Japanese you could not travel by taxi.
Since 1979 I have visited Japan many times most recently a couple of years ago and it has always been an extraordinary experience. In 1985 I even drove my family without a guide and of course without GPS in a big left hand drive car (Japan is a RHD country) extensively on the north island over the Christmas/New Year period when it was snowing. I must have been very brave or just crazy.
I had my Olympus OM2 SLR with me on that first trip all those years ago. The yen was very weak then against the Aussie dollar so camera gear was a real bargain in Tokyo and I bought a 28mm Zuiko lens for the Olympus. I took photographs in the Kawasaki small motor and motorcycle factories and Tohatsu outboard motor factory I visited. As the light was very poor I used a very fast film, Ilford HPS-which was harsh and grainy . I developed it at home in a very fine grain developer. The photographs were taken on the run as I was on business factory visits -not sightseeing.Focussing was very difficult in the low light and even with the fast film the shutter speeds were slow. Camera shake ruined quite a few of them.
The factories were very noisy, hot, dirty and very crowded. They smelt of hot oil and hot metal. As you can see the working conditions were harsh. OH&S was not a consideration -note the lack of ear and eye protection. It would be so different today.I am sure much of the small engine production is now highly automated or has moved offshore most likely to China and other asian countries.
Today they would be much less willing to allow you to take photographs on security grounds and just imagine trying to focus manually if I had been wearing plastic lenses safety glasses. I was fortunate to record quite literally another time.
Only a couple of these photos were printed at the time. I was too busy with work and a young family to spend hours in the darkroom and in any case they needed printing skills which were beyond me. I found them last weekend in a big box full of thousands of negatives in my garage. With a scanner and Lightroom I have been able to give them their first visibility.
I hope that you appreciate this record of an extraordinary place.