The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Heroes 3

Shibuya station 

So Alan Rouse got me climbing and Laurie Lee got me travelling and writing. But who got me taking pictures like the one above of commuters at Shibuya station? 

There have always been cameras in my life, my dad is an avid camera enthusiast and if he hadn’t had to sell most of his gear to keep me and my sister fed and clothed I’ m sure I would have cut my teeth on a medium format Yashica that was his pride and joy. I remember, as a kid, looking at the monochrome photos from that camera; I loved the square frame with its white border; there was a depth of detail to those images that invited me right into them and allowed me to explore. And it was the wanderlust of that world with its great smoking ships and dockyard cranes (my dad worked at the London Docks) or its great smoking men is shirt sleeves grinning at the camera wearing old-fashioned clothes and driving old-fashioned cars beside which my much younger and fashionable parents were often standing that made me understand the power of photography. Because even then, just a few years after those pictures had been taken, those people and that world was gone forever. I knew than that I wanted to take pictures like that. 

When I was nine my dad gave me my first camera. It was an old Zenit and I recall taking it on a family holiday to Cornwall where my dad tried to teach me the intricacies of metering as I was taking sunset pictures of some cows in a field. When he talked of needles and eyes and adjusting this to this and letting it it stay higher to over-expose a stop I remember thinking that all this button pushing and dial twisting was much too complicated for me to ever understand.  

I didn’t start taking pictures properly until I went to Everest Base Camp in 1988. With a swanky new Pentax SF7 that had automatic metering. I slowly began to understand how to control the light and I found that mountains and local people made interesting subjects and I have basically been following that feeling ever since.

I started in photography from the point of view of taking climbing shots so of course Galen Rowell was an early influence. His wonderful action shots of climbers on steep cliffs and atmospheric scenery shaped my understanding of the wilds I increasingly found myself wandering around. I knew, if I was to make photographic sense of the experiences I was having, I had to let the environment be the main player in the scene. Whatever the climber was doing the sky or mountain was equally, if not more, attention grabbing and for ages I tried to put people in scenes where the majesty of place was pre-eminent.  

Then I funny thing happened. Not funny so much but life changing: I got scared on a winter climbing trip to the Slovakian Tatra mountains. Environments, I realized on that freezing and vertical holiday, could be every bit as cruel as they were beautiful so I took up bouldering and with bouldering came the need get up close and personal with the climber.

Climbing more and more in the boulder fields of Kent and the Peak District I started to try and take pictures that told some other story of the day. This is where the journalistic side of my photography developed; quite simply the climbs we were doing just weren’t dramatic enough in themselves to make good pictures but the weather’s effect on us; the way we lived with our gear; the assistance we gave each other at the climbs and the after crag, pub-bonhomie, now those were interesting. 

I got Power of Climbing by Dave B. A. Jones. for Christmas in 1991. Lots and lots of black and white plates of great climbing reportage. I was hooked on telling stories. 

A Parisian girlfriend gave me an excuse to wander around Paris with an old Nikon shortly after. On one of those long days of walking the golden streets of that golden city I wandered into an exhibition of Willy Ronis images in a gallery near Bastille and wandered out again with better ideas as to the type of pictures I wanted to take. I came across the Magnum photo agency at the same time and learned that photography could do even more than tell stories, it could form opinions and I dreamed of joining Magnum one day. But must admit I have been pretty lax on that ambition. 

Mr Ronis was perhaps my first proper journalistic influence but I have also been moved by the photos of many others including Bruce Davidson  and Martin Parr. Even though they are all very different they all say something about the times they lived or live in.

Then I came came here to Japan and got serious about life and the photo business and luckily ran into Jeremy Sutton Hibbert at the Kanamara matsuri. Though he’ll hate to be labelled as such he has become a big influence on my recent photography. Inspired by his images and professionalism I have experimented more with framing and have cast a much more critical eye over everything I do. Also through his blog and advise I have found many other inspiring photographers like David Alan Harvey ,whose name I didn`t know before realized his images have been moving me for years and the outlandishly talented Sion Touhig both of whom really know how to do something different with the pictures they take.  

So who, you ask after all that, is my photographic hero?  I’m sorry but I cannot point to one person and say “he is my hero” as easily as I could with climbing and travelling; I have my own passions and styles for this strange plastic art and I want to be true to them so other people’s ideas basically kind of ‘get in the way’ regardless of however helpful or friendly in person they might be. But many people inspire me and I’m sure many people will continue to do so, some of whom I don’t know the names of yet.

To be honest at this moment I am most envious of the people like Jim O’Connell and Eric Rechsteiner who take the sort of images I can probably never take. I can’t help but compose a picture, albeit subconsciously and guiltily, with sharper focus and straighter horizons and a certain tedious cleanliness that their images, and others I enjoy looking at, don’t always have. Yet I love the power of their photography and the way it looks so effortlessly natural; almost accidental interesting. Is that strange?  

If I have to choose a name it would have to be my dad, a cop-out for sure but hey ho, it’s my blog!!!! He gave me my first camera and I broke it pretending I was Robert Capa as a teenager (which he didn’t know until just now). But more than that he gave me the passion for this hobby; the sheer pleasure to be found in moving around to take pictures of things and in seeing the world in depth and details, in a square, white frame into to which you can climb and explore, but only there, only at that moment when you decide to press the shutter button because as I also learnt it’s gone so soon after. 

Catch ya later.

Damon

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3 responses

  1. jsh

    those people are in line waiting to buy sushi….I saw the same line last sunday, and thought it made a good pic…

    jsh

    October 2, 2007 at 5:23 am

  2. Really?! I didn`t go inside and just assumed that they went down onto the Ginza line as they seemed to move along per train departure. It is a nice vantage point, very abstract. Damon

    October 2, 2007 at 2:33 pm

  3. Interesting read. It’s interesting to know where people are coming from/came from.

    October 6, 2007 at 6:36 am

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