【Column】 “Night” and Photography / Ryo Ohwada

2024.04.26 BLOG

I like to walk at night wherever I go, whether it's summer or winter.
I especially like the darkness of the night. There's much less interference than during the day, both where you see people and where you don't. This applies not only to people, but also to many other things, such as details that should not be seen, glaring lights, or rumbling noises. Even traffic lights on streets with few cars cease to function, leaving the freedom and responsibility to those who use them. In short, maybe I like the night because of the freedom.

Sometimes I walk alone, sometimes with my wife or my dog, sometimes my daughters join me on a whim. I carry my GR and a small stainless steel bottle of whiskey or sake.

When I was a student, I used to take pictures while walking at night after school or after my part-time job. When I was an undergraduate, I lived in Shimokitazawa, and when I was a graduate student, I lived on the outskirts of Nishi-Shinjuku. It was interesting that after the last train left Shimokitazawa, young people like me who lived in the area would gather in the streets, creating a completely different scene from the one during the day. Nishi-Shinjuku had not yet been redeveloped, and I remember that there were empty lots with wire fences everywhere, giving the area a very dark look in many ways.

At that time, I had a GR1s film camera and usually loaded a Kodak Tri-X and cheap color film into it to take pictures. When I pressed the shutter button, I heard a “tsk, gee” sound of film winding. The ISO was 400, so most of the pictures were blurry, and the color of the streetlights made them look greenish, but I thought that was the way night photography was supposed to be.

Compared to that, the modern night shots I take with the GR III look incredibly good. There is little blur, and the auto white balance makes the colors look close to how they actually look, and they look sharp and clear. There's no winding sound, just a little “tsk”. Still, walking in the night light gives me a faint sense of elation, just as it did when I was a student.

Why is it that the people, animals, and plants I meet at night give me the impression of living in the same time, but the countless people I pass in Shibuya and Shinjuku during the day do not? Is it simply because there are so few of them that they give me the impression that we are all the same, just like when you happen to see a Japanese person next to you in a café overseas? At any rate, I think it is the night that makes me think of such unimportant things while I am shooting.

Paris at night as photographed by Brassaï, Venice at night as photographed by Ikko Narahara, and the suburbs at night as photographed by Todd Hido all have completely different meanings, but the reason why I like to walk at night is not so far from the fundamental reason why many photographers are attracted to night. The history of photography shows that night is one of the most fascinating subjects for photographers.

Ryo Ohwada
Born 1978 in Sendai, Japan. Graduated from Tokyo Polytechnic University, Department of Photography, and completed the Graduate Course in Media Art at the same university. In 2005, he was selected as one of the "ReGeneration.50 Photographers of Tomorrow" by the Kunstmuseum Elysee, Switzerland. In 2011, he received the New Photographer Award from the Photographic Society of Japan. He is the author of "prism" (2007, Seigensha), "Gohyaku rakan (Five Hundred Arhats)" (2020, Ten'onzan Gohyaku Rakanji Temple), "Journal during COVID-19 State of Emergency" (2021, kesa publishing), "Shashin seisakusha no tame no shashingijutsu no kiso to jissen (The Basics and Practice of Photography Technology for Photographers)" (2022, Impress), and with poet Chris Mozdel, "Behind the Mask" (2023/Slogan), etc. Associate Professor at the Faculty of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University.

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