passing strangers*


It would be disingenuous of me to assume that the good folk who take time out of their busy lives to read this blog, do so for any other reason than the fact that Steve Jansen was once in a band called Japan …..or at least, that this is the reason they first came upon this humble site.** Hopefully they have returned to read further posts because they too find Steve’s photography compelling and beautiful; and maybe, just maybe, because they find my ramblings of sufficient interest to pop along every so often to see what nugget of information I may have gleaned this week. Maybe.

And of course, if I am being honest, then the very fact that Steve was once in a band called Japan is the reason I write this blog. If I hadn’t been a fan of Japan in my younger days, then it is unlikely I would have become so enamoured of his photography in later years.

I am also aware that those of you who have very sensibly parted with your hard-earned cash in exchange for one of his beautiful signed prints, have primarily chosen images he has taken of the members of Japan – either individually or collectively – to frame and hang on your walls. I feel I may be the lone wolf in the pack here, for of the 4 Jansen prints I own, not one of them features any of his band mates. There are a couple of reasons for this and I once, half-jokingly, said it was because I feel I am now too old to have pictures of bands on my wall, (although the beautifully crafted images he captured of his friends couldn’t be farther removed from the awkwardly posed shots that used to adorn my walls some 30-odd years ago)…..but the honest truth is that I just really, really love some of his ‘non-Japan’ images more.

Steve has always been interested in portraiture – in an interview he gave in 2012 in tribe magazine (which we reproduced on the blog a couple of weeks ago) he stated that he had never been interested in documenting his travels in a touristic way, his aim was to capture more intimate images unobtrusively. Rather tellingly, his 1983 exhibition at the Photographers Gallery was named ‘Expressions’ and of the 12 prints which featured, the majority of them focused upon faces of (mostly) unknown people. Not the ‘glamour’ of the jet-set, I’m-with-the-band lifestyle but the humdrum reality of ordinary lives lived by people that he was able to glimpse for a few moments and capture for eternity.

Man From Pusan
Man From Pusan

Whilst in Paris in 1982, during the Sons of Pioneers tour, Steve shot a number of images of random strangers in cafes, parks and on the street. These pictures seem totally natural, as if the subjects are completely unaware that their movements are being documented; surely, as soon as you become aware a camera is focused on you, your body language alters, even if only slightly? The woman in the café, spooning whatever that gloopy substance is out of the bowl, the couple standing in front of what I assume is a shrine of sorts, even the man walking down the street who is looking straight at the camera, seems only just aware that it is aimed at him……..


I asked Steve if any of the people were aware they were being photographed “I don’t think so. If people noticed I’d have stopped pointing a camera at them. But there was the odd occasion where they may have looked at the camera just as I clicked the shutter”….and he went on to explain that the restaurant where some of the photos were taken was open-plan, which made it easier for him to take pictures unobtrusively. Even the shot of a slightly pensive Sylvian is made more interesting because of the other people in view, offering us the opportunity to people-watch in a totally voyeuristic way, years after the event.

Oh, and for the geeky completists amongst us, the restaurant is La Coupole – “a somewhat notorious restaurant that we enjoyed back in the day….it seemed to be filled with rather eccentric types……and what could be more French than stringy cheese dangling from the spoon over a bowl of onion soup?” (Ahhh so that is what it was!!)                – check it out, it looks amazing!




The majority of Steve’s photos of passing strangers are taken in France, Korea and Thailand and I remember reading an interview with him around the time of the ‘Expressions’ exhibition where he said he felt far more self-conscious walking around with a camera in the UK than abroad. He further explained “when you don’t feel particularly connected to the society you find yourself in (which can usually start with the language barrier), you feel slightly more gung-ho…’Excuse him, he’s from Barcelona’ applies..”  Chortle.

I think the most powerful of the Paris shots is this one of the policeman in the street. Forget about boiler suits, blonde wedges and Twilight Teaser lipstick …..if there is one image of the early 80s, which shows how far we have moved on in the last 33 years, it is this. Despite having been a fully functioning teenager at the time this was taken, with a whole raft of real-life traumas and imagined slights affecting my rather cushy life, this image now seems as far removed from my current reality, as the photographs of the Korean War or segregated washrooms in America did then to my young eyes. And it is hard to accept that something that now looks so dated and out of time, was actually daringly modern and exciting when I was 16.


But, if I have to pick my all time favourite ‘non-band’ shot of Steve’s, it wouldn’t be of the woman eating gloopy soup, or a wizened old man sat on a step…….as amazing as these pictures undoubtedly are. No, at the risk of living up to the stereotype of the slightly bonkers, middle-aged woman, I would choose the majestic, glinty-eyed ‘dog in thailand’ every time.

Dog in Thailand
dog in thailand

You can purchase limited edition, signed prints from Steve’s website here:

More of Steve’s shots from Paris are available here:

All photos by Steve Jansen

* yes, I know that is an Ultravox song title but it seemed apt

**please feel free to agree with, or correct, this assumption by using the ‘comments’ box underneath this post – I am honestly interested to hear why you do read this blog!

8 thoughts on “passing strangers*

  1. I love the photo of Sylvian in Paris. This was in the mix when I chose my last print, but SJ didn’t think it would print up very well. I’m still tempted though, more so if it was B&W. I may re-visit that image with SJ if funds become available. I read the blog for three reasons. I think SJ’s photographs are beautiful, Japan (the band) were, and still are, a big part of my life and I really enjoy your writing. It’s win win win! My walls are covered in posters, flyers and prints and, perhaps, I’m too old to do that but, in my defence, they are beautifully framed and works of art in themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree,you do put it rather nicely though .like you mention,it is the love of a band their music that acts as a catalyst. This draws the open minded on other travels,the journey is so very often the nicest part with the arrival just a Ps.
    Is it not the subject that steals a tiny part of the photographer not the other way round?
    I love Steve,s work and do relate to the non Japan subject matter,feels like your in a space suit,insulated but aware of everything,feeling with your eyes.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’ve been thinking about how what we make of images is often very reliant on our relationship to the photographer–and in this case, for most people having the first clue who Steve is, will have been as a result of the Japan material, though I suppose that was only a starting point really. Hmmm. As usual you have made me THINK…although I’ll probably have to do a lot more of it before I come to any conclusions 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  4. What I love about Steve’s pictures are the spaces. The emptiness around a subject whether it’s Mick, a dog, a policeman are filled with an uncanny presence. I’m watching but I feel watched in a good way, as if I could step into the shot. There is space for me to become part of it – it’s not exclusively about the subject.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. So wonderfully written as always, Victoria. I too find myself particularly interested in Steve’s photos of ordinary people (and ordinary dogs, as the case may be ; ) ). I think it goes back to that “slice of life” thing that always interests me that somehow ties in to a feeling of calm and quiet I get from virtually all of Steve’s photo’s I have seen so far. I hope that makes sense.

    Liked by 2 people

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