I’m not quite sure why it has taken me so long to get around to recording my own thoughts on ‘through a quiet window’? Knowing that the book was in the offing, I had assumed that as soon as I had a copy in my perfectly manicured hands/grubby little paws (delete as applicable), I would have leapt straight onto the scanner and keyboard, reproducing my favourite shots and boring you all stupid with my obviously very intelligent comments about the new images which lay before me….and yet, somehow, it has taken me the best part 10 weeks to actually sit down and make sense of it all. A few weeks ago, I threw down the gauntlet to a number of blog readers to share their thoughts, but I stepped back from that post, and let them do most of the talking.
I guess there are a number of reasons for this; the most obvious one being that sometimes real life gets in the way of virtual blogdom – and I have been pretty busy recently, what with starting a new job and eating a lot of halloumi. Also, living in the wild and windswept North as I do, I have just spent the last week mopping up after Storm Des decided to drop 14 inches of rain onto my rather ancient roof….and a special thanks must go out to Craig Hamlin, whose first question when he heard that my house had flooded was “are your Jansen prints OK?” Classic.
However, if I am honest, I believe the real reason for the delay is this; I had waited so long for Steve to publish a book of his photos that when it actually happened, and the book was finally here, I really didn’t know what to say about it. For once, I was slightly muted about the whole thing. Yet, for whatever reason, it now feels like tonight is the night to finally set aside some time, and really explore this beautifully modest tome.
“‘Through A Quiet Window’ is a beautiful little treasure and Steve’s introduction highlights his talent with the written word, as well as a camera and music and…. bastard!” Shane McElligott
Indeed, Shane. For I feel we cannot really start talking about some of the images in this book, without first looking at the man behind the lens. Steve Jansen; percussionist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, amateur photographer and, it would appear, all round clever (yet modest) bloke, with a keen mind and a great sense of humour. Bit annoying, isn’t it? There is a wonderful moment in Anthony Reynolds’ book, when he mentions the birthday card Danny Morgan gave to Steve on his 18th birthday which simply read; “You’re now too old to be a child prodigy!” There was a time when I wondered if he was one of those god-awful people who could turn their hand to absolutely anything. However, his recent admission that he had to abandon a planned documentary about Japanese musicians, when it turned out that he “had failed miserably as an interviewer”, made me realise that he is a flawed human being after all…..and if you have ever witnessed the toe-curling spectacle of him furiously struggling through a turgid 5-minute chat with “ooooh Gary Davies” back in 1985, you’ll notice he is a pretty rubbish interviewee too! Thank goodness for that.
However, as Shane noted, Steve’s introduction is indeed rather lovely and really does set the tone for the rest of the tome. Here, he reflects vividly on his tendency to record what was going on around him, unaware that the photos he was taking and the journals he was writing would result in him capturing such significant moments in time, but knowing that he wanted to document the life he was living; “to pause events, capture moments and take notes, before they expired forever…..I had no masterplan except to have a back up. In essence, some recall.”
And aren’t we all pleased that he did?
So, where to start? The book is not chronological in its design; although some of the photos are published in ‘sets’, it jumps around from recording Tin Drum in 1981, to touring in ‘82, to studio shots from ’79, to a montage of polaroids from a range of dates, onto Takahashi tours from ’82 and ’92, then back to touring with Japan in ’82. I am quite pleased about this, as I think it would have felt a tad laboured if all the photos flowed seamlessly, in date order. Much more interesting to keep jumping around; to have a polaroid of David from ’82, followed by a colour photo of him on the Champs Elysees in ’79, and to then turn the page to witness the shock of Mick’s magenta hair in the back of a cab in 1978 (see above). It makes for a much more stimulating experience, turning the pages and wondering ‘what next?’ And as there are around 200 photos here, there is always something to beguile on the following page.
Of the ‘previously unseen’ photos (and as Steve had spent the last 12 months periodically uploading a lot of his photos onto ‘sleepyard’, I did wonder just how many of these there would be?) some of the informal studio shots really stand out for me. The shot of Steve Nye at the mixing desk, the room reflected in the glass behind him, with a relaxed David chatting to Mick in the background, is one of those images which speaks volumes to me. For all the austere perfection of the public face of Japan at this time, this shows the other side; David seems relaxed in this environment and we get to peep into that insular world of theirs, when they would spend all of their waking time perfecting the music we all wanted the hear. What Steve manages to do, with many of these shots, is show the real people behind the public mask; as he notes, ‘naturally projecting themselves out of the everyday’.
This may seem as if I am stating the bleeding obvious somewhat, but I doubt that anyone else could have managed to capture such intimate shots of all of the band members, in such an in-obtrusive way. Although many of the shots are posed, (and it seems as if Mick and Steve spent many an hour fannying around the streets of South Kensington, trying out different ideas and having a bit of a laugh) the ones where he catches them relaxed and unaware, are the most successful for me. Sylvian grinning his infamous ‘Joker’ grin, but without any sense of pretence, whilst recording the vocal for Art of Parties; Mick honking on his sax during the recording of Quiet Life; and the quite extra-ordinary shot of Rich pointing out goodness only knows what to a shockingly unkempt, grinning Sylvian is remarkable. Could you ever have imagined seeing a shot of David looking less Sylvian-like at this time? For all those people who continue to insist that the elder Batt sibling never smiles (which is bizarre in itself, isn’t it?), you need to check some of these shots out!
So, just how am I supposed to pick my favourites out of 200 photos? For me, some of the images are so familiar now, that they have almost become background noise, so it is fantastic to be almost forced to re-evaluate them again, in this context.
The shot of Karn, Barbieri and Sylvian on South Molton Street had long been a favourite of mine, but I had somehow stopped looking at it. Sitting with the book in my lap and turning the page to see it once again – but this time being able to really study the scene in such detail – and to have the accompanying shot of a dishevelled Sylvian and Barbieri (as mentioned above) for context, brought it back to life again for me. However, of the new images on show, I think the one of Karn and the pigeon, swamped by the sheer might of the gigantic reclining Buddha in Holland Park, has to be top of my list (along with the pilot at Toronto airport). I had seen so many shots from this day, but this one just leaps out from the page. Just how big is that bloody statue?? It also reminds me of the time I spent hours wandering around Holland Park trying to locate this very statue, eventually stopping a policeman and asking “excuse me, can you tell me where the giant reclining Buddha is, please?” only to be met with a blank stare. Ha ha. It seems it is no longer there. Or maybe it was hidden behind the world’s largest bench?
So, now the book is here I guess I have to ask; was it worth the wait? Well, of course it was, and from the point of view of me starting the blog last year, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, could it? It feels as if my growing interest in Steve’s photography has been paced by the publication of ‘through a quiet window’, and despite some of you believing otherwise, it really was all just a beautiful coincidence. Steve already had plans well under way when I first contacted him about the blog, so let’s just put this down to an act of seamless synergy.
The book has confirmed my long held beliefs that I really do prefer Steve’s monochrome images to the full technicolour ones; and I am fascinated by some of the shots from the Takahashi tours, which show again an intimacy and informality which Steve seems so capable of capturing. Yukihiro’s lyrical reference to Steve being ‘the quiet eye of the camera looking at us’ is as accurate as it is beautiful.
I guess the biggest problem for me now, is that the publication of the book just leaves me wanting even more (I am very greedy. You should see how much cheese I eat.) I am left wondering why there aren’t more shots from 1980? Why so few from the recording of ‘Polaroids’? Or from the UK tours of ‘81 and ‘82? I have long been a fan of Steve’s ‘japanscapes’, as well as the series he had taken in a number of almost identical hotel rooms across the country, so I was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any new ones included here. Steve himself has alluded to the fact that he has even more unseen photos, which he has said will possibly see the light of day, at some point.
So, maybe (just maybe) there will be a 2nd volume of ‘through (another) quiet window’ released in the future? We can but dream.
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Limited edition prints of images from ‘through a quiet window’ are available to order – email email@example.com for details.
‘through a quiet window’ is available to purchase here: http://www.artespublishing.com/books/86559-127-9-en/
please be aware that reproductions of images on this site are not indicative of the quality of the prints.
thanks, as ever, to Steve for permission to reproduce his photographs on this blog.