Over the last few weeks, followers of Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ blog may have noticed him sharing a number of ‘previously unseen’ photos of JAPAN. The images, taken by a range of photographers and spanning the band’s full career – from the pomp & pout of the late 70s, to the pristine poses of the Virgin era – were discovered earlier in the year, and it has been fabulous to finally see some new photos emerge.
Whilst many of the images have not been officially published previously, some of the shots may seem familiar to many fans; there are a number of ‘alternative’ photos from sessions with Patrick Litchfield, which appeared in The Sunday Times magazine (and one of my least favourite JAPAN photo-shoots, for the record!) as well as lots of early promos by Günther Rakete and a whole slew of uncredited shots of the band in recording studios and on stage.
A number of these photos are now being auctioned on behalf of the band members. For those blog-readers who do not access the FB groups, where the auctions are discussed and promoted, here is the link to the goodies which are currently on eBay.
One of the absolutely best bits about writing this blog over the last couple of years, has been trying to think up amusing and relevant titles for each post. Of course, the main aim of the blog, was always to luxuriate in an array of Steve’s photos, but the bonus was mulling over the content and trying to link it to a Jansen/Japan related song title, where possible. The only rule I ever set down for myself was that I would never, ever, EVER use ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, (or any variant of that over-used song title), as it was just too obvious. Growing up as a teenaged-Japan fan, back in the early 80s, every magazine article used cliched and lazy headings, which always annoyed me; “Cantonese Boys”, “Looking for a Quiet Life”, “Turning Japanese” etc etc etc. I always thought I could do better, and I sincerely hope that I have done. Sometimes, the subject matter, or the slant I choose to take when discussing Steve’s photos, immediately suggests a title; other times it can create a bit of brain-freeze and I have to call upon the help of my trusty sidekicks for inspiration. There have been a couple of times when I have laughed myself silly when a title has popped into my head, but I don’t always use those ones – I think my favourite ‘one that got away’ was when I wrote a piece about Steve’s early forays into photography, and the inspiration and support he found in Fin Costello. As hilarious as I thought it was, I wasn’t quite sure everyone else would get the reference, had I titled it ‘A Batt & Costello’.
I still laugh at that, though.
There have been a couple of ones which I wish I had thought longer and harder about. Last year, I wrote a piece about Steve’s preference for his Canon A-1, but also included shots taken with a range of other cameras. It was called ‘Optical Alternatives’ which works – sort of. The following day, I kicked myself when I realised I should have called it ‘Camera Obscura Alternatives’. …but then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, innit? My absolute favourite though, which did make it, was one which popped into my head whilst I was reading a post Mischa had written, about the infamous 1982 Zig Zag interview and photo session with Mick & Steve; what else could it be called, other than ‘Beginning to Meltdown’?
So, all of this is a rather roundabout way of explaining the glaringly obvious title of today’s post. The minute I saw the photos that Steve recently posted on his ‘sleepyard’ blog, it sprang straight to mind. It is possibly the least creative and laziest caption yet, but it absolutely sums up the images and it brought to mind some strange idiosyncrasies that I had noticed on my recent trip to Japan.
I have no idea if this is the same for young people these days, but for those of us who came of age in the 1970s/80s, Japan seemed like country from another planet; a planet from the future where people lived a completely different existence to ours. We would watch TV programmes like Tomorrow’s World, where they would showcase the new technologies, and our minds would be filled with images of bullet trains whizzing past Mt Fuji at incredible speeds, looking like something out of Space 1999; we were told of magic, spinning-discs which held hours of music, and would still play after a full cycle in the dishwasher – and they would never scratch, regardless of what you did to them (lying bastards!) Japan seemed to come up with every new, hi-tech invention; CDs, Polaroid cameras, robots, capsule hotels – it all seemed incredibly glamorous and not that far removed from science fiction. In my imagination, the country was full of cities which were shiny and white and clean and immaculate and a little bit scary. Fast-forward 35 years and I finally find myself wandering the streets of Tokyo with my friends, and beyond the obvious, “blimey, it’s a bit humid and aren’t there a lot of people” observations we made to each other, the one thing that seemed to occupy our middle-aged brains more than anything else was; “oh, aren’t there a lot of wires everywhere, and doesn’t it look a bit – erm – untidy?” Over a few glasses of Asahi, we decided it was probably something to do with the risk of earthquakes, but we never quite got over the sight of seemingly dozens & dozens of random wires, tangled and snarled, snaking from building to building, across alleyways and roads.
This was not the slick and sleek world we were expecting. In fact, on the original ‘sleepyard’ post, someone from Chile commented that he too was surprised to see such a sight in ” a first-world country”. It really does seem to be completely out of synch with our view of such a technologically advanced country, doesn’t it? It isn’t just Tokyo, either. I took similar photos in Kyoto. Steve also explained that images of “Tokyo power lines were the inspiration for the ‘Lumen’ vinyl cover. It’s a very familiar sight if you’re not too busy dodging people to look up.”
The theme of combining Japan-related song and album titles with photography, is one which is in full flow on Paul Rymer’s ‘Nightporter’ fb page at the moment. If you aren’t a member, I would encourage you to nip over there and join, as there is rather hilarious competition running at present – Richard Barbieri has been having a bit of a clear-out and has some spare photographs he is offering as prizes, for the most creative and amusing photographs, inspired by Japan songs. There have been some great entries so far (I like to think that mine have been particularly marvellous. Obviously) but the more the merrier. The rules are simple; the photos must be your own work and they must have been inspired by a song or album title – it can be Japan or any solo effort. Pop over to the ‘Nightporter’ page for more details…….
I have been musing long and hard this week over the strange world of the avid music collector. This has been influenced by a number of factors, not least the rather fabulous experience we had last week, when Steve & Richard announced a ‘flash sale’ of some of the remaining (and hard to come by) JBK stock via their bandcamp page. There was an almighty virtual scrabble as fans desperately tried to grab themselves a signed copy of the ‘medium sampler’, along with ‘seed’ and ‘playing in a room with people’. Included in the price of the CDs/downloads was the added bonus of the live JBK gig filmed at the Astoria in April 1997, which we have waited a long time to get our hands on, and this created a huge amount of excited conversation on the various Japan/JBK/Jansen/Barbieri facebook pages. It also highlighted, once again, just how avid some people are when it comes to getting every single version of every single release, regardless of whether there are any discernible differences. As someone who is, at best, a half-hearted collector of music memorabilia, I am fascinated by the people who go the whole hog, as it were.
My own collecting has been – to use the old football cliche – very much a game of two halves and can be split into two distinct categories; ‘back in the day’ and ‘mid-life crisis’. My former collection was created in the early 80s when, as an obsessed, teenaged Japan fan with a part time job and no overheads, I spent all my spare cash on every new release (7″, 12″, picture disc, Japanese imports etc) and I would buy every magazine (and sometimes multiple copies) which featured any of the band members.
Fortunately, other than chucking away a lot of posters and bootleg cassettes during a house move and selling a few rarer items when I first became aware of ebay (*sad face*) I kept hold of most of this collection; and I have been adding to it now for the last few years, when I entered the ‘mid-life crisis’ phase of collecting.
I tend to limit my purchases to Jansen/Barbieri related items and some of the more obvious Japan releases, and I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to coveting all those lovely Japanese releases, complete with their sexy obi-strips and added extras. However, seeing some of the photographs of some people’s vast collections puts my feeble attempts to shame, and hearing some of the stories and anecdotes about the lengths folk have gone to secure certain items, is utterly mind-boggling and ofteen highly entertaining.
Obviously, it isn’t just the recorded music which appeals to collectors; there have been sales of items of clothing, instruments and photographs which have roused the latent collector in many of us over the last few years. Recently, Steve offered some test prints for sale on ebay, along with a couple of old cymbals and a drum, all of which went for pretty astonishing prices. When something unique or personalised comes along, then competition is pretty fierce out there and the prices can soon rocket beyond most people’s range. Fortunately though, for those people who don’t have massive amounts of spare cash lying around, but who would still like to invest in something other than the latest download or physical release, there is the prospect of owning one of Steve’s prints to look forward to.
Since starting this blog, I have been amazed by just how many people have taken the plunge and joined the Jansen Print Owners Club™ – we are a select breed but our numbers are growing on a weekly basis! With the publication of ‘through a quiet window’ the number of prints available to purchase suddenly increased 10 fold and with the this has come the rise of ‘serious collector’ – those of us who are not content with just one, or possibly two, of Steve’s iconic shots of his band-mates…..it can become quite addictive let me tell you.
One such person, who has surpassed even the most ardent admirer of Steve’s photography (i.e. me!) is Seymen from Turkey. Some of you will recall that he contributed a piece to the blog last year, when he was the proud owner of a mere 10 of Steve’s prints. Well my friends, let me tell you…since then Seymen has added a further 6 to his collection. Yep, he is now the proud owner of 16 of Steve’s signed, limited edition prints. Blimey.
I shall leave it to him to explain just why he is such a fan:
I’m starting with one word… “why?”
“Why” I love Mr. Jansen’s photography?
While i was buying my first two prints by the help of dear Joseph from Steve’s team, i can able to answer this simple question: “Cause they are great…” Japan was one of my fave band from the 80s and, “hey”, their drummer is also a brilliant photographer. What a great chance for me… A great musician who also take photographs from one of my fave band… Its a perfect chemistry.
So, all started after this simplicity…I was pretty sure i couldn’t stop after my first purchases. Yes, i was right, i just couldn’t…I can find everything what i need when i look the whole details of each Mr. Jansen’s photographs.
I can see colour even it is a black & white frame. I can see his naive, young passion. I can see humour, I can see tension, I can see anger.
I can see both Japan’s great days and also I can see Japan’s fading terrible future for their beloved fans… I can see a good band’s splitting…I couldn’t call myself collector… even after, I so far have 16 Jansen prints… I do not know, how can I call myself.
All i can say, I’m doing what i love… Steve Jansen is a great photographer for me. Yes, he is not a big name at photography. But who cares, I love his way of framing, his way of looking around, his way of documenting a band, his band mates.
Thank you Mr. Jansen… Thanks a lot to you for opening a very special part of your life to us. Thank you indeed.”
And thank you Sey, for sharing your thoughts with us!
Obviously, Seymen isn’t the only person who has a number of Jansen prints adorning the walls of their inner sanctum, and over the coming weeks we will focus our attention on other folk who have been bitten by the collecting bug.
And……to ensure that none of the avid collectors out there feel offended by the title of this piece, there are a couple of photos from my own collection included – you can rest assured that I include myself in the gentle mocking. Always.
JBK bandcamp: https://jbkmusic.bandcamp.com/
Signed, limited edition prints are available to buy direct from Steve: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
It may seem hard to remember now, but not that long ago information about, and access to, Steve’s photography was pretty hard to come by……18 months ago, the only sure-fire way of being able to find his images was by trawling through his website and ogling the few prints available for sale via his ‘imageshop’ or in the ‘archival shots’ sections. You could of course spend a good few hours lost in the world of ‘tumblr’ and come across random photos he had taken, but these were often not credited, so you were not always certain they were definitely his.
Then, all that changed; up popped his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr, followed a year later with this very blog, whose sole intention was to (unofficially) celebrate the world as seen through the lens of Mr Jansen. Then, at the back end of last year we had the utter joy of the publication of ‘through a quiet window’ which answered my oft repeated question ‘just how many photos must Steve have in his archive?’ with a resounding ‘bloody loads of them!’
Marvellous, isn’t it?
With the publication of the book, came the realisation that maybe, just maybe, that was it. Maybe he had published all the photos he saw fit to release and the heady delight of seeing a notification ping up on your phone saying ‘sleepyard has just posted a new image…..’ may well be over? When I asked Steve about this his answer was typically modest – “I guess I have more to share if there are people still interested. We’ll see.”
Well, people are still interested and guess what? – he definitely still has plenty to share!
Since September, the odd new image has appeared on ‘sleepyard’, including this rather trippy double-exposed Sylvian shot which is pretty beautiful, and the absolutely joyful Karn/Punter double-act image from the Quiet Life sessions. And then, just as we were preparing to say ‘adieu’ to 2015, with little fanfare and just a small notification on his tumblr/facebook pages Steve announced that the ‘imageshop’ had been updated to include shots from his book……and things got a bit giddy!
It went from offering a few dozen, mainly monochrome, images of his ex-band mates, alongside a couple of stunning Japanscapes and hotel interiors, and the odd shot of a random stranger or a glinty-eyed dog, to hosting a couple of hundred prints, all available to purchase directly from Steve. That was some leap, it has to be said, and it caused as massive flurry of excitement amongst the many Japan/Jansen related fan-sites which exist on-line. Even more excitingly, there were even more never-before seen pictures; some of them so eye-achingly perfect, you had to wonder why they weren’t included in his book?
There was one image which caused a certain amount of hilarity amongst a few folk, with the identity of the unknown jogger testing the imaginations of many. There was definitely a festive feel to the air, as some rather short-sighted people claimed they thought it was David Sylvian (wearing joggers and running? really?? surely he would have at least have had a fag in his hand?) dashing past a beautifully gurning Karn in Holland Park. To my eyes, it looked more like legendary grumpy-as-feck drummer Ginger Baker (thanks to Rob Dean for helping me to put a name to a chin!) but whoever it was, it certainly made for an entertaining hour over on TMK……..
The array of images available to own is slightly mind-boggling and I am seriously considering moving home to somewhere with bigger walls and fewer windows, just so I can accommodate all the ones I now covet………although that may be a tad extreme? I once thought that owning 6 Jansen prints was rather OTT but seeing all the new ones available, I am now certain that I am a mere amateur and until I hit double figures, I cannot really call myself a bona fide ‘collector’……
For those of you who have not yet succumbed to the slightly addictive joy that comes from being a member of the Jansen Print Owners Club, I am now about to dangle a metaphorical bag of powdery white substance in front of your eyes and tempt you to ‘become one of us‘……for it is ridiculously easy to get your hands on one of these beautiful images.
The process is quick and simple.
You simply choose the image you want and pay via paypal.
Once the print is ready you get an email informing you of the delivery date and time.
The prints are sent via courier and are securely packaged – in fact, getting into it is akin to a playing a particularly physical game of pass the parcel! – and they are signed and numbered by Steve.
And that, my friends, is it. What are you waiting for?
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.
Exactly a year ago, a group of around 100 music-loving misfits crowded into the (now sadly defunct) Buffalo Bar in Islington, to celebrate the launch of Anthony Reynolds’ long-awaited biography of our favourite band, ‘japan’. With hindsight, this was a tad premature, as the book took another 11 months to finally see the light of day, but at the time, we didn’t care about such things; we just wanted to spend the night listening to and talking about, our favourite 5 musicians. And what a night it was. I met so many wonderfully hilarious people that evening, some of whom have become real friends. I also have Jacki Cairns to thank for providing me with one of my favourite moments of all time, when she walked up to me and said “are you the Steve Jansen lady?”, which made me laugh far more than is seemly. (and yes, it would seem I am!)
When Anthony finally appeared, he regaled us with ‘behind the scenes’ tales from the book. As I had just started this blog, I was particularly interested in knowing more about the photos which Steve had contributed, and Anthony confirmed that along with some of his images, Steve had also given him access to his journals, which provided a whole new insight into the workings of the band. Heady stuff indeed. He also talked about the people he had tracked down and spoken to, and the contributions made by Rich and Rob, both of who were more than happy to share stories and debunk many of the myths which had continued to grow, long after ‘japan’ disbanded in 1982.
“In splitting when they did, Japan froze themselves in the public eye at a point of unrealised and therefore eternal potential” Anthony Reynolds Chapter 10 ‘Voices Raised In Welcome’
And so, here we are. Anthony’s book has finally been released and 2015 is almost over. It has been a year that has seen an unprecedented revival in interest in all things ‘japan’ – none of which we were expecting when we gathered in that small bar, listening & dancing to songs from our youth, and all wondering what would be revealed within the pages of ‘a foreign place’? For those who have yet to read it, I apologise if this post is full of spoilers, but I feel I have waited long enough before diving in and revealing some of the more interesting elements of the book.
It is hard for me, as a long-time fan of ‘japan’, to know whether there was much left to be learned about the history of a band I had followed since 1980. When the book was first published, I was a little sceptical (although incredibly excited) about whether there would be any real revelations within its pages. What I find fascinating about the whole project is, this feels like the first time we have really heard the ‘other voices’. I don’t just mean Steve, Rich and Rob; for their voices were always out there, even if a little subdued (in comparison to David and Mick’s, at least), but the opinions and recollections of the producers, road crew and friends, which give such a complete and rounded picture. It is fascinating for me, to read about all the stuff that went on behind the scenes; what may seem like the rather dull minutiae of life on tour or in the studio, is manna from heaven to this fan!
As excited as I was about the prospect of seeing some previously unpublished Jansen shots within the book, the real thrill comes from the huge number of ‘fan’ photos included. Perhaps because the book started out life as a Kickstarter project, the ‘buy-in’ from fans across the globe for this biography has been a real feature, and the quality and quantity of images provided by some of the band’s uber-fans has to be seen to be believed. I have always thought that ‘japan’ must’ve felt like they had cameras permanently pointed at their beautifully made-up faces, (which can’t have been much fun after the first few months of ‘popstar’ excitement died down, can it?) but these photos add to the compelling story that Reynolds weaves throughout the pages. Here is the evidence (should it ever be required) that the band lived their lives off stage, as they did on. It wasn’t an image just for the public, this was really how they dressed and behaved, day in, day out.
Obviously, as someone who has a healthy interest in Steve’s photography, I was particularly looking forward to seeing the images he had provided for the book. Somewhat frustratingly, the delay in the release of the biography, meant that Steve’s book of photos was actually published ahead of ‘ a foreign place’. However, the image at the top of this piece, featuring Mick standing in front of the incredible angklung at Manor Studios, was an absolute joy to behold. I have long wondered about this instrument, (which featured on the track ‘canton’) and could not even begin to fathom what it looked like, having read Mick’s description of it in his book, so to see it in full was astounding.
“Steve and I found an unusual looking instrument in the studio……what I can only describe as a wall of bamboo…..every tube had a small wooden pea inside that rattled when shaken….(it) needed two players, and meant we had to duck and dive in all directions to avoid hitting each other, shaking the bamboo tubes and then stopping each one, all accomplished at super speed….a synchronised choreography full of groans and grunts, thankfully inaudible.” Mick Karn – Japan & Self-Existence
Towards the end of the book, Anthony touches upon Steve’s growing interest in photography and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in October 1983. However, and somewhat ironically, I have to admit that my favourite image in the whole book, is not one taken by Steve, but by Richard Barbieri. Now, if only Rich would follow in his friend’s footsteps and make his images available for sale, this would definitely be at the top of my ‘to buy’ list……
The final chapters, which deal with the last tour and the final days of the band, take me back vividly to 1982. If I am honest, back then, I think I always assumed there would be a time when Messrs Jansen, Karn, Sylvian and Barbieri (and hopefully Dean) would appear on-stage once more and this was only really scuppered once the fall-out of the RTC project became clear. It is interesting, 3 decades later, to read back through the events of this period and realise just how massive ‘japan’ had become and to wonder at what could have been? However, with hindsight, the sheer breadth of amazing material the individual members have produced over the intervening years outweighs any ‘what ifs’ for me.
What Anthony has achieved with this biography is what all of us were hoping for. Myths debunked, stories told and voices heard. Although I feel it is a missed opportunity for him, it doesn’t make any difference to me, that David refused to contribute to the book; I am not sure he could have added anything more to the story that has been told here. Anthony has interviewed him previously, and he has been more than vocal over the decades about his thoughts on his time with ‘japan’. For me, hearing the ‘other side’ has been far more illuminating and of interest. And, no pressure Anthony, but I am really looking forward to the next instalment – ‘japan – the solo years’ 🙂
‘japan – a foreign place’ is available to buy via burning shed
Fasten your seatbelts and hang on to your hats folks, for tonight’s post goes off on a slight tangent. As previously mentioned, now that the blog has made it unscathed through the first 12 months of life, it is time to stir things up a bit and for us to stray a little off the beautifully beaten path we have been marching down for the last year. This blog will always bear the name of the man who first inspired it, and the main focus will continue to be Steve’s photography; but, in an effort to keep things fresh, and to enable us to get another 12 months of interesting(ish) waffle out into the murky world of blogdom, we are also expanding our borders and taking a side-ways glance at some of the images he captured.
First up tonight, we take a peek behind the scenes of the recording of Akiko Yano’s “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” album. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that some images from the recording of the album, at Air Studios in London, feature in Steve’s recently released book of photography and have previously been published on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr.
Here, Paul Rymer takes us back in time for a closer look (and listen) to the artist behind the voice, and celebrates the coming together of 2 incredibly influential bands of musicians. Over to you, Paul.
“Inspired by Steve Jansen’s “Through A Quiet Window” I thought I would share some “alternative views” with you, covering some of the same times and places that are featured in Steve’s book. For this initial post I’ll cover the recording of the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” by Akiko Yano at Air Studios, London.
Akiko Yano (formerly Akiko Suzuki) was by 1982 an established star in Japan. Her debut release, aged 16, was as a member of the group Zariba, for whom she was keyboardist and vocalist. In 1974 she put her career on hiatus when she married record producer Makoto Yano and raised their son Futa. In 1976, now called Akiko Yano, she launched her solo career to great acclaim, scoring a hit album with “Japanese Girl”. Following that Yano was in demand as a songwriter and session musician, appearing as a guest performer with Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto at a show in Yokohama in May 1976, the first time that the pre-YMO would play “Firecracker”. According to Hideki Matsutake, YMO’s computer programmer, Yano was the first Japanese musician to use sequencers.
In 1978 YMO performed as Yano’s back-up band for a Japanese tour, and at this time she became romantically involved with Sakamoto, following the breakup of her marriage. Although at the time this wasn’t noted in the press, once YMO became famous the story was spread across the papers, something that Akiko further highlighted herself by including clippings from the tabloid reports in a tour programme. In 1979 Akiko became a support member of YMO; taking a break in early 1980 when she gave birth to daughter Miu Sakamoto, before returning for the second YMO world tour.
Japan the band first became aware of Akiko Yano because Japanese fans gave the group mixtapes of music they thought they would like. At that time, according to Mick, they did not know that there was a connection between YMO and Akiko. This soon changed when Japan attended a YMO concert and were introduced backstage. David Sylvian, Sakamoto and Yano started to exchange letters, something referred to in the song “David” released later in the 80s.
For her 1981 tour Akiko recruited Masami Tsuchiya as guitar player, and he went on to play on her album “Tadaima”. Both artists came to London in early 1982 and booked time at Air studios, Masami to record “Rice Music” and Akiko “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne”. Akiko specifically chose to work with Japan members and to record at Air because of “Tin Drum”; she liked the clarity of sound and the feel of the album, and wanted that for her own recording. To that end, not only did Akiko recruit the Japan members, but she employed Steve Nye and David Rhodes for the duration of the recording. However, Nye would not be producing, that role would be performed by fiancé Ryuichi (the couple would marry before the album was released). As you can see, even though he didn’t appear on the recording, Richard Barbieri attended at least one session. Sadly I was unable to find any photos of David Sylvian at the Air sessions (he sang on “Goodnight”) – it is possible that his vocal was recorded in Tokyo later that Spring – certainly the piano backing by Ryuichi’s mentor Yuji Takahashi was not recorded in London. It may be the case that David was avoiding Mick at this time, hence his lack of visibility in the shots here that were taken by Pennie Smith and Ryuichi.
All of the photos come from the book that was an optional extra at the time the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” was released. In an unusual move, the album was released at budget price initially in a plain sleeve – for an extra 1000 Yen purchasers could add in the photo book.
What about the music? Despite Akiko apparently wanting some of the “Japan sound”, it doesn’t really sound like Japan! The similarities are the use of Prophet 5, marimba, and Steve’s drumming is unmistakable. Somehow though, despite being there, Mick doesn’t sound like his usual self, and is lower in the mix than you would expect. Perhaps this is because Mick’s suggested bass lines didn’t meet with Sakamoto’s approval?
The title track “Ai ga nakucha ne”, “Onnatachiyo otokotachiyo” and “Aisuru Hitoyo” (a single in Japan) are the stand-out tracks, both moving on at a fair pace and showing off the drumming styles of Jansen and Takahashi respectively.
Of the rest of the tracks, “Sleep On My Baby” was a re-recording of a 1979 song from Sakamoto’s “forgotten” reggae inspired album “Summer Nerves”, notable that the middle eight has new lyrics that sound like the English musicians may have suggested improvements.
Finally, “Good night” is a simple, short piano duet featuring David:
It seems there were plans in ’82 to launch Akiko in the UK – a compilation of her songs sung in English was put together with the title “From Japan To Japan”, but sadly the collection only came out in Japan itself. The title, and the inclusion of several songs featuring the band, must have been intended to pique interest in Japan’s fanbase – indeed I have a copy with a typed insert highlighting which tracks Sylvian & co play on. Whatever happened, it was not to be, and until some albums were released internationally in the 90s, Akiko concentrated on the domestic market.
There is a final postscript to this tale; in 2011 Akiko recorded a cover version of “Bamboo Music” and has since then been playing the song live, such as in this 2013 TV clip. Now long since split from Ryuichi, Akiko seems to have fond memories of her time linked to Japan and YMO and along with Yukihiro has made a return to pop music using synths.
While I was looking for photos related to “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” I found three reprints of polaroids taken by Ryuichi and Steve during the time in London in early ’82. All come from “YMO Book – Young Music Ozisan” and were probably taken during the recording of “Rice Music”. The first shows Mick and Masami, the second (by Steve) shows Peter Barakan with what may be Kermit The Frog (not the first time that a muppet would appear in a Japan related photo) and the final one: well, you can judge for yourselves.”
Thanks to Paul Rymer for providing the background to some of Steve’s iconic images and for giving us the chance to delve that wee bit deeper into an album that both Steve & Mick contributed to. Additional photographs are by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Pennie Smith.
So, how has 2015 been for you? Good? I do hope so.
It may seem a bit premature to be asking such questions, when we are still 8 weeks away from the end of the year, but I am feeling in a somewhat reflective mood this evening. The reason for this is pretty obvious from the title of this post – for this weekend marks the 1st anniversary of the Jansen Photography Blog’s first ever post (pauses for the clapping and cheering to subside). A whole year since it stumbled, blinking frantically into the light, with little idea of what it was and where it was going. Those first few posts were spectacularly rubbish, if I do say so myself. They read like the ramblings of someone who had no idea what she was doing, or who she was doing it for (funny, that) but it didn’t take long for things to straighten up and a sturdy pair of feet to be found. And here we now are. 52 weeks later. Whodathunkit?
And what a year it has been.
The idea for the blog was (unwittingly) timed to absolute perfection; for whilst I was busy chatting away to TMK’s Penelope about the idea of ‘hosting’ a place for fans to access and discuss a range of Steve’s photos, Mr Jansen was busy digitising the very same images and planning to release a book of his photography a few months down the line. Fortuitous, eh? When I first mentioned to Steve my idea for the blog, he was incredibly supportive, but also hesitant about discussing his photography publicly, at a time when the book was still in the early stages of development. However, his blessings were bestowed upon us, and off we went.
As I have previously explained, the blog was initially set up to be accessible only via the TMK facebook site but that proved to be a ridiculous idea. Facebook just isn’t the right platform for such a venture and it soon became apparent that there was a much wider audience for my hilarious and often incredibly insightful witterings (heh!) so we dropped that idea, and opened it up for anyone who wanted to access it. And I am so pleased we did.
With the increase in access, came a growing interest in people wishing to contribute their own stories and thoughts to the blog, which was exactly my intention. This was always intended to be a place where people could share their thoughts on any of Steve’s photos and I was hoping that those who had their own Jansen prints would contribute to the process – so it is really lovely when that happens.
And now for the boring maths bit: as of today, the blog has had 26,059 views, from people across 6 continents (still awaiting that first one from Antarctica) and over 90 countries (and I am pretty sure I know who the occasional visitor from Costa Rica is……)That, my friends, is quite remarkable, for a blog about photos mainly taken 3 decades ago, isn’t it? As well as being able to work out how many people have read each and every post, one of the joys of ‘wordpress’ is that you can track pretty much everything to do with your blog; including the search terms used, which lead people to the page. So, out of interest, hands up who ended up looking at monochrome images of a band who split up nearly 33 years ago, after googling the following: “how old is Yuka Fujii?”, “implausible blog” and my all time favourite, “hairy micks“.?? Oh, and from these searches, it would also seem that quite a few people are keen to know whether Steve currently has a girlfriend/wife……definitely not a question that will be addressed on this page.
So, why create a whole blog, just to focus on one aspect of Steve’s work? After all, he is far more renowned as a composer and musician, than a photographer, so it may seem a little unusual for this to be the sole focus of the blog.
I had long been aware that Steve had an interest in photography; I think this first became obvious to me late in 1981, when his name started appearing on some of the ‘Japan’ single covers, (Steve’s photos graced all the Virgin single releases, from ‘art of parties’ through to ‘cantonese boy’) but I never realised quite how active he had been as a photographer until relatively recently. Occasionally, his name was alongside a photo of David or Mick used in an interview in UK music press, but we British fans never had the same exposure to his images as our Japanese counterparts – where his photos regularly featured in the magazines which had been sticking the photogenic South London boys on their covers since 1978. Even the ‘expressions’ exhibition he held in 1983 was only made up of 12 images, despite it creating massive amounts of publicity at the time. So, until recent years, access to Steve’s photos was pretty limited to his own website and a few images floating around on the internet.
And then along came ‘sleepyard’………
…….and suddenly we started to get a real sense of just how many photos he had taken. Out-takes from the GTP photo-shoot; studio shots from the late 70s, right through to JBK recording ‘-ism’ in the late 90s; back-stage japes on the ‘shamans’ tour; Steve’s ‘holiday snaps’ whilst relaxing with Yukihiro, or travelling across Europe using the fabulous widelux self-panning camera…..a whole world was opening up before our eyes, and it was as astonishing as it was welcome. Seeing Mick (now complete with eyebrows) looking like a bit of a grumpy geezer, with a couple of days’ growth on his face, at Foel studios in Wales, was simply staggering. So, alongside Steve’s imageshop, we now had a whole new raft of photographs to peruse. And some of us had a lot to say about them. The blog made perfect sense.
There are countless other platforms where Steve’s musical activities are discussed and promoted, but his photography didn’t seem to be as visible (ironic, huh?). I kept seeing photographs I knew he had taken, shared on tumblr or on countless facebook groups, where he was never credited as the photographer. So, rather than sit here getting frustrated about it, it seemed a more positive approach would be to celebrate and share these images in a way people could also engage with. Focusing on the spectacular images he had taken of Mick over the years, was our starting point. And the rest is history (all 12 months of it)
For me, the highlight of the last 12 months has obviously been the release of Steve’s book ‘through a quiet window’; something many of us had been waiting a long, long time for. The fact he also agreed to do an exclusive and informal interview on the blog, about the book, was an absolute bonus – and one the teen-aged me would never have conceived as a possibility, when she first heard Japan back in 1980. Funny old world, ain’t it?
Looking back over the last 12 months, at the photos that have been newly released and hearing some of the stories behind them, I can honestly say that it has been beyond what I ever imagined. Steve has been incredibly generous with providing some of the back stories to his photos; recounting the time he stepped backwards and fell through the skylight on his roof, (whilst taking the shots for the ‘ghosts’ cover), is possibly the most memorable; but there have been many other snippets of info we have gleaned over the months which have filled in a bit of the history for us. There was the classic moment when I had written a whole post about Steve’s use of black & white film vs colour. where I focused on the stills he shot during the ‘visions of china’ video shoot as an example of him photographing in colour but reproducing in b&w, only for him to explain (after I had published the post) that he actually shot 2 rolls of film that day; one in monochrome and one in glorious techni-colour. Oops.
I have long been a fan of Steve’s ‘non-Japan’ images, and along with Shane McElligott (a regular contributor to the blog) I adore his ‘hotel room’ shots; possibly because these were some of the earliest images of his I remember seeing, as they were used in the publicity surrounding the ‘expressions’ exhibition in 1983. The juxtaposition of the 2 ‘worlds’ captured through Steve’s lens; that of the room itself, and the ‘other’ world beyond the window (or within the TV screen) was something Mischa Rose focused upon in one of the fantastic pieces she has contributed. This is one my all time favourite posts and, with hindsight, it acted almost as a precursor to the release of Steve’s book – I mean, check out the title! https://jansenphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/captured-through-a-quiet-window/
The collaborative pieces which occasionally appear on here are an absolute joy to create – having the opportunity to weave a narrative between the words of fellow fans is wonderful, and I love reading the thoughts of so many people, who share a passion for these images. The joyful sense of elation which came from the ‘birthday’ blog we dedicated to Mick this July, was the epitome of this for me. I can’t thank all the people who have contributed enough……..and the door is always open to anyone else who would like to join us in waxing lyrical about any of Steve’s photos. The more the merrier, as far as I am concerned.
A few months after starting to blog, Steve mentioned that he didn’t really think I would be able to find much more to write about – the bottom of the barrel was becoming ever more discernible and I had pretty much covered all bloggable topics, he reckoned. I did share this concern, wondering just how long I could keep writing about what was after all, a finite number of images – but that was before the reality of 2015 kicked in. For, whilst the blog has been merrily bobbing along for the the last 12 months, we have also witnessed a truly remarkable year for Japan-related material. From the Jansen/Barbieri releases of ‘lumen’ and ‘stone to flesh’, to Mick’s back catalogue being re-issued in vinyl via KScope, along with books by Anthony Reynolds, David Sylvian and Steve……it has truly felt like best of times to be a fan of Messrs Jansen, Karn, Barbieri, Sylvian and Dean. Again, the timing couldn’t have been better, as it feels like there is a real groundswell of interest in the past work, as well as new releases, of the band once known as ‘Japan’. Long may it last.
And with the release of ‘through a quiet window’, there is now a whole glut of new images for us to get all wordy and hifalutin about…….however, as Steve quite rightly pointed out, there will come a time when the bloggable topics do run out. With this in mind, the Jansen Photography Blog will be broadening its scope somewhat as it enters its second year of existence. Over the coming months, we will be looking not just at photos taken by Steve, but peeking around the corners, to unveil more of the back-story – delving further into the world that created the back-drop to some of these images. First up, Paul Rymer will focus upon the recording of Akiko Yano’s ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ album. One to watch out for.
So, all that is left to say is a massive THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us over the last 12 months, including all those who have ever commented on, shared or contributed to the blog……and of course, a heartfelt and grateful hunk-a-hunk o’ burning thanks to Steve himself.
The reproductions of the photos on this site are not indicative of the quality of the images in the book. Sadly, I have a crappy scanner and so they look a bit rubbish. Apologies to Steve for ruining all of his hard work.
Images from the book ‘through a quiet window’ are available to purchase as individual prints, as are selected images from ‘sleepyard’ – all enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you do, then you will recall that this was the year of the seemingly, never-ending glut of Japan-related paraphernalia. As Hansa went up against Virgin in the ‘coining-it-in’ stakes, releasing single after single from the band’s pre-1980 back catalogue (and confusing many a new fan along the way…) it seemed as if every magazine editor in the land had just realised that sticking Sylvian’s face on the front cover would guarantee fabulous sales. And not just the ‘serious’ music press, but a whole host of magazines; from Jackie, to Pink, to My Guy and beyond, they were slapping the South London boys’ seriously ‘made-up’ faces all over the place, accompanied by some truly unimaginative sub-editing; just how many “Cantonese Boys”, “They Just Want a Quiet Life”, and “Turning Japanese” banner-lines were published that year, one wonders? However it was, it has to be said, brilliant for us fans, wasn’t it? All those lovely things to spend our hard-earned cash on.
Well, I don’t know about you, but over the last few months, it has started to feel a lot like 1982 again, round these parts…….thanks to KScope, we have seen the release of the Jansen/Barbieri live album ‘lumen’, as well as the on-going releases of Mick’s back catalogue on vinyl. Steve contributed 3 new tracks to a download version of the 2001 ‘kinoapparatom’ which was released in March, and he also composed a truly beautiful piece of music as part of the ALMA ‘music box’ project, where artists created melodies from the notes of a dying star. Utterly sublime.
And in a couple of weeks’ time, we have the absolute thrill of a new Jansen/Barbieri collaboration, when 1995’s ‘stone to flesh’ gets a new haircut and is sent out to face the world again. Re-mastered, with updated artwork and a new track ‘map of falling’ – it doesn’t really get much better than this, does it?
Or so you’d think.
For then, there are the books……
I can’t begin to express how pleased I was to discover that Steve was releasing a book of his photographs. I suppose the fact that I have dedicated quite a lot of time over the last year, writing this very blog, and waxing lyrical about his photos, may suggest that I am a bit of a fan of this side of his work? And I am not alone. There has been an absolutely wonderful response on the Japan/Jansen forums of late, with people getting their knickers in a right old twist about the glut of fabulous new shots the book contains.
And a week after ‘Through A Quiet Window’ was released, the first copies of Anthony Reynolds’ magnum opus, ‘Japan – A Foreign Place’, began thudding onto the doormats of homes across the globe. Cue even more excitement and (literally) thousands of almost identical photos of the book, lovingly displayed in sitting rooms and on coffee tables from Osaka to Oklahoma (and all points in between). And, as if this wasn’t enough; next month sees the long-awaited publication of David’s ‘Hypergraphia’ – a culmination of some 3 decades-worth of lyrics, photography, artwork and writing.
Good grief, I think I need to lie down in a darkened room.
I had planned to do a series of blog posts about both Steve and Anthony’s books; but I am aware that some folk are still waiting for their copies to arrive, and I don’t want to ruin the absolute joy of turning a page and coming across a previously unseen image…….so, let’s give them another week or so, before we spoil it by revealing all.
However, until then……here is something a little bit special.
Richard Heraghty has been a Japan fan since he was knee-high to a grasshopper and he has very kindly shared a couple of his photos, and some of his memories, with us. For once, the Jansen Photography Blog turns its focus away from photos *by* Steve, and instead looks to photos *of* Steve. I’m pretty sure none of you will complain too loudly about this?
Over to you, Mr Heraghty
“So, after meeting the band several times after various gigs …we were starting to wonder if Mr Jansen really existed outside the vicinity of a drum kit? David & Mick always seemed to travel together in 1980. However, in 1981 when following several dates of the Art of Parties tour, it happened at the Leeds Tiffany’s gig. Mick came into view in the underground car park under the hotel there were staying at with …Steve! Linda (my girlfriend at the time) & I jostled to get near him first without drawing too much attention to ourselves (there was no one else present except another friend). I managed to pass Steve my copy of ‘Quiet Life’ to sign, which the rest of the band had already signed the previous year at The Venue, London.
I enthusiastically mentioned to Steve that he was the only member not to have signed it & that we had been trying to meet him for some time. Steve then seemed to hesitate & asked in a seemingly pleasantly surprised way ‘what’s your name’ then added my name to his autograph. After signing various items (which didn’t require Mick’s involvement again) we requested a picture …& like our merchandise …we’d already got Mick’s picture several times before so Steve was our target. But Mick being the nice person he was, joined us in the pictures we took.
We were too polite to bump him out of the pictures……but it was all about STEVE that day!”
Information about all of Steve’s latest projects is available on his website here:
This week’s post is just that little bit special. And when I say “just that little bit”, I actually mean “hugely & magnificently”. For today’s contribution to the blog, features the very man whose name it proudly bears, having a bit of a chat about his new book…..none other than the rather lovely Steve Jansen. Exciting, isn’t it?
When I first approached Steve about starting up this blog, about 10 months ago, I also suggested the idea of doing a Q&A session with him. At the time he was reluctant to agree to this; his reason being that, as plans were under-way for the release of a book of his photos, it wasn’t really an appropriate time for him to publicly chat about his photography. He was happy to answer the odd question I had about specific photos, and to give the back story to some of the images already out there, but he didn’t feel it was the right time to be discussing this side of his work.
Fast forward to August 2015; Steve announced his plans for the book, (due to be released in October), and, after letting out a whoop of joy, the first thing that sprung to my mind was….”A-ha! maybe now I can ask him all those questions?” and, true to his word, Steve agreed.
So, here we are, my fellow blog readers……an exclusive chat with the man behind the (stills) camera.
Now, as you will probably be aware, Steve has spent a lot of time over the last few months answering a number of questions via his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr, so it was actually quite difficult to work out how best to approach this– I certainly didn’t want to just ask him the same-old questions; but for some people who read this blog, a lot of this information may well be new to them, and I couldn’t just assume that everyone has the same amount of knowledge, (or indeed interest), in Steve’s photography, as I do. It made sense to concentrate on the book itself, as I was interested in knowing more about the processes involved in its production, and so that became the main focus of this piece.
Steve has long said he would like to publish a book of his photography, but for various reasons (quality & cost implications, specifically) he felt it was unlikely to happen. In fact, about 18 months ago, he was asked about this via ‘sleepyard’, and his response to the idea was not overly positive – “the idea of self-publishing a photo book is daunting because of the time and costs involved, due to the fact that all prospective images have to be test printed. It seems the first step to take would be to talk to an accountant (not much fun in that).”
So, why now, I wondered; what had changed?
The idea for the book came about in the Spring of 2014, when Steve was in Japan with his old mucker Yukihiro Takahashi, “spending some quality time together, and out of the blue, discussed how we might put this book out.” The book is a joint venture between the two, being released by Takahashi’s ‘Hints Music’ publishing, and features a range of images not only from Steve’s time in ‘Japan’, but also whilst he was touring with Takahashi’s band in the early 80s. The text is in both English and Japanese, so there is no need to produce 2 versions – and the combination of images of ‘Japan’, as well as members of YMO/Takahashi’s band, means that it will have a wider appeal. Which all makes perfect sense. And less time spent talking to the accountant, I assume?
Although limited copies of the book were made available at the World Happiness event in Tokyo last month, the official release date is still a couple of weeks away. But, this much we already know; the book consists of approximately 200 images, across 170 pages. That’s a lot of photographs to sort through and test print, so I presume it was a lengthy process; working through the hundreds of images, digitising them and choosing which ones would reproduce well?
Over to Steve for the full low-down on the process:
“It was a lengthy and time consuming process that started almost a year ago and went through various stages.
Firstly, I made quick, small scans of all the negs because many of them have not been printed, apart from on a contact sheet (and sometimes not even that) and it wouldn’t be easy to make a choice otherwise. Having them all digitised, I could browse through each roll on a laptop and make choices that way; although I did already have a large amount selected for the ‘imageshop’ and ’sleepyard’, I needed to be sure whether or not anything else would be suitable for this book.
I was tempted to use previously unpublished images, in favour of ones already out there in the public domain (online), but I decided that this book should contain what I thought were the best selection, regardless – because the book is not reliant on technology and can be in someone’s personal possession, no matter what remains on the internet in future. A paper document rather than a digital file.”
Were you tempted to use modern technologies to ‘enhance’ some of the images, or have you kept them pretty much ‘as taken’?
“The next step was to have them professionally scanned and ‘dust-busted’ at the lab that I use (the shots on ’sleepyard’ are not professionally scanned because they only need to be small files – therefore they all had to be done). Then it was a case of going through each one and adjusting the ‘print’ as you would in a dark room, (‘dodging and burning’ as it’s known)… as well as cropping – this is all standard ‘photoshop’ practice when getting the best out of a shot.
The images were then digitally transferred over to Japan where Keiji, the designer, went to work on the layout – and there was also the task of writing the text.
Finally, test prints of the book were made, and the decisions about paper weight and quality were decided, as well as final adjustments to any of the images that weren’t printing up as well as expected.”
So yes, that does sound like quite a lengthy process, and may well explain why we are all still waiting for that, seemingly elusive, 2nd solo album from Mr Jansen!
However, I digress……
The book is titled ‘Through a Quiet Window’, (with an obvious nod to one of Steve’s own compositions), but it is also beautifully evocative of a lot of the imagery in his photography. So many of his photos feature the juxtaposition of 2 ‘worlds’; the main subject (whether that is Rich smoking in a café, or an armchair in a hotel room) but there is often a second, more subtle, view – a glimpse of life outside of a window, or on a TV screen; or the sprawl of the industrial landscape butting up against the majestic peaks of a mountain. I was interested to know just where this inspiration came from?
Steve explained that he has written a forward for the book, which addresses this question pretty fully, so rather than spoil it for you all, we’ll leave that one aside for now. Something for us all to look forward to, come the beginning of October.
One thing that has become very apparent to me over the last few months, is just how modest Steve is, when it comes to his ability as a photographer; to the point where he seems uncomfortable when people try to elevate his work to lofty heights (something this very blog could be accused of doing occasionally?) Of course, when I asked him about this, what I got was an equally modest answer – no hifalutin delusions of grandeur here…..
“….because we can all take pictures, and I’m no more a professional than the next person with a camera; but I was in a fortunate position and had an enthusiasm for it. I don’t feel I have a special ability, but I’m more than happy if other people think I do. Rather than worrying about getting the perfect exposure, or focus, for me the nicest images are when the subject projects who they are; whether it be in a relaxed situation, or posing for a shot – it’s managing to capture that moment where the person feels more tangible.”
OK, so are there any images which really stand out for you; any shots you are particularly proud of, or where you feel that you really accomplished something special?
“There are a few that embody this quality for me…….”
……and at this point, Steve admitted that he would really rather not have to go back through all of his photos, to pick out the ones he was referring to …..which makes a lot of sense. Having spent the last year-and-a-bit constantly browsing through hundreds of photographs, and fine-tuning the images for the book, I can imagine that the last thing he really wanted to do, was start looking at them all again and picking out the ones which best illustrate this.
Let’s just assume there are a fair few in there, shall we?
Time to change the subject!
When it comes to music, you have always seemingly embraced new technologies and been happy to turn away from the ‘old school’ way of doing things. With photography, it seems the opposite is true, and you have said you prefer ‘analogue’ cameras to the new-fangled digital versions. I presume you snap away using a phone, like the rest of us, but do you still use a SLR (rather than a DSLR) camera? Is your trusty Canon A1 still in use?
“My interest in photography was in correlation with my lifestyle, but that’s changed a great deal. I think that if I were on the road again, I would for sure take my Canon A1. Using a view finder is essential for me to feel engaged with photography; I can never fully appreciate framing up a shot on a display. You don’t feel as though you’re ‘in’ it. Camera obscura (Latin for ‘dark chamber’) is the place from which you, as the photographer, are observing; from the inside looking out. A display is like watching something already filmed and is playing back …. you’re on the outside looking in, and for me that takes away much of the magic.”
I asked Steve a similar question about his use of analogue photography about 18 months ago, and his answer is worth repeating here, I feel, as it further explains his preference of analogue over digital.
“The combination of work, people and places provided the stimulus to capture what was going on and, even with my lack of skills as a photographer, it meant that I could still manage to capture something. I like to photograph people; and being in a band touring, recording, there were always people. Now, not so much. I like ‘analogue’ cameras. I would have loved digital photography to be around back when I started, but now that it’s here, I’m thankful that I have stacks of negs that haven’t been accidentally erased and some of which I haven’t even seen, except on a contact sheet. I feel I’ve not fully explored all the images I’ve taken. Right now that’s more interesting to me than taking more. I feel that photos from the past are a kind of treasure – the older they get, the more precious they somehow seem and the more significant they become in their purpose of recording a moment in time. Yes … I sound like I’m getting old, don’t I?”
And recently, in a response to a similar question about his interest in portraiture over landscape photography, he echoed the sense of how the ‘magic’ of photography is less about faithfully reproducing the image before you, than creating something new.
“….I think human content in general provides an emotional connection and it instils a sense of romanticism. By way of example, the image ‘Escaping The Room’ can work as just a chair in a room seemingly stark and moody, but with the tiny image on the TV screen, showing a person scaling the stairs, a title is suggested; and from there a whole other perspective is evoked from what would have been a very ordinary moment in a hotel room. That’s what I like about photography, it’s quite removed from the truth of the moment.”
So, the camera does indeed lie – or at least distort the truth, to some extent.
The last year has seen Steve become increasingly ‘visible’ to his fans, communicating with them on both facebook and tumblr; sometimes with hilarious results. I never realised I needed to know what he thinks of the current Dr Who incarnation (he liked Matt Smith, but found David Tennant annoying), or what he thinks are the best qualities of his life-long compadre Rich Barbieri; but once these questions have been asked, I find myself increasingly curious about such fripperies! (I mean, when he said that pastry brings him joy, did he mean sweet or savoury? Damn, I missed my chance to find out!)
However, with his long-awaited book of photographs finally about to be published, there was something I was curious about…….
Will you still continue to upload images on tumblr, or is that it, as far as your photography goes?
“Just kidding … I guess I have more to share if there are people still interested. We’ll see.”
Huge, and heartfelt, thanks to Steve for taking (yet more) time out to answer my questions.