It is now a full 10-years since the smoking ban came into force in England – following those which had been implemented a full 18-months previously across Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and it is now almost impossible to remember just quite how ubiquitous that most anti-social of habits once was, in our daily lives. I recall visiting Ireland in 2006, a few months after the ban had been introduced there, and wondering why every bar I visited smelt like it had recently been newly varnished; was there an annual ‘re-decorate the pubs’ festival, I had been previously unaware of? For, upon entering each and every hostelry on that trip, the heady combination of cleaning products, stale beer and the deadly waft of a thousand disintegrating urninal-cakes, produced an acidic, oily aroma – which had been so cleverly masked by the over-powering stench of tobacco, and was suddenly all too obvious. It really wasn’t that pleasant.
When I think back to my formative years, cigarettes where everywhere. My dad was the only adult I knew, who didn’t smoke. My mum smoked, all of their friends smoked, my four brothers all smoked. Interviewers on TV smoked, musicians smoked on stage, magazines were full of photos of the latest pop-stars, models and actors, staring moodily at the camera, with a cigarette dangling provocatively from their lip-sticked pouts.
Unsurprisingly, I started to smoke. At school during breaks, we’d stand outside the staff room and watch all of the teachers get settled in their chairs and start puffing away, then nick round the back of the science-block, and spark up a cheeky Player’s No. 6. When I went to uni, two of my lecturers would smoke all the way through classes, although we weren’t allowed to (ghastly double standards!) and one of my strongest memories of those hedonistic days, is waking up in the early hours of the morning, with my face buried in my pillow, with the stench of a thousand nightclub cigarettes clinging to my hair, clothes and bed. The thought of it turns my stomach now, but at the time, it seemed so normal.
In 1981, at the tender age of 13, I was lucky enough to see JAPAN in concert. It was my first ever gig, and I’d love to be able to recount every single moment of the show; however, my abiding memory of the evening, is of standing on a raised step, by the side of the stage (right up next to the speakers, which made my ears bleed during Canton!) and watching with amazement, as the smoke rose from the top of the 2,000 strong audience, and was caught up in the lights emanating from the stage. It was trippy and beautiful. Standing in the Great Hall, at Lancaster University, surrounded by glamorous beings, dressed in their finery and puffing away on their Gitanes – and all within pouting distance of my favourite band – was utterly momentous and life-defining. Despite all of the messages which clearly stated that smoking was bad for you, I fell for the hype. It was glamorous; it was cool; it was sophisticated. It was grown-up, and that is what I wanted.
And blimey, those JAPAN boys could smoke. And then some. There were so many photos of them, posing beautifully, with cigarettes clamped between their lips, or in between their fingers. I know it was the norm at the time, but with hindsight, as immaculate as they all looked, I can’t help but think they must’ve bloody REEKED! We all did.
Now, I am the last person to encourage anyone to smoke, or to glamorise this most anti-social of habits, but when I sit here now and look back at all of these wonderful images I still can’t help but think that they all look so freaking cool. It’s sheer madness, I know. I’m not 15 and easily manipulated, but…..well, take this photo of Mick, in a hotel room in Leeds, as an example. With the blonde shock of spikes and the filterless fag dangling dangerously from his jutting lips, doesn’t he just appear to be the most exotic and intriguing person who ever bestrode the planet?
When I first started this blog, I invited people who had bought any of Steve’s prints to contribute, and Adam Howard did just that. This was one of the ones he owned and he admitted to having mixed feelings about the inclusion of the cigarette. “My family bought (it for) me. At the time I thought it was an odd choice as we are all ardent non-smokers, but I can’t complain as I did leave it up to their discretion. I’ve grown to appreciate the picture over time, and the whole smoking thing was very ‘Mick’ I suppose.” Adam also said he had initially felt a bit uncomfortable with the image, due to Mick’s cancer diagnosis and untimely death. However, as he quite rightly stated, this IS a very Mick pose and no amount of revisionism, in the face of his sad passing, will alter that fact.
In fact, so strongly do some of us associate Mick with his smoking habit, that when I asked JAPAN-fan extraordinaire, Keiko Kurata, about her favourite SJ photos of Mick one of the ones she chose was this one…..
Her reasoning was simple and logical: “when I see Gitanes, I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass+Gitanes = Mick”.
You really can’t argue with that, can you? 🙂
Thankfully, the remaining members have now all kicked the habit; admittedly, some of them rather more recently than others. In fact, Steve has even suggested that he wasn’t ever really a serious smoker, despite the hordes of photographic evidence to the contrary. “I was surrounded by smokers therefore it was easy to grab one, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not a smoker despite how it appears sometimes in those early photos.”
To be fair, he may have a point – that cigarette isn’t even lit!
Now, I cannot emphasise enough, how much I dislike cigarettes – and I truly hope that no-one reading this thinks that I am trying to glamorise smoking and make it seem like a GOOD thing to do. I really am not. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of my all-time favourite shots – which resulted from the click of Steve’s A1 shutter-button -is the utterly sublime photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto, which graces the top of this page. And, like Adam Howard, I too feel horribly conflicted with my absolute love of this image.
We all know that Ryuichi was diagnosed with throat cancer, a couple of years ago. Certain cancers (but not all) are undoubtedly linked to smoking, and throat cancer is up there at the top of that list. Thankfully, he is now in full remission following extensive treatment, but it still feels a bit odd (and not a little warped) to wax-lyrical about a photograph which graphically represents something so dangerous and harmful.
However, the truth of the matter is that this photo also represents who he was, at that moment in time. When we look back on these images from nearly 4-decades ago, we have to remember that attitudes were different. This was a time when smoking was far more acceptable and seemingly ubiquitous – and I am really sorry to admit this, but I still think they all look really, really cool.
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.
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
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.
See what happens when I take time away from the blog, to concentrate on real life, for a couple of weeks? There I was, busy herding umpteen teenagers up a Cumbrian ‘mountain’, when my phone pinged and I received a message telling me that Steve had finally announced that he is to publish a book, featuring 170 of his photographs. Oh, happy day! Maybe I should go away more often; who knows what other amazing announcements would be made?
Readers of this blog will know that a number of contributors and followers have long cried out for a ‘BOOK!’ – they have asked Steve about it via his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr and have left a number of increasingly unsubtle hints in the comments box on many a-blog post, in the vain hope that it would be somehow seen and acted upon.
And here we now are, with the promise of a ‘compact and beautiful’ book to be released by the end of the year. What more could we ask for? At present, there isn’t a date for publication but here is Steve’s official announcement, for those of you who may have missed it:
“I have completed a photo book to be published later this year. It contains 170 images consisting mostly of monochrome prints, but also colour and a selection of Polaroids. Some texts by myself appear in the book as well as a contribution from Yukihiro Takahashi who has produced the book via his Hints Music publishing company. He and I together wanted to make the images that have been featured online (as well as others never before published) available in an art book format. The book is compact and beautifully presented by Japanese designer Keiji Terai and is being printed and manufactured in Japan and will be available to purchase worldwide. More details will be announced soon.” Steve Jansen.
So, what now? Well, Steve has asked that people register their interest via his own official facebook site – be aware that there are a number of SJ fb sites in existence but this is the only one which Steve actually contributes to:
If the quality and quantity of the images Steve has been slowly releasing via his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr over the last 18 months is anything to go by, the finished product should be well worth the wait. Now, of course, my febrile imagination has gone into over-drive and I am hoping for a book launch and extensive photographic exhibition, to accompany the book’s publication…..however, just knowing that all the years of hoping that we would one day see a large selection of Steve’s evocative and beautiful images, collected together in one place, is finally on the horizon; well, that is more than enough for me. For now, at least.
So, whilst we are waiting for more news about the release date, let’s just sit back and luxuriate in some of the images currently out there – and wonder about just what delights Messrs Jansen & Takahashi have in store for us, later in the year.
Limited edition, signed prints of some of Steve’s images are available to purchase via his website here:
So, just what is the correct etiquette for acknowledging the birthday of someone who is no longer with us? Is there a handy self-help book for such things, I wonder? Are we supposed to mark the occasion in a sombre fashion, with heads bowed, no sense of even the faintest flicker of a smile daring to touch our lips? Is that the appropriate thing to do? Or, should we embrace the joy and happiness they brought into our lives, and heartily celebrate the day in the way which they would, doubtless, want us to? I fervently believe in the latter……
Like the majority of people reading this blog, I didn’t actually know Mick Karn; so I am clueless when it comes to knowing how he might have spent the day of his 57th birthday, were he still here. But I do feel that today, of all days, we should be celebrating the musical and artistic legacy he has left us with, rather than grieving for his loss. So, with this in mind, I am handing today’s blog over to the collective cluster of ‘team Mick Karn’ (TMK); that fine body of fans whose aim is to ensure that Mick’s memory is never forgotten, and who continue to promote his music and art, wherever they go.
The aim of today’s post is to keep things ‘short, simple and sweet’ – those were the three words of advice that Steve gave me, when I approached him about starting the blog last year. Obviously, I didn’t really take heed of his words, (you may have noticed that brevity and I do not good bed-fellows make?) but fortunately, the good folk of TMK have stuck to this mantra. I asked them to choose their favourite photo of Mick, as taken by Steve, and simply say why they liked it. And rather than try to create a post which flows chronologically, I have chosen to place the photos and comments in the order in which I received them – this is TMK’s ’24/7′ blog and I didn’t want to over-edit the sentiment.
First up is the wonderful Steve Kelley – TMK’s antipodean representative. He chose a recently revealed image of Mick, which Steve published on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr earlier this year; taken at Foel Studios in Wales during the recording of JBK’s ‘_ism’:
“The picture of Mick I’ve chosen really stands out as something different. Why?… because it is raw. We all know Mick would easily stand out in a crowd with his polished look.. hair, clothes and the odd bit of make-up. Mick’s image was a very colourful one; indeed perhaps even extravagant and unique…much the same as his bass playing. However in this pic there is none of that. What you see here is the real Mick Karn… there is nothing to deflect from his face… not even long or coloured hair.This is Mick the person. He’s looking a bit serious but ever so confident in his look and stance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another picture of him with a 3 day growth!”
Anna Weston Sekera provides the first of our trans-Atlantic entries: she chose another recently published image, but one from 20 years earlier than the JBK one……
“Looking at Mick here brings back my first memories of Japan. The long magenta hair, his beautifully sad eyes, all screaming to be perceived as different, relevant and unique. To see this picture now as a glimpse to the past is comforting, familiar and for all of its alien nature, it just feels like an old lost friend.”
The next person to contact me was Keith Phillips; he has been promising to write a post ever since the blog started up 8 months ago, so this is a case of better late than never! He chose the Jansen print he bought about 10 years ago and which hangs on his wall at home (number 6/250) – and is one of only 2 images chosen which feature other band members. This one was taken in 1981 at the start of the Visions of China (aka Shit Tour) when relationships in the band were at breaking point. Over to you, Keith:
“I chose this one because of the lost dynamic between Karn and Sylvian, highlighted further by the imposing ‘prison-like’ gates, that I think the band were held in at the time. Plus, it has the slightly distanced, neutral position of Richard Barbieri, who probably wished everything was running smoothly. Also, it was shot in Cornwall, one of my favourite places to visit so it has a personal association. South Cornwall perhaps….?”
We hop over the Channel now to the European mainland for Daniela Mendes‘ contribution. Daniela has chosen one of my favourite images of Mick, which shall forever be known to readers of this blog as ‘dangly thing’…….
“I admit, when I first saw this photo, that pair of sunglasses made me like it right away. Now, it strikes me as timeless – it doesn’t really feel like it was taken 30 odd years ago – and now I can appreciate the fact that it’s in black and white, its contrast, and that you can see Steve’s reflection. Even the fault in the film seems to belong there. There’s a playful and mischievous feel to it and it shows how close Mick and Steve were. In every photo there’s an untold story and with each new photo we get another glimpse of Mick’s life, and that’s a beautiful way of celebrating it.”
One of the lovely things about TMK, is that it is a truly global gathering of like-minded people. So, from the European continent, we now cross back over the Atlantic to Canada for Pat Innes’ thoughts (and she has taken Steve’s words to heart…this is truly, short, sweet and simple)
“I’d have to go with this one. I like the grainy contrast, and that Mick is in front; what a sweet face. For some reason, I imagine Steve in the space over Mick’s left shoulder.”
With all of the hundreds of photos Steve has taken of Mick over the years, I thought that there would be more than enough to choose from…..but Emma Brining and Leonne Buur-Haaijman both opted for this shot, although they have rather different ways of interpreting the image.
Leonne – “Mick on the train, one of my favourites. I find it difficult to explain why I like a certain photo. It’s often something intangible, something undefinable… I’d like to think that Mick’s intentionally obstinate in this picture. To me, it’s as if he doesn’t want to look into the camera, focused on his nails as he is. Or pretends to be. What I also like about this photo is that you can date it so accurately, even if you don’t know who the subject is. The Walkman headphones around Mick’s neck give it all away … “
Emma – “This is my favourite colour shot of Mick by Steve. It is a very rare image when Mick appears unaware of being caught on film. Steve captures an unstudied moment – what he does best – the off guard expression, the seemingly mundane, of no PR value but of infinite human expression. We see Mick gazing at his calloused hands – the bass player’s trademark. He seems intense, focused, oblivious. Did he even know Steve was looking at him? Once more, we watch with him Mick’s jewelled appearance: the ruby hair, cobalt jacket, sable jumper. There’s something attractively nostalgic about the decor with its orange checked curtains and white linen headrests. Mick’s youth is arresting with his sharply drawn profile. It is an endearing portrait. Wherever Mick was travelling, he left his shades on, Walkman slung round his neck, more drawn by his own skin.”
Many people have chosen images which provide a jolt of nostalgia, taking them back to the time when they first discovered Japan – this is the case for Pauline Holmes, who opted for the photo of Mick in the hotel room in Leeds.
“My piece is about the photo ‘Karn in hotel room, Leeds’ – the one where he had blond hair. And the cigarette. Steve has captured an almost 1940s film noir aspect. It really is a stunning photo, you can almost feel the loneliness but also the dawn of a new decade. I think it was taken in 1980 in Leeds; the Yorkshire Ripper hadn’t yet been caught and it was round about the same time that my mum was in hospital, being treated for cancer. I was taken every Sunday to see her, and listening to the ‘new wave’ sounds on the radio really inspired me – Steve’s photo of Mick is so…….right and of the time. Knowing Mick was also in Leeds makes me feel better…..actually, I find it quite sexy that Mick has a cigarette – the photo is fabulous.”
Chiara Catanese summed up the difficulty many people had when I asked them to choose one photo of Mick……where do you start??? In the end, she settled on this one, taken by Steve during a shoot in and around Holland Park.
“It was such a difficult choice because there are so many wonderful photos of Mick taken by Steve. I chose this one because it reminds me in some ways of his music…I see in it the light and both the melancholy and energy of his music…and it reminds me of Japan of course….”
Many of Steve’s photos from the early 1980s are of hotel rooms, or band members in hotel rooms, and Houdah Abualtin has chosen one from the final Sons of Pioneers tour, taken in a hotel room high above a Hong Kong street.
“This is the first photo I remember seeing of Mick. It must have been roughly three years ago when I was learning more about his work in Dalis Car with Peter Murphy and just wanted to know more about the “mysterious” (to me, at least) other side of the fascinating project. I’ve always been a sucker for black and white photos and Mick’s expression seemed priceless to me – a mix of “What are you doing?” with “Okay, fine, I’ll pose for you…sort of.” What I also like is that you see a true human side in this photo….it isn’t to say Mick wasn’t kind or personable. What I mean is that we tend to view famous people as being something else – a machine, if you will, that produces for us constant streams of art. We forget they are human, have their own worries, their own goals, and their own lives outside of that art to live. Sometimes we even forget they actually need sleep! Here, we see Mick relaxing (more or less) in a hotel room, casual clothes, no bass. In this one moment in time, he is simply Mick Karn. Not Mick Karn of Japan. Not Mick Karn of Dalis Car. Not Mick Karn of any of the many other music endeavors he ventured into. Just Mick Karn, a man, a friend, and a dreamer. Maybe I’ve over-analyzed the photo incredibly, but these are some of the things I find myself thinking about when I look at it.”
Craig Hamlin is a man who knows when to do as he is told – and he chose this fascinating shot of Mick, semi-clothed, in his Kensington flat.
“So, Victoria’s remit was short & simple; “Pick your fave pic of Mick, by Steve.” Gee, thanks for that Vic. Simple? “No way, Pedro!” So I’ve chosen this one, because trying to encapsulate what Mick meant to me; well, this picture does it. Here, he is a Rock Star. He has that look of Ziggy/Kabuki …… and look at all those illicit objects on the table! That’s what you`d expect of real Rock Stars, yes?? Actually, it looks like a very normal table with very normal things on it, but Steve has captured a real feeling here of a Rock Star at the peak of his powers ….. holding court at some lavish press conference, sat on an opulent velvet sofa in some swanky hotel ….. but I guess its more likely he’s sat on his settee, in his own flat, with his mate Steve, and maybe one or two others. (Is this from the same session as the infamous ZIG ZAG interview?) But this 13/14 year old fan boy would’ve had this on my wall, next to a Ziggy poster ….. Yeah …. Mick is a Rock Star to me , and Steve nailed it with one click of the shutter”
Unlike Craig, Mischa Rose eschewed the “short and simple” suggestion and instead wrote a fantastically detailed and interesting piece, also featuring a collection of photos (rather than one) from the same Zig Zag session; so much so that it will appear on the blog in its full form at a later date, as there just isn’t room for all of it here. However, in the interest of balance, here is a tiny bit of what she said……
“Strangely though, it was easy enough to pick favourite SJ pictures of Mick. Not just ONE, obviously, but the whole series of utterly uncharacteristic shots that appeared in Zig Zag magazine in April 1982. Steve’s colour shot of Mick graced the cover—with a ‘Mick Karn Reveals All’ strapline that wasn’t all that far from the truth, in more ways than one. Shirtless, damp haired, alarmingly hairy; the image is more edgy Goth than Japan. We were used to a Mick that had a variety of images over the years—from the Glam post-Bowie bright haired years, the vivid orientalese-chic of silk pumps and Chairman Mao, the slicked hair and suit that flirted with the 40s. We were also used to a Mick that, in front of the camera, would make eye contact—a Mick who perhaps had a slightly less icy, quizzical stare than David, who looked, on the whole, to be slightly more approachable. The Zig Zag pictures, after all that, were actually rather shocking…..”
(to be continued………)
Alessia Mezzetti was refreshingly brief (only kidding Mischa!) with her choice, which is taken from one of Steve’s contact sheets, from a series of shots he took when Japan were recording Tin Drum at The Manor Studios:
“I think this one is perfect; in one photo you can see all his exoticness, from his somatic traits to his ever-present colourful clothes (even though the picture is monochrome), his unique style with the pipe and the oriental hat. He is an icon in his way of being different in every aspect of his life and proud of it!”
So, I suppose I should have my say, shouldn’t I? Like many others here, I just don’t know how to choose only one image of Mick, from the many that Steve took over the years. However, as I really want this to be a joyful & celebratory piece, I feel that the banner triptych at the top of this post, where Mick is beautifully playful – part Errol Flynn, part Buster Keaton – has to be my choice. Taken whilst Steve & Mick were sharing a flat in Mayfair, it oozes with fun and laughter. Think about it; this was a time when Japan were finally starting to gain real momentum on their home turf. They were a few months away from starting to record Tin Drum, Mick was elbow deep into a number of different artistic endeavours and they were living at the centre of the beating heart of London – it’s a long way from Catford to Mayfair, no wonder they were having fun! As Alessia so rightly stated, even thought the image is in black and white, you can still see how vibrantly colourful Mick was. And by choosing this image, I sneakily get 3 photos for the price of one. Perks of the job, my friends…..
Anyone who read last week’s post may have noticed I rather cheekily elevated myself to almost mythic status, claiming I was ‘the biggest Japan fan in the world ever’™. Obviously, this is nowhere near the truth and, as anyone who is anyone will know, that soubriquet actually belongs to the amazing Keiko Kurata; one half of the TMK admin team, and Japan fan extraordinaire. She actually queued on the streets of Tokyo for 8 days, in winter, to buy tickets for their first tour in 1979. 8 days. In winter. Now that is dedication. So, I feel that Keiko has more than earned the right to choose 2 images, both of which are heart-breakingly evocative for her:
“”I like this picture because this is how Mick looked when I met him for the first time March in 1979 in Japan. I loved that his hair colour was red . This Mick reminds me of my youth as if it was yesterday…… and when I see Gitanes , I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass + Gitanes = Mick”
From Japan, we cross once more the to North American continent and to Becky Olanchak, who has chosen an iconic image of Mick, posing alongside one of his own sculptures:
“This is possibly my favorite Jansen photo with Karn as subject. What especially appeals to me here is Mick’s apparent transformation into a piece of art himself, in his seated position with elegantly folded limbs and cocked head. His direct gaze invites deeper study of man and clay. Sculptor as sculpture, if you will, beside his own sculpted creation; artist imitates art…or is it vice versa?”
At the beginning of this piece, I suggested that the majority of people who read this blog didn’t actually know Mick – and this is indeed true. Some of you may have been fortunate enough to have met him, and maybe shared a few minutes or even hours of time with him. However, there exists a small minority of blog-readers who really did know Mick – people who have, at some time in their life, counted themselves as a friend to Mick. One of these is the totally wonderful Angie Usher, someone who I am very happy to call a friend and who, some 30 odds years ago, I tried (and miserably failed) to emulate, whilst singing along in quite a dreadful way to the harmonies on ‘Saviour, Are You With Me?’ I feel it is only fitting that we end this wonderful trawl through Steve’s iconic images of his friend, with the words of someone who really knew him, if only for a short time. Angie also chose the image of Mick with his sculpture (above).
“This is my favourite among many. The strong friendship between Mick and Steve is expressed through the lens (to me, anyway) in all of the photos Mick is in. For me personally though, this photo represents Mick’s strength – his art, sculpture and music, and at the same time his vulnerability. I knew him at a difficult time in his life, but his passion for his art and loyalty as a friend was never in question. I’m glad I was his friend, however brief that friendship was. I feel privileged to have known him and worked with him, to have shared laughter and tears with him, and to have been a part of his world. He is missed so much every day….”
It has been a wonderful experience for me, gathering the thoughts of so many like-minded people, and cobbling them together into this week’s blog. Two things became apparent very quickly, as I gazed over the pictures chosen – and apologies if what I am going to say now is stating the bleeding obvious but – 1) Mick Karn was a phenomenally photogenic creature and 2) Steve Jansen, for all of his “I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, all I had to do was click the shutter” modesty, is a very, very talented photographer. We have mused endlessly on this over the past few months haven’t we, and yes, of course his relationship with Mick means there is a certain confidence between the two of them, which translates beautifully through the lens, but he also draws the eye of the viewer to see something that we may otherwise have missed. We are incredibly fortunate that Steve documented the lives of his friends and band-mates in such intimate detail; and even more so, that he continues to choose to share these moments with us all.
The only way to end this piece is to hand over, once more, to Steve Kelley from Adelaide, who sums up pretty much how everyone here feels – not just today, on Mick’s birthday, but every day:
“On MK day I would especially like say “thanks” to Steve, for sharing your wonderful photos of Mick. We’re all thinking of you today as well, as I’m sure you miss your dear friend more than any of us could imagine.”
TMK are fund-raising for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal – if you are able to, please donate £1/$1 (or equivalent) and together we can hopefully make a difference, in Mick’s memory.