“Wall” series ”Side wall of Chinese restaurant”

The Other Side of Tokyo, Japan – Black and White Film Photography Project – By Kiichi Kitahara


I was born in Gifu prefecture in Japan, grew up in Osaka and Aichi, and now live in Tokyo. I have more than 40 years of photography experience, but it’s only in the last few years that I have been working with film photography in earnest.

For the first 20 years or so, I was only using film. But at that time there was no internet, so I had no choice but to learn photography techniques from various textbooks. In recent years, with the spread of the internet, it has become possible to benefit from the knowledge not just of photography experts, but also of many other people who take photographs as a hobby. In some ways, I think that film photography has matured, with a lot more information available. It’s a good time to start or get back into film photography.

“Wall” series ”Side wall of Chinese restaurant”

I’m currently working on a project to photograph the “other side” of the modern city of Tokyo, using 35mm black-and-white film.

The Ginza and Nihonbashi areas in central Tokyo are downtown and business districts, but just entering a single backstreet will present you with a completely different scene.

“Alley” series ”Narrow street between building”

“Alley” series ”Narrow street between building”

It’s a landscape that you would normally just pass by, but it’s nevertheless an authentic part of the landscape of Tokyo. These are scenes which are not listed in the Tokyo Tourism Guidebook, but which Japanese people are accustomed to seeing in their daily lives.

I have given myself a few commitments for this project, which I call “The Other Side of Tokyo, Japan”:

1. Take the pictures on black-and-white negative film. After scanning the negatives, use as few tone curve operations as possible, to create a natural tone.

2. Focus on tone. Because the subject tends to be monotonous, incorporate ideas from the zone system to express rich tones from shadows to highlights.

3. Take a photo “like a photo”. “Photo-like” to me means making a picture-like photo, not a simple recorded photo as you see it.

4. Take a photo on the assumption that it will be printed on photographic paper in the darkroom. Frame it so that it can be viewed.

5. Use simple titles for each series: I use easy-to-understand one-word classifications such as “Wall”, “Alley”, “Façade”.

Through this photography project, I am excited to introduce “The Other Side of Tokyo, Japan” to overseas readers from various other countries.

“Alley” series ”Scenery of the back alley of the restaurant”

“Alley” series ”Scenery of the back alley of the restaurant”

My photography system consists of two camera bodies (Pentax LX) and four lenses (28mm, 40mm, 50mm, 100mm). I use the Sekonic L-438 View Spot Meter to determine exposure.

PENTAX LX Film Camera with 40mm Lens | The Other Side of Tokyo,Japan

PENTAX LX Film Camera with 40mm F2.8 Lens | The Other Side of Tokyo,Japan

After testing many types of film, I settled on Rollei Retro 80S for regular use. The characteristics of this film are now an integral part of my photographic “look”. Previously, for developing film, I would generally use Rodinal or a self-prepared developer. But for Rollei Retro 80S, I use a modified PMK Pyro developer – in solution B, I use sodium carbonate instead of sodium metaborate.

“Wall” series ”Wooden wall of an old house”

“Wall” series ”Wooden wall of an old house”

I chose this developer because I take pictures on the assumption that I will eventually print them in the darkroom, and I like the shadow details and sharpness which PMK Pyro developer produces on photographic paper. I refrain from over-editing the digital image obtained by scanning the negative; rather, it is adjusted to look as similar as possible to a straight darkroom print.

”Wall” series ”Crumbling wall of a private house in the back alley of a building”

”Wall” series ”Crumbling wall of a private house in the back alley of a building”

“Wall” series ”Bathroom window of a private house in a narrow alley”

“Wall” series ”Bathroom window of a private house in a narrow alley”

There are many global camera manufacturers in Japan, but most of them produce digital cameras. Very few Japanese people enjoy film photography, and there is not much available information about film photography. There seems to be some data that the ratio of film photographers is considerably smaller than that in Europe.

However, we do have an active second-hand market for film cameras. One of the good things about living in Japan is that I can get a good second-hand SLR film camera at a bargain price.

One of my missions is to enjoy the hobby of film photography at the lowest possible cost. Accordingly, I don’t buy things which I don’t need right now – things which “may be useful” or “may be needed someday”. For example, I don’t have a flatbed scanner. Instead, I digitally duplicate my film negatives using my old Sigma SD15 DSLR camera. For film scanning, I only purchased a Nikon digitizing adapter for $30, and I use the free Photoshop CS2 for RAW editing. It’s fun to think of ways to enjoy film photography on a small budget.

I would like to continue “The Other Side of Tokyo, Japan” project while having fun myself.

“Facade” series ”Japanese old house with a front entrance and a kitchen door”

“Facade” series ”Japanese old house with a front entrance and a kitchen door”

“Alley” series “Bicycle placed in the back alley”

“Alley” series “Bicycle placed in the back alley”

The project is still unfinished, but you can see more black-and-white film photographs of Tokyo landscape and architecture on my webpage, The Other Side of Tokyo, Japan.

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Kiichi Kitahara

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