Six Days in Tokyo | Tokyo Station Contact Sheets

I was going to post another visual essay today. But as I was editing, I realized there was an opportunity here to look at the process behind these particular frames and how they came about. So instead I thought we'd examine a very short sequence of events, that yielded quite a few images.

People fascinate me. Not for what they do—I'm not interested in specific activity—but in the way they inhabit spaces. Street for me is about theatre, decor filled with living sculptures. A cinematic view that can be purely aesthetic and detached from time, based on nothing more than geometry and light. People are the organic makeup in these scenes, adding fluidity and movement; emotional layers. So it's never about individual actions for me but about a constant reaction to the environment, finding the next scene in the play, the next chapter in the book. 

There are many strategies in street photography, one of which is to pick a spot and work the hell out of it. I rarely, if ever, do this. I'm usually constantly on the move, stopping a few seconds at a time to frame an image before moving on. This isn't a recipe or a guideline, it's simply how I work—again, I prefer keeping myself in that constant state of reaction, not knowing in advance what will appear next. This was a fixed spot situation. We were on the platform at Tokyo Station, waiting for our train to Sendai. The light was insane: sunbeams piercing through hard shadows, people stepping in and felt like a movie set, with extras going about their business until the stars made their move and the director yelled "cut!". And here I was, an X-Pro2 in my hands and nothing else to do but shoot. So here's a chronology of varying points of view, all from more or less the same position. FYI: all taken with the XF 35mm f2 R WR.


I notice the converging lines created by the contrast between the illuminated portions of the platform and the intense shadows. And then I spot the man with the hat walking towards me. The trick here is to get him while he's in a shaft of light...

8:49:41 AM: I've just spotted him and I miss. But I always take the shot—you never know.

8:49:44 AM: he's somewhat in the light but my framing is all wrong.

8:49:45 AM: gotcha! I know I have it (image preview turned on in the EVF) but...

8:49:46 AM: I grab another just in case. He's still somewhat in the light, there's less visual competition in the background but I prefer him in #3 even though there's a case to be made for this last one. I may eventually change my mind. Or not.


Ten minutes later and I've moved slightly, still looking at the same side of the station. I immediately notice the structure: the metal, the windows and the spotlight effect adding dimension...I stick around for a few minutes. I think this is by far the most interesting sequence due to the number of frames and how they changed from moment to moment, providing slightly different moods in a similar setting.

9:00:34 AM: meh. First shot. 

9:00:47 AM: still figuring it out. Love the light on the left and the opposing subjects.

9:01:07 AM: spotted the woman, focused on the train, waited for her to appear. I like this (mask+bag+skirt).

9:03:10 AM: a bunch of guys just moved in. A bit chaotic but in a purely messy way.

9:03:13 AM: what a difference 3 seconds make. I like the depth on this one, with the man in the mask in front and the focus on the watch guy. But the man on the left has spotted me and breaks the spell. Yes, I can crop him out. I tend to prefer not going nuts with cropping...then again I DO have a few more pixels to work with on this new camera...hmm. 

9:03:24 AM: it all works on this one. Keeper.

9:03:40 AM: whoa...the security guard is seriously interesting. Let's see where this leads us.

9:03:55 AM: I'm following the guard and losing my frame. Not as good.

9:04:04 AM: ooohh...I like this a lot. Chaotic again but there's something to it (it goes on Instagram the next day).

9:04:10 AM: last shot with the guard as he prepares to leave the frame. I like this one as well, the way he's bowing and centred between the other two men.

9:04:42 AM: back to the guys. Ok, but not crazy interesting.

9:04:53 AM: I like the fact that it looks incredibly posed. This is a keeper as well.


This sequence is almost a burst: three seconds apart (but not in burst mode). More traditional but the light was interesting and the guy had a certain look to him (I believe he was part of our group but we did't get a chance to meet? Maybe he wasn't). I'm now turned towards our gate but still in the same spot.

9:05:35 AM: this is fine but he's looking straight at me. Some people like that but I generally prefer something more anonymous.

9:05:36 AM: much more interesting. Better framing too.

9:05:38 AM: that's the one for me. The man on the right has created an intersecting line that adds disturbance. I prefer disturbance when possible.

So just as an exercise, if I had to how would I edit these down to a series? I'd choose the six images below.

But to be honest I'd probably move away from some of the platform pictures and mix in a storyline that includes a lead up to these moments, perhaps end with us leaving the station in order to close the loop and expand on the subject. Photography is always a process of elimination, both in the field and during editing. We make decisions on subject matter and point of view that will inevitably colour the viewer's perception. And then we add to that layer of subjectivity by selecting the images we publish, inserting ourselves in the narrative at every step, regardless of intentions.

There are many, many ways to tell a story.
And a jillion possibilities hidden inside every minute.