Fragrant tree – my 7th exhibition

I am planning to hold a small photo exhibition in a cafe in Yokohama in November. It has been so long time since I hold one. And then I got a treasure chest full of images. This is my 7th private exhibition in Japan. Then, the images I will display will be all new.

The title of my exhibition is “金木犀” , a fragrant osmanthus in Japan. I love that scent, which is like woman’s shampoo. Then, photos in my exhibition are women. Women who feel the changing season. That faint and quickly disappearing scent of a familiar tree. I think that’s what photo means to me. We only have now.

I like the fact that the cafe is small and kind of hidden. I lack the energy and passion to hold exhibition that would be a big thing with a party and such involved. I don’t want any attention. All I want for now is to put my images up for some strangers to see.

To be a child again

My mother used to say “to marry someone means you look towards the future together”. She said one should look forwards, not concentrate on staring each other.

I often remember my childhood days by the lake, in that beautiful secret corner of Finland. It was the happiest time of my life; the unadulterated blue sky was watching over me and the grass smelled like gods had just created it. The horizon seemed so far away and it promised everything. In my mind everything was possible.

I think we marry so that we could be like a child again. With our marriage partner we want leave the toilet door open. With our marriage partner we want to be vulnerable, imperfect and virgin; show the face we can not show to anyone else. We want unconditional love; agreement with no terms.

How nice it would be to be able to rest again in safety of other person.

I think in this current world situation, with economy driven life in the city with no support from town folks, marriage cannot be happy. Our grandparents are left back home, often far away, and life is quickly departing from them while we are doing our humdrum everyday life just trying to get by somehow. Happy marriage seems like something only rich people could have.

It’s like your heart is breaking again, like it did when you went into adolescence, when you knew why adult people cuddle each other in the dark night. We long for our virgin days and that those fresh colors will never be the same.

If we really love someone we can’t invade their privacy. We are who we are and they are who they are. I don’t think love can exist without the words “free” or “voluntary”. Like a spark in the dark that comes from nothing into existence. I would like to love that way.


People call me sensitive, and a person who is “wet” as they say in Japanese, meaning a sort of emotional person. But actually I am mostly not; I am as dry as others. When was it that I cried like really, I found myself wondering this morning.

I took my son to kindergarten as usual and did some house chores. When I washed dishes I inspected a small crack in a mug that I got once from my mother. Long time ago when I had just moved to live on my own in Espoo she and my aunt came to visit my new apartment. We went to Arabia ceramic shop in Helsinki as I needed some dishware. She picked a mug with a white rabbit in it from the shelf. The rabbit was playing a computer game. Mother said “it’s just like you, isn’t it”, smiling. And this small treasure became mine.

I had noticed the crack few days ago, but I didn’t make much of it. But today as Kate Bush’s “Among Angels” was playing from my small portable speaker, my eyes just flooded.

I stayed with my grandma my first two years before my adoption. After I met my real biological mother, we did talk a lot and she helped me in many ways, including getting my apartment. But she never the things that a mother does, that role belonged solely to my second adopted mother. So actually I feel strange to call her “mom”.

My second mother is like a woman you read in novels. Never once I heard her complain about others. Shy but stubborn in her own way, she filled home with her presence. When she had time she would knit or read women’s magazines that explain traditional bagel recipes or family care matters. If she was upset or angry she would lock herself into a toilet. She made delicious bagel with cardamom; that smell is something I can never forget.

My mother is in last stage of Alzheimer’s. She lost the ability to speak some years ago and she is bedridden. It breaks my heart that my father also has the same illness. 

I wish I had spent more time with her and ignore those stupid things young people always do, being busy about “following my heart” and all that. But I had young man’s concerns and worries.

There is nothing I can do about the small crack that inevitably gets bigger; it’s a law of nature, a basic thermal dynamics. Nature likes to break things and we humans try to fight it to maintain the state of cohesion, keep the chaos outside the house.

Even if we suffer brain trauma or get dementia, our brain does magnificent job of keeping the childhood memory alive. I am happy to realize this solid foundation of mine.

When I’m Alone

A good photographer friend of mine said before “photographer is always alone”. Her words have stayed with me. Most people wouldn’t understand the deep truth in that statement and would say things like “no you are not alone!” or “you still have friends and family”.

Maybe when I die my photos will be like a cinema reel flashing before my eyes. Will I remember a pleasant chat in a summer day with a young girl who was kind enough to pose in front of my camera? Or will it be lowering my head in apology to a museum warehouse owner for a trouble I caused, or having my photo stolen?

I know for certain that I will be alone when I die. That is the only way I can imagine it. Maybe this life is just gathering a courage to be really me. Then will I regret the moment when I have not taken my camera even though I had a chance, when I just wanted to stay in my home alone in my underwear?

Will I regret for not fully living life of a cameraman?

Before he passed away, photo critic Kazuo Nishii said Kawase Naomi’s documentary “all we need to do is to cross the bridge, get to the other side”. I think so. We maybe mess up and cause big trouble for everyone. But we must not stop. Stopping is only thing that is truly dangerous.

I’m not sure how much I actually enjoy photography, even when I shoot what I really want to.  I am not sure of the amount of joy it actually brings to me. I often think I would be happier if I just do other things, like graphic design job which pays my bills.  I am mostly hated photographer in Japan and I was even banned to enter some gallery, which owner looks at me like I am a murderer; “a cheap copy of Araki you are and nothing more” I was told.

Then if you would estimate success of my photo book by sales numbers, which I don’t want to do, it would appear by any measure that I am “successful photographer”. I really don’t care any of that.

I have to keep taking photo and I always eventually do. It’s like a tide that comes back always, like a mania for manic depressive person after a month of lonely hibernation. I shoot because I have to and that may be the only reason. I suck at making explanations of it. Cameras bring me no joy, exhibitions bring me no joy, talk shows bring me no joy. It’s pain.

But sometimes, just sometimes I feel like a small ray of light hitting me when I see image forming in front of my eyes in darkroom. There is image of something I saw and felt; a moment that will never return, a personal experience.

Now in the aftermath of Kaori & Araki’s scandal it is harder and harder to find female model. I am lucky that I have some people who still want to be in front of my camera.

For me photo might be the ultimate way to cross the bridge, so I hope to do so 900% and earnest.

Let’s talk about depression

Imagine there is energizer bunny with 10% charge left. Would you compare it to the one with a full charge? That wouldn’t be fair would it? Yet, for some reason we seem to compare people suffering from depression to the rest of us.

Depression is a voltage drop. Normal things that people enjoy become inaccessible. We can’t just say to a depressed person to go and relax or enjoy a movie or something. The movie theater is closed, tickets sold out, and the car won’t start.

When I was suffering from depression, only thing there was like a feeling after receiving a phone call “your mother has died”. That became the only feeling; a kind of terrible sadness. World was beautiful but painfully lonely.  Some people said things like this to me; “life can be more for you”, or that “you have a bright future ahead of you”. But I felt very unsure of myself and any hope of actually being able to do anything.

I took Zoloft, and it eventually kept me from falling into the bottom, but it had it’s side effects, mainly I lost ability to make love and orgasm, so my only pleasure of masturbating to a porn movie was strangely taken away from me. I have tried other SSRI’s in my later years when the depression has partially returned, but I do not feel that the medicines work for me.

So what can I say to a person who has a depression? Well, we can’t compare suffering. It doesn’t feel right to strongly pressure someone to try out drugs or go to a counselor. I feel that everyone should have freedom to choose their own way to deal with this condition and a thing that works for one will not work for another.

In my case, I was saved by art and friends. Art allowed me to process the most painful emotions in a safe buffer in my mind. My friends in Finland always answered my call. My friends in Japan sent me letters and pictures of cherry blossoms and their smiling families and friends and their letter always said “welcome”.

I try not to forget that the most valuable things in my life are not my own achievements, but a kind of mercy gifts from others.

Then I wish I could return this gift of life I received to the world.


If you ask me what is desire,
then let me ask you what is satisfaction

We should celebrate

One of my friend’s motto is “We should celebrate our life”. I think so. We can only exist now and this life is just once. We like to get distracted and think about all kinds of things that don’t matter. By celebrating I don’t mean like party; I mean to fully exist in the moment, especially with someone important in our lives.

Focus on now. But how can we when there’s so much noise and advertisements and all kinds of things that try to take our attention away from this very now.

I think answer is in imagination. We should never be afraid to dream, and imagine more. Imagine how we could make now and today, different, even just somehow; not tomorrow.

As imagination opens the doors to empathy, so it does to the present moment.

I try to do one unusual and special thing everyday, just to celebrate the fact that I am alive now. Today it’s a flower.

Sayonara, professional photography!

“Stop that damn noise!” the man said angrily. He was upset to the recharge alarm sound of the studio flash unit. The thing required time to charge between shots and kept making a beeping sound.

The man had brought his lover with him to the studio, giving her neither a name nor introduction. She was helpful however, trying her best to make the man comfortable in front of the camera and calmed him somewhat.

“This man hates to be photographed” was the first thought that came to mind. I instantly regretted having accepted the job offer through Lancers website. I couldn’t understand why in a world did the man want his photo to be taken even though he really hated to be in front of a camera.  To tell truth I was a bit afraid of him. I asked the studio manager to stay in near room just in case there is a problem.

I managed to make it through the shoot even though my back started to hurt in the middle. Last year I cracked my 11th vertebra and it still kind of hurts especially if I’m in uncomfortable position as when I’m shooting.

The man wanted to take the photo exactly as a sample of a foreign celeb he provided. So some processing was necessary. He made me to adjust the background and brightness of the photo to match the heavily compressed thumbnail sized JPG he kept sending me. The photo had to be exactly same and he kept sending me several requests for revisions to blur the background more or less, or adjust the contrast to the overexposed level he preferred.

This was the last straw for me; I am done with this job, I decided, and few days later I sold all my digital photo gear. Somehow my heart was filled with warmth and lightness again.

Although it has not always been this bad, this experience is, well professional photography in a nutshell. There is nothing romantic or artistic about this job at all, especially in Japan. This is essentially what you will be doing if you are to work as a pro photographer. Like the sweaty man in studio said “keep shooting, keep shooting”, regardless of whether the shots are any good.

Professional photography is not especially well paid job and the prices have gone down recently quite much. I also dislike the questions that I was often asked like “what gear do you use?” or “can you make the background blurred more” and “could you make this brighter?”.

And every year there are new digital cameras introduced with new features and old cameras become worthless. It’s endless black hole of money. At some point I started to feel nausea passing the digital camera section in Yodobashi camera. I want out!

Sure, sometimes I have enjoyed this job, when there’s chemistry and right setting. I honestly felt sometimes that I was able to be genuinely helpful for the world, people generally seem to be at ease in front of my camera, especially women. And I really feel fortunate to have met wonderful people through this job.

But the reason why I became photographer is from another world. Now I have only one (film) camera and one lens left and I have never felt so satisfied. This is the only gear I need to take a photo.

I love photography, so I quit professional photography. Then I am happy to return to be a naive amateur; a man who wants to shoot with his heart.