"Wall"series"A window attached to the outer wall of galvalume steel plate"
Photos & Projects

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

March 1, 2021

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”

“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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40 Comments

  • Reply
    David Hays
    March 1, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    Beautiful images. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Peter
    March 1, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    Wow! Great tonal range in the photos and a project that requires such discipline! I will avidly follow your project!

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 2, 2021 at 11:30 am

      Thank you! I will continue to post more and more photos on my site!

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    March 1, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Kiichi-san,
    Thank you for this excellent reminder of another aspect of Japan. Since I first visited in 1976 I have been fascinated by your country. Luckily over the years I worked for 2 Japanese companies and visited some 50 times, although mainly for work and to Tokyo and Osaka, but I also took time to visit other parts.

    When I have visited other countries I have always tried to step out off from the main streets and investigate what goes on “behind the scenes”. I find this is where I can get a more honest view of the place. Your photos took me back to many happy memories of my visits.

    I would really like to go back there in 2022 and just spend my time wandering around with my cameras as I find it a very photogenic country. Plus I am always amazed how there are so many second hand film cameras for sale in seemingly great condition. I am sure I’d bring back a suitcase full!
    Domo arigatogozaimashita.
    Dave

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 2, 2021 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you for your interest in my photos.
      I agree with the idea of going off the main street for an honest view of the country.
      Over 30 years ago, I loved Latin America and traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, etc., but went to hotels and restaurants that only residents use.
      I think it gave me good insight.
      Please come to Japan again and enjoy photography and camera shopping!

  • Reply
    Huss
    March 1, 2021 at 5:32 pm

    I really like the richness and density of these images.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 2, 2021 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I am particular about the film characteristic curve after development.

  • Reply
    ARTHUR W GOTTSCHALK
    March 1, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Great project and great B&W, Keep up the good work.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 2, 2021 at 2:22 pm

      Thank you! This project is likely to continue for a long time!

  • Reply
    Fred Nelson
    March 1, 2021 at 6:15 pm

    Nice! Gave me ideas for my photography! I recently got back into film!

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 2, 2021 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks for your comment. It’s the same as me! Let’s enjoy the film together!

  • Reply
    Joshua Cole
    March 1, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Great stuff!

  • Reply
    Stefan Wilde
    March 1, 2021 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Mr. Kiichi,

    This is a very surprising project indeed! On the surface, the subject seems to be uninteresting, not worthy of any attention. But through the masterful composition and execution it gains unexpected complexity and depth. I am quite amazed! My favorite shot is that of the bicycle in the back alley. Thanks for posting and all the best from Germany,

    Stefan

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 12:06 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      I am glad that you like the contents of the project.
      The photo of the bicycle in the back alley is the one that inspired me to start this project in earnest.

  • Reply
    Michael J
    March 1, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    These are very lovely and appear to speak volumes about the place and its people, out of the obvious gaze. Inspiring indeed- I love Pentaxes but I’ve never tried Pyro developer (although I suspect the results are more to do with your eye and discipline than either of these!)

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 1:52 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      I love PMK Pyro developer.
      I also use an MQ type self-prepared developer, but the highlight tones and shadow details when printed are different from those of the PMK Pyro developer, and above all, I like the look of the developed negatives. 😊
      PMKPyro developer has its pros and cons, but I think it’s a good developer for this project.

  • Reply
    Daniel
    March 1, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    hello , i really like your project and pictures ! I have been working for Toshiba in the past and visited Tokyo few tiems mainly for business purpose . I have not seen such fascinating alleys and they are part of the city an reflect as well the ways of life in Japan . In summer 2019 i spent some days for vacations and took a lot of pictures ( digital for the convenience ) but would have loved to read your article before . thanks for this . daniel from france

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 4:24 am

      Thank you for loving my photography project.
      The back alley in Japan that attracts foreigners, but it doesn’t seem to be interested in Japanese people.
      Therefore, my photo does not seem to be accepted by Japanese people. 😅

  • Reply
    John M
    March 1, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    Kiichi, Nice work. You have found the sublime in the ordinary. I think you’re getting great results from the Pyro and your budget digitization workflow. A good reminder that expensive equipment is not necessary if you make the effort to learn your craft and apply it with patience and persistence. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 5:18 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      I seem to be a minimalist.
      Making the most of the fewest tools is my greatest pleasure.
      Thank you!

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    March 2, 2021 at 12:12 am

    Mr. Kiichi,
    Thank you for sharing your project. You opened a window onto a fascinating side of the city. Beautiful tones and composition!

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 11:57 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      I’m sorry for the late reply.
      I’m glad to hear your beautiful poetic comments!
      Thank you! 😃

  • Reply
    Kiichi Kitahara
    March 2, 2021 at 12:33 am

    Thank you everyone for your comment!
    First of all, I would like to tell you something.
    I can’t speak English.
    I was able to write this article thanks to Sroyon and Google Translate.
    So, please understand that it will take some time to reply to your comments.
    Thank you!

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    March 2, 2021 at 12:35 am

    Wonderful work, Kiichi! During my visit to Tokyo, I was fascinated by the back alleys (my wife was NOT). I’ve never seen a place where air conditioning duct work is so visible and its installation trumps all other considerations. I look forward to more of your photos!

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 6:24 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      In Japan, even Japanese people often say, “It’s a strange country!”
      Every time I see an outdoor unit installed in an unorderly manner in a Japanese building, I mourn, “What the hell is the Japanese aesthetic sense!?”
      However, I think this is Japan itself.😆

  • Reply
    Bryan Costin
    March 2, 2021 at 12:45 am

    I enjoy the seldom seen corners of cities and suburbs. These are very nice, and I appreciate the aesthetic and creative discipline you’re imposing on your project. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 7:15 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      I’m glad you enjoyed my photography project.
      Thank you! 😀

  • Reply
    Gil Aegerter
    March 2, 2021 at 1:02 am

    Love the tones in your images. Will have to try more in black and white film.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 10:01 am

      Thank you for your comment!
      I also need to train the most black-and-white film photography.
      It’s also my pleasure. 😊

  • Reply
    Floyd Takeuchi
    March 2, 2021 at 10:46 am

    Kitahara-san: This is brilliant work. Your artistry and technical skills combine to turn the everyday into photographs of significant depth and beauty. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 10:50 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      Your comment is the best compliment to me, as I believe film photography won’t work if either art or technology is missing!
      I’m really happy! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Jeff Damron
    March 2, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    These are amazing pictures. The tonality makes them look 3 dimensional. Beautiful work.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 10:57 am

      Thank you for your comment!
      I’m glad you like my photo!
      Thank you!☺️

  • Reply
    Eric Rose
    March 3, 2021 at 12:35 am

    Wonderful images that are different from the usual Tokyo stuff we see. Love the tonality as well. Many of the images remind me of the original Bladerunner movie if they were taken at night. Maybe a new project??

    Eric

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 3, 2021 at 11:18 am

      Thank you for your comment!
      I also watched the BladeRunner movie about 20 times!😊
      “Two, Two, Four !!”
      “2kode juubundesuyo! wakkatte kudasaiyo!” (Two is enough! Please understand!)
      It’s a good movie that incorporates Japanese culture!
      I’m not thinking of shooting at night, but my photo may be dark even in the daytime!😅

  • Reply
    Peggy
    March 12, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    I love your photos and will happily buy any book you make.

    • Reply
      Kiichi Kitahara
      March 13, 2021 at 12:05 pm

      Thank you for loving my photos. I would be happy if I could make a book someday!

  • Reply
    Lula E Finch
    October 10, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    Wow! Thank you so much
    I’m enjoying the information. I’m Graphic Designer and will be share this to my Friends! Wonderful blog and amazing design and style.

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