Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 6 – The Final Episode

This is the sixth and final episode of our “Arrivals and Departures” series with Magnum Photographer Jacob Aue Sobol after his journey photographing what he saw with his Leica M Monochrom through Moscow, Ulaanbaatar and Beijing.

-Leica Internet Team

To learn more about Jacob Aue Sobol and view his work, visit his website at To follow the series, please visit “Arrivals and Departures”.

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  • I am blown away by your work. It has a very interesting tonality in the photos which I can’t quite grasp. Are these images straight from the camera, maybe jpegs? Which software helps you achieve this look? Great work!

  • Enjoyed the series immensely however at times I have questioned the heavy post processed look to some of the images. The uniqueness of the images for me is in the eye of Jacob Aue Sobel.

  • I actually enjoyed the shots in the video a lot more than the photographs themselves.

  • I wonder why a Leica MM with Summicron ASPH has been used for this work, the intense use of flash and the heavy postproduction of the files are totally making irrelevant the camera that has been used for this project. I am also disputing the way the project has been executed, the idea was to have a trip by train across Russia, Mongolia and China …taking street photos and showing the reportage capability of the MM. For what I understand the photos are studio photos were the subjects are acting…..well so far from my idea of street photography.

  • I am with Luciano on this one, sorry. I think there would/could have been better ways to display the new camera’s capabilities.

    Some people like these images, some don’t, and that is ok; my comment in this case is mainly about whether this was the best choice for a first introduction to the monochrom.

    well, it is over now, there is hope for the future!

  • Dear All, thanks for following my journey. I agree with Stefano – some will connect with my images and some will not. It will always be like this, when you create something, which is not traditional. To me the important thing is that there is something at stake – that I can feel the work, I am creating.
    I have shown you who I am, and how I encounter places and people. And yes my pictures are shot in the streets and in the homes of people I have met – not in a studio. People who invited me inside. I am thankful for this, and it made this journey an extraordinary experience.

    If you have any other questions, I will try to answer.

  • I don’t care wether these photographs are ideal to show the cameras capabilities. But if you look at the photographers websitehe has been able to to these kind of hight contrast pictures (copy machine style) well before the new camera was born. And somehow this becomes boring rather soon.

    I have somehow deeper concerns.

    In the introduction you wrote: “The train will be the red thread connecting these capitals.”

    Well, I rather have the impression that pubic hair is the red thread. (And no, I’m not offended by nudity and things like that; well, apart from believing that breast where not made for beer advertising…)

    Do really so many people in Russia, Mongolia and China want to have photographs of their pubic hair taken by a photographer unknown to them who is travelling by on a train? Don’t they have other concerns, asepcts of their life that they would present to a photographer?

    What is the relevance of naked couples and pubic hair for this reportage?

    You claim, that you “use the camera as a tool to create contact, closeness and intimacy.”

    But when I look at these pictures, I do not feel any intimacy, because I rather feel that they are too close, to much exposing your subjects, to be believable intimate or authentic.

  • Hello Jacob,

    I really connect with your photography/view of the world and I appreciate the thoughtfulness you take when approaching a subject. I was curious though, without divulging your actual techniques, how much post work was needed in creating these images? Did you find using the camera and editing the digital files as simple as choosing a film stock and developing the negatives to your specifications or was there a lot more involved?

    Looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future.



  • To Sascha:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, god knows we all have them but what I find disconcerting is the fact you are putting your ideals and values on someone else’s work.

    You say your not offended by nudity but in the next paragraph you basically contradict that. Sexuality and the human form is not limited to the side lit studio shots of an attractive female.

    Look at his book Sabine and you will see an image of blood dripping down his girlfriends leg from her pelvic region. Why is that shot along with the other you mentioned less relevant in terms of human life? Because that is what it is…life..and frankly a bigger part then most people care to admit.

    All that said you or I have no concrete idea on what his intentions were with these shots, so to comment on their validity under our own pretexts is an exercise in futility.

    Your intimacy is your intimacy, it’s not mine or his. We don’t tell you how to shoot or love or have sex so I think the same respect should be returned in kind.

  • wonderful to see a photographer here who so obviously loves people, life, our world

  • Astonishing and inspiring work. I was already fond of the selection published in LFI and I really appreciate to get the possibility to take a look “behind the scenes”, thanks to the episodes published here. Kudos to you and the director.

  • I love your work/technique! I think it’s not really relevant to the camera but I think it’s not so important. It sticks to the mind, and there is also an indirect link in my mind to the camera. That’s called marketing, no?

  • @John Lou Miles

    So I’m not entitled to have an opinion regarding these photographs?

    I know among many photographers (or people with cameras who believe they are photographers) it’s quite en vogue to judge pictures only based on technical aspects such as: doe these pictures show what the new camera is capable of?

    To show menstrual blood, running down a woman leg, is not art, automatically, nor does such a picture transport intimacy.

    Porn movies do not transport (real) intimacy either.

    I, for my part, do not believe in a kind of photojournalism that does transport intimacy or a statement regarding the human condition by showing pubic hair at least not without a reason.

    What does a picture of someones pubic hair tell the viewer about the persons life?

  • @Sascha

    I didn’t imply that, notice I didn’t try and defend him against your vague assessment of his body of work even though it looks nothing like a “photo copy machine”.

    Its a fine line between artistic opinion and moral judgement. I believe you were questioning his morality and inserting your own instead of taking a neutral position to begin with.

    You’re walking a slippery slope when you say that a photo may not have validity as art. Is it not sensual because the person has pubic hair or is it because of their socio economic situation or some other pre-conceived notion you have? That image still exists without a camera to see it and it is as real as waking up in the morning and staring in the mirror.

    You seem to be only interested in that one image when in fact Jacob has shown us dozens of images with people sharing their lives. Documenting sexuality or even the human form, warts and all is just as important as showing a person with sweat on their brow from hard days work.

    I’m not trying to convince you to like it aesthetically but I am trying to show you there is more to the image then you might believe is there.

  • @John Lou Miles

    Must confess that I am not that interested whether Sascha likes pubic hair with his Cheerios.

    The issues raised by Sobol’s photography are somewhat different. Some of the best street photography is made in an instant as the photographer snaps a passerby. In other words something of great impact and meaning can be created in an apparent superficial contact, or lack of contact with the subject. Often this superficiality is only apparent because, although the photographer may have no contact with the passerby he may know that society deeply, so that, knowing what he is looking at, or looking for, he or she in an instant of superficial contact can bring out something of great depth to pr emotion.

    Now, some of Sobol’s best work — his “Sabine” book, for example — was engendered by deep knowledge and extensive contacts with his subjects. And, indeed, in interviews he states how much he likes human contact and knowing and understanding people. My view is that Sobol’s work in very mixed in impact and seriousness. In much if “Arrivials and Departures”, there is, in my view, a sort of posturing in the sense that he is trying to create work that lives up to the great success of the “Sabine” and “I, Tokyo” books. And spending a few days in Moscow, Ulan Batar and Beijing, with subjects that are either friends of acquaintances or paid to pose, does not necessarily live up to the level of accomplishment of his deeper work.

    The issue then is, does Sobol’s knowledge of life and people enable him to create the equivalent of the best work of that street photographers catch in an instant? No, in my view, too much of Sobol’s work after “Sabine” is a posturing, that is based on false intimacy. In that I include much if “I, Tokyo” — the idea of a Danish photographer going to Shinjuku and suddenly seeing it with the eyes and vision of Daido Moriyama is not credible in ny view.

    Nevertheless, I like much of the look of Sobol’s photography and think that that he will continue to develop as an artist.

  • Mitch,

    You have some interesting points, but do you really think Jacob’s ambition for this trip was too create work that is comparable to his Sabine-book etc? Why even compare? It seems irrelevant to me. And what difference does it make if the people he photographed were acquaintances or not? What difference does it make if the meeting is random or planned? It is obvious that he is not working as a “witness”, but interacts.
    The comparison with Daido is old news and quite boring. The way they encounter people, the way they look at things – so different. In Japan any young photographer who uses high-contrast bw is doomed to be compared with Daido. Very sad, but mostly it tells more about the viewers lack of ability to see and experience what is under the surface.

  • @Mitch

    I felt like I was going crazy defending the one photo of pubic hair, If I use the word “image” on here one more time I think my head may explode.

    I understand the stance you are taking in regards to this work and comparing it to his past collections even tough I may not agree completely. It’s hard to live up to ones own work sometime and I’m not of the opinion because a photographer came to prominence with one approach he cannot deviate from that line.

    One idea though is that he is trying to broach the subject of human sexuality in these areas and lets be honest, It can be almost impossible to document that without someones invitation. Also we have no proof that he paid anyone to pose but his above comment seems to answer that in the negative. If it happens on the street in an instant or with carnal knowledge or somewhere in between I still think his voice is consistent overall.

    I know from my own experiences in Japan which were published here and came from a place of self-conciousness that it’s not easy to do this shit, it’s fucking hard sometimes and if anything I appreciate the struggle that got Jacob to the place his is now. Even though your critique is right in many ways….maybe we should cut the guy some slack.

  • @Asian/@John Lou Miles

    I am not trying to approach Jacob Aue Sobol’s in a negative way — I like it and am interested in his development as an artist. “Arrivals and Departures” is after all a series and does have a theme and is worthwhile to evaluate. The fact that it does elicit serious reaction is something in itself — there will always be nonsensical reaction that one can, and should, ignore.

    @Jacob Aue Sobol

    Your series did get me interested in the M-Monochrom camera because seeing your photos in LFI, which someone was kind enough to send me, as well as trying a few DNG files available on the web, made me think that I could get a look using this camera that I haven’t been able to get with other digital cameras, including the M8 and M9, with deep, rich blacks and rather long mid tones, within a general high contrast look.

    I was also interested in your Bangkok series, as I have an unpublished book project called “Bangkok Hysteria” that can be downloaded in pdf format here:


  • Isn’t the selling point of the new grayscale Leica that the camera can captures light, shadow and detail in much higher resolution than a “normal” camera? If so, doesn’t the post-production of all images in this series completely misses the point but exactly -not- showing this?

    The blacks are black, the whites are blown out. You don’t need a Monochrom Leica to get this look.

  • Dear sir ı love all your works and when ı see your name always check them out.But this time ı could not understand why you use flash so much.Is there a special reason or only your choice ?

  • I just learned about Aue Sobol’s photography via a reference on a blog to his high contrast black and white with direct flash. I must say that I have rarely responded with such distaste to a photographer’s work in ages. However, I do not necessarily mean that as criticism; rather, whenever I feel strong emotion I always ask myself why before rejecting the feeling, which I suppose is akin to the way one observes thoughts drifting by during meditation instead of getting attached to them or following them somewhere. I find myself fascinated with this distaste, this adverse reaction the images bring out in me. Is it me or the photos? Many will say it’s me, and that’s fine, and I care not if anyone sees these images the same way I do. In fact, in a way it’s a compliment to the photographer, since if it brings out emotion it must be more than just nothing – maybe even art.

  • Jean-Jacques Renaux says:
    June 16, 2012 at 11:25 am
    With a flash ! Dire shame !!!

    Dire Shame?….because?…Apparently the photographer and frankly many photographers don’t agree with the little bubble you work or the construct which keeps you there?

  • Jake Stein: while I don’t share your distaste…I Compliment your ability to challenge and examine honestly your own sensibilities…your own way of seeing, feeling and understanding. This is truly a most difficult task and requires courage…as often times what we discover in this self examination, is not what we expected and often disturbing and not particularly pleasant.

  • This is in deed furthering Jocob’s already impressive CV.
    I thought the series was very interesting. Such a shame you had to delete so many images Jacob!

    Let’s re-cap: Jacob is a Magnum photographer, whose work is just what you see, on-camera-flash, high contrast. Do you need me to repeat that?

    Regrettably the likes of Mitch in Bangkok and some others simply don’t comprehend what’s going on here and try to apply their own template and view of the world on others work (you can witness such myopic comments elsewhere onl-camera-forum) and so for those who are not at all interested in how many titanium widgets make up an MM or M or what type of glass lens X or Y exhibits, “then the world of photography is yours my son and all that exists within it” – or some such sentiment.

    Do not listen to those who neither aspire nor attempt to comprehend (see above).
    Take on board that Jacob is a working Magnum photographer, who happens to be moving into the digital domain with / without the MM. The kit is NOT that important, the method, the approach, the style, that is.

    Find ones own voice and style and maybe you too could aspire to work such as this?

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