Leica Explorer: Romain Alary in the Footsteps of William Adams

Following his widely followed and highly-popular participation on the Leica Explorer blog, where he regularly posted images taken during his trip to Japan from February 17 to March 15, 2011, the French photographer Romain Alary discusses this experience. During the interview, he talks about his path, his irrepressible desire to travel, Tokyo and the V-Lux 2 camera.

Q: On the Leica Explorer site, you list “speaking about photography” as one of your interests, perfect! Could you tell us how and when you started to work in this medium?

A: I began to take an interest in images quite a few years ago now and have been practicing and experimenting in photography for about ten years. I really started working with images when I bought a Leica M6. The practice and feel of black and white that this camera produces are unique. Now I work as a documentary cameraman. Photography is something separate; it helps me to experiment and to find ideas for my work. It also enables me to be more at ease in my everyday work. I also experiment quite a lot with the relationship between film and photo through video montage.

Q: On the Leica site, you also write that your motto is “travel”. Can you tell us about this experience in Japan? How did you prepare for this trip?

A: Travelling has become compulsory in my life; it’s like a drug. In 2005, I received my first real shock travelling Japan. Since, I have tried to return as soon as I have the time and money. Three months before the Leica Explorer experience, I was already in Japan for a multimedia documentary on Tokyoite youth, the trailer for which can be seen on my blog. I hope to be able to return soon, as things have changed quite a lot with the recent events. For Leica Explorer, I went without much preparation: a credit card, a laptop, a little North Face bag and the Leica V-Lux 2.

Q: On March 5, you posted a truly beautiful video on the site taken from an elevator, which goes up very high and giving a panoramic view of Tokyo. Did you experience the “Lost in Translation” effect, to cite Sofia Coppola’s film, in this sprawling city with its cultural codes, which, as a foreign visitor, may escape you a little?

A: I don’t know if it’s the “Lost in Translation” effect, but, despite having been to Japan a few times, I still love being completely disconnected and losing myself in this huge city, experiencing the atmospheres, wandering in the thousands of streets that make up Tokyo. I love the energy this city gives off, which really inspires me in my visual work. During my first trip in 2005, I didn’t understand the cultural codes at all, but, after a few trips to the archipelago, you begin to integrate them.

Q: You above all worked outside, in the street. Quite a few of the shots, it seems to me, are also devoted to the visual experience that Japanese cuisine offers. What caught your gaze most during this trip to Japan?

A: The Japanese really do have this culinary culture, so it seemed normal to me to introduce it into my reports. What I find really exciting in this country is the facility with which you can take photos, which isn’t the case in France, for example. It’s a country that inspires me enormously; I particularly like the elegance and the attitudes that the Japanese have in day-to-day life.

Q: The images posted on the Leica site (and also on your own site) almost never have captions or texts. Why?

A: To be honest, I don’t really know. At the same time I find it interesting to leave a little mystery around the photos, to let people imagine or see what they want to see.

Q: What was your experience photographing with the V-Lux 2?

A: Being used to working with a Leica M6, I was very surprised by the number of settings available on the camera body. I thus decided to settle on one setting after carrying out a lot of tests. I also then opted for a high-contrast black and white. I wanted to test this camera by writing the blog like a photographic diary each day, testing the camera in as many different conditions as possible to see how it reacted. Now I would like to test the Leica M9 and the Leica S2 in my future photographic works!

-Leica Internet Team

You can also read the original interview conducted by Marian Nun Goni in French. You can see more of Romain’s photos on his Leica Explorer blog, http://leica-explorer.com/adams/ and his website, http://www.alaryromain.com/.