Everything is difficult, new and a lot of hard work when you start out as a photographer. Those who think they can pick the trade up in no time should think again. And even though experience isvery important, there are things that even the most weathered photographer cannot get the knack of. Take Bertien van Manen, for example, on her trip to Tokyo in 1996.
Bertien van Manen has earned her dues in the field of photography. For the past thirty yearsshe has been a professional and travelled across just about the entire globe on various different assignments. In 1996 this was no different. That year, the ‘EU Japan Fest Japan Committee’ (see also the book reviews) invited the experienced Van Manen to travel to Tokyo to create a photographic impression of the city for the book Tokyo Today. There was only one problem: how do you make an impression of Japans biggest city without ever having set foot on Asian soil before? This was the question that kept nagging in the back of Bertien’s head. “I was given three weeks time to record my impressions of Tokyo and its citizens, which wasn’t long. Fortunately, I was not the only one facing this issue, as there were 24 other renowned European and Japanese photographers who were given the exact same assignment.”
Nerves and stress
Bertien still vividly remembers the first day of her trip: “On the plane I could not help feeling a little bit stressed out. It was a really long flight and I did not have a clue what to expect when I arrived. I only knew that it was not going to be easy. You cannot read or understand anything and there are not many Japanese that speak English. Besides, the customs and manners in Asia are very different from those in the Western world.
That made me nervous too.” Bertien’s trip did not start off too well. “From the airport Iwas escorted straight away to a large, tall and very impersonal hotel. I got a room on the43rd fl oor and could not even open a window. This was not the way I wanted to see Tokyo!”Fortunately, Tokyo had more to offer than just that impersonal hotel, and Bertien had done her homework in the Netherlands. “I had asked friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues if they knew any Japanese people. As I had expected, most of them did, and so my best travel companion becamea scribbled note with names, addresses and telephone numbers of people living in Tokyo.” Van Manenfound additional assistance from a Japanese magazine, which had previously published her work, andthe editors were more than willing to help her out. Afterwards Bertien heard that many of the other 24 photographers had run into problems, among them world-famous Magnum photographers.
The result was worth it. Of the photographs printed with this article, eight were selected for the book Tokyo Today. The remainder was included in the subsequent exhibition that toured the world for two years. When it came down to taking the shots in Tokyo, Van Manen had no difficulties. “I never have problems taking photographs. With my Olympus (Eds: Mju-II) compact camera I get everybody before my lens, hardly anyone notices that photography is my profession. I found Japan a pleasant country to work in; the environment in Tokyo is generally veryraw, which works for me. I am very happy with the pictures I took there, but it certainly was not an easy trip.