In the year 2010 during the rainy season and for the seven days leading to the summer solstice. My wife and I were guests at Tokusho-Ji, while I did a series of portraits of this Temple. The days were long, the light was soft…and dark and secret at times.
I would start the first photograph between 4 and 5 a.m., and except for the music of the raindrops, the Temple was still in human and urban silence. At 7:00 a.m., I would leave the Temple and walk a block away to be at the local Expresso bar when it opened, then once I had a cup of coffee in my hand, I returned to photograph the exterior of the building, such as the stone steps leading to the front wooden door and its long front wall. At 8:00 a.m., I would join our hosts for breakfast, followed by green tea. At 8:30 a.m., I would resume photographing until 5 pm, with no interruption except for a light lunch. I photographed the temple’s gardens and rooms with a Mamiya Universal Press camera and Polaroid type 665 negative film rated 40 asa *. In the darker rooms, which had the most shadows, when I was shooting at f: 22 or f: 32 and accounting for the reciprocity failure ** of the negative film, the photographic exposure could be a few hours long. On one occasion, during an afternoon, the exposure lasted four hours and allowed for only one photograph with two takes/exposures (in case of technical problems with the first negative). I used these opportunities to breathe in harmony with the environment and be at peace with my surroundings.
Our host’s son and daughter in law, who lived in another district of Kyoto and were then traveling abroad had asked if we could take care of their three cats during our stay; so everyday, at around 5:30 pm, we would leave the Temple, walk for a half hour in a labyrinth of small streets, and cross the Kamogawa river to feed their cats and play with them. We returned to the Temple around 8:00 pm, shared dinner and sake with our host, then the photography resumed till 11:30 p.m. or midnight, to start again the next morning.
The Temple has recently recovered a set of twelve volumes of its historical archives dating back 300 or 400 years, They had been stored in a trunk in an attic and had remained unseen for at least three generations.
They are written in ancient Japanese language and the Monk’s son has started to study this earlier version of Japanese language in order to have a fuller understanding of its writing. I have started to photograph these manuscripts.
2007 was the third time my wife and I visited Tokusho-Ji. As in our earlier visits, during the day, I would be making photographs of the streets of Kyoto, but rarely any of its temples and certainly not of Tokusho-Ji, out of respect because of the semi-private nature of this family temple. I was then working with a Polaroid 180 camera *** using Polaroid negative type 665 film because of the large size and its particularities such as tears in the emulsion and the solarization that can occur in the shadowy areas. At the end of each day, when returning to the temple, I would ‘process’ the negatives in sodium sulfite followed by a bath of water and then show the corresponding prints to our hosts.
Two days before our scheduled return to Tokyo, the shutter trigger mechanism on my 35 + year old Polaroid 180 camera gave up, probably out of pure fatigue. That evening, at dinnertime in the temple, I asked with sadness in my voice if they knew of a craft person who might be able to repair my camera, and they mentioned that they had a Polaroid camera that had been kept in storage at the temple for over fifteen years. It had belonged to a painter, a friend of theirs, who had bought it for a trip to India and found it cumbersome, had barely used it, then left it at Tokusho-Ji when he returned. I was expecting an SX 70 kind of camera and was quite surprised when a few minutes later, they brought to our table a large professional aluminum camera case. Inside it was an incredible late 1970’s Mamiya Press Universal camera system, with a Polaroid adapter back, 6 x 6, 6 x7 and 6x 9 roll film adapters, a 127 mm lens and few additional beautiful accessories. That camera had been ‘clicked’ only three times, and the original color Polaroid film pack was still in, loaded with seven remaining exposures. This Mamiya is an astounding camera, but quite cumbersome and heavy to use. A few people at the table cried, and I did my best to hide my tears: all within a few hours, I had gone from losing a very dear and much-used companion camera, to being offered a rare gem of a camera. I then asked permission to photograph Tokusho-Ji with the Mamiya and 665 Polaroid upon my next visit to Kyoto.
A few months later, when I was back in New York, Polaroid discontinued Type 665 film, so I stocked some of it for my next(s) visits to Tokusho-Ji.
* Polaroid type 665 negative film, is a 3¼ x 4 ¼ sheet film; its particularity is that it has a negative in addition to a black/white instant print. This negative needs to be ‘processed’ in a solution of sodium sulfite and then washed in order to make prints. It is distinctive because of its edges and a particular sensitivity to solarization (an unpredictable and uncontrollable inversion of some of the darker tonalities), its emulsion is also quite fragile and in certain circumstances can tear. It is nominally rated at 80 Asa, but I always rate it at 40 Asa to be able to get better shadow information.
** Reciprocity failure is an exponential loss of the reaction of light upon the film emulsion in low light situations, for example, if a nominal exposure in a certain situation is of 10 seconds at f/stop : 4, this might need a compensation of x 2 or x 3, such as 20 seconds or 40 seconds, at f/stop: 4. There is a basis for it, but it also requires some guessing and luck.
*** Polaroid 180 camera: One of only two models of Polaroid cameras for packfilm that has full manual settings for the exposure, it was probably manufactured in the late 1960’s.