Moving across the planet to a different country, a different language and a different culture can be a challenging way to try and find your voice as a photographer – but Rebecka Wolfe is speaking and we are listening. Enjoy…
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
I’m 27, from the South coast of the UK, and currently living in Kyoto, Japan. I work as a tourism co-ordinator for the Kyoto and wider Kansai region. A brief history of photography in my life? Always my Dad; the first camera I remember him holding was an Olympus XA-2. We still have that camera; I still shoot on it and it must be almost as old as me. There was always a camera sitting around somewhere, somebody was always taking a photo.
I was never not taking photos. When I turned about 14 or 15, I was going to a lot of punk shows in Essex, bands like The Filaments, Op Nail Bomb. Southend, a shitty seaside town in Essex, had the best hardcore shows. I’d have a disposable 35mm camera at all of them because it never occurred to me to do anything other than take photos. When I was 17, I got a DSLR for my birthday (A Nikon D50, I think) and I started taking photography more seriously. I’d take that camera to every show I went to. Sometimes I would blag a pass to the media pit, and often I’d just sneak it in and stand in the middle of a circle pit to get the right photo. I got kicked in the face a lot back then. It was worth it for the results. That’s how it all started for me.
I got kicked in the face a lot back then. It was worth it for the results. That’s how it all started for me.
How has living and working in Japan changed your photography? Has it had any influence on your style of photography?
For better or worse, I think that Japan is my style of photography. Before I moved here, I was shooting landscapes in the South West of the UK. Deep forests, coastlines, seascapes. The natural landscape of Western England and Wales, the Lakes, Scotland, Ireland – they’re incomparable. But people, culture, city life, the stuff I shoot now – it didn’t exist for me in England. I should have shot more hardcore shows in my 20s, but I was in a band by that point so my hands were kind of full.
Japan sparked something in me. It all started in Osaka, summer 2009 – I was submerged in this bizarre inverted world where you wake up at night and go to bed when the sun rose. The ever-present hum of every cooler in the city, the endless neon lights illuminating the thick summer air; everything seemed cinematic, like I was watching it happen on a screen and not from inside my own head. I suppose that’s when I started down the path of ‘documentary’ photography. In a literal sense, just taking photos of everything I looked at. I still do things the same way, seven years down the line.
I notice in your Instagram posts that you will typically list your camera type and film stock which I always think is a really nice touch; what is it about analogue photography that appeals to you over digital?
This is just the camera nerd in me. I like film cameras, each one has such an interesting history and identity. Barely any are still produced commercially, but people still use them. The listing of the camera and film stock is purely to aid my memory and inform other people. When I see a great photo, I want to know which setup it was shot on, purely to add to my mental archive. I feel that other film shooters can relate.
I can’t say exactly why film appeals over digital for me. I’ve shot both, extensively, but film (any given format) works for me. Before I started shooting on film in the way I do now, I wasn’t really enjoying photography. These days, I always have a film compact with me (usually the Contax) and I take snapshots of anything I see that seems interesting, anything I want to remember. I feel more and more that this is becoming what I do. I used to think that you could only be a ‘photographer’ if you shoot endless editorials or if you spend weeks in the field with a narrative in mind. At the moment, I just shoot everything and wait for themes to appear. Even if nobody else likes the resulting images, they mean something to me. Overthinking photography is what I was taught to do at university (by the time I applied to do Media and Photography at uni, I was already freelancing, just figuring things out on my own). That kind of killed the enjoyment of the medium for me for many years after I graduated; I was spending so much time trying to emulate other peoples’ processes, I forgot to just do my own thing. That isn’t the case anymore.
I was spending so much time trying to emulate other peoples’ processes, I forgot to just do my own thing. That isn’t the case anymore.
Which single image are you most proud of and why?
I don’t have one. I think that I could only have pride in my work if I set out to achieve a certain result and achieved it, worked hard for it. There will be a time when that happens, but right now I’m just shooting because that’s what I do.
What is next for you and what projects are you currently working on?
Two things; firstly, getting my work out there. I need to overcome this crippling fear of not being ‘good enough’. I’m a perfectionist, but that isn’t really an attribute that’s helped me lately. It just leaves me paralyzed. So, prints and a zine. Those are two physical things I want to produce.
The second is an ongoing project – an online journal following the creative output of people who go out into the world. I think our surroundings shape our identities and our direction, so I’d like to see who else out there is living in a place that they don’t belong to and how it’s influencing what they make. Currently, this journal is in blog form at http://monogatari-journal.blogspot.jp/ – but, by the end of this month, I’d like to dot-com it. I’m currently shooting and interviewing people for content that will appear at the beginning of next year; at the moment it just has some posts about the time I spent living and working with Bhutanese and Tibetan Buddhist communities in Nepal. I certainly would welcome input and collaboration from fellow outsiders.
See more of Rebecka’s work at:
All images copyright Rebecka Wolfe.