Japan is a land of contrasts, things can range from the Naked man festival to something more serene like tea. Calogero Randazzo send us images and words about the later.
Calo, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I worked for over two decades as a music producer, DJ, and owner of various record labels in Frankfurt, Germany, and Brooklyn, NY. During that time I have produced songs for a large segment of the German rap scene as well as for various New York underground rappers.
After retiring from the music industry, I set my creative sights on a visual platform: photography, which has been a passion since 1998.
How did you end up in Japan?
An independent japanese record label, based in Tokio, licensed some of my music production work in 1997. Since young age, Japan always fascinated me. Finally I travelled the first time to Japan in 2009, visiting Kyoto, Uji, Nara and Tokoname.
I went back a couple of times since than to continue my personal work on “Japanese Pottery Craft” and “Japanese green tea from Uji/Kyoto”.
What is your attraction to tea?
I never liked drinking coffee and after long sessions in the studio, I started buying Chinese green tea from local tea stores and later got in contact with japanese green tea, which I loved from my very first cup.
Exploring the world of Japanese green tea got me into the preparation and what kind of teapots suits best for what kind of tea. Drinking and preparation became one for me.
What is the tea culture like in Japan?
The Buddhist monk Eisai, who had studied in China, popularized the idea of drinking tea for good health in Japan around 1191. Around the same time, Japanese farmers began growing green tea in Uji, Kyoto.
In Japan, there are only a few places where top grade Sencha und Gyokuro is produced, and the Uji area (nearby Kyoto) is one of them. You find many tea houses in the old capital Kyoto and even though the modern time is bringing coffee shops to Japan, the tea culture is still part of everyday life.
How do you approach the tea shop owners?
One of my friends brought some tea from Uji with him. I was shocked. That kind of quality one could not get in germany back than in 1997 so I contacted these families. It was very difficult to purchase because they had no interest at all in selling outside of japan at this time.
You had to go to their stores. It took me a few months to get my first little package of Uji Sencha.
From that point on I discovering each flavor of various teas like Sencha, Gyokuro, Karigane, Houjicha. After 10 years I was able to distinguish the unique taste of different tea families.
In 2009, when I travelled to Japan to finally visit the families in person, I already established some kind of relationship (more business at that time and became personal later), because I was selling green tea to artists and friends.
I had appointments and each family took their time to explain me everything I wanted to know. In that same year I met Maikonocha, based in Fugenji. They gave me a lot of inside views and I was fortune enough to meet Mr. Yamashita Toshikazu. To me that was a big honor. I also met with the Kanbyashi family.
How do you strive for variety in the images (because it's shop after shop)
These pictures where captured spontaneously, no concept at all. If I would start today, it would be different of course. Unfortunatly I did not have enough time on my first trips, because I travelled to Tokoname for visiting japanese pottery craft masters also.
Now, after 6 years, it became an ongoing documentary and my next trip in september 2015 will have more concept, because I know now, what kind of visual story I want to tell. It somehow grows naturally without any rush.
My “Japanese Pottery Craft” work is growing in that way, there has been exhibitions of some of my pictures in Tokoname. The craftsmen use prints for their presentations of new teapots. It is very personal. I also plan to tell more about Mr. Yamashita and Maikonocha.
Lastly for those who are wondering, What gear you shoot with?
Today I use the Ricoh GR (love this little camera), which is my everyday camera and when I want to be fast. Leica M8 with two lenses (28mm/50mm) when I have time to compose. For film I still use my Olympus 35 SP.
Thank you Calogero for these wonderful images of Japan, you can almost smell the tea coming out of them!
About the Photographer
Check out Calogero's work on his website