Paul Rasmussen and Alfie Goodrich go off-piste in the characterful backstreets of Akabane as part of a two-day intensive photography course.

“Akabane may not be on everyone’s tourist map of Tokyo but it ought to be,’ says Alfie. ‘Close to the station you’ll find characterful old streets brimming with interesting old bars and some great restaurants. It’s not shiny or polished. These neighbourhoods are down to earth and typical of what the Japanese might call ‘shitamachi’ [下町], which literally translates to ‘low city’ and would have referred to areas populated by ‘commoners’.

Akabane lies on the northern edge of the city, butting up against the Sumida and Arakawa rivers. The main station is a fairly major rail hub, on the Keihin Tohoku Line, the Utsunomiya Line, the Shonan Shinjuku Line, Saikyo Line and Tokyo Metro Namboku Line.

“I first discovered Akabane in about 2009, on a day when I had nothing else to do and decided to flip a coin to choose which station on my local Keihin Tohoku Line to go to and explore around.

The point of working towards the magazine from the start was to channel Paul’s mind to connect scenes to each other, to create a narrative flow to the work and get him away from just thinking about creating standalone images.

“On the day Paul and I explored the area, we used a similar technique to find ourselves a place to go and shoot: giving all of Tokyo’s main rail hubs a number, the lines that each served another number and finally a number for each of the stations on a chosen line. A random number generator online gave us our numbers, Akabane was the result.

“It’s a technique I’ve used a few times, sometimes just to randomize my own exploration of the city and sometimes as the encapsulating idea for a workshop. I think Paul really lucked-out. Akabane is a favourite spot of mine and I was very pleased we ended up there.

“Our plan for the day was to generate pictures for a magazine layout; a sort of area guide and travelogue of our day on the streets. The point of working towards the magazine from the start was to channel Paul’s mind to connect scenes to each other, to create a narrative flow to the work and get him away from just thinking about creating standalone images.

“We chose mostly to work in black and white but there were a few colour frames in the eventual layout, from a small playground near the river that time has passed by and which was bathed in the most beautiful late afternoon light when we arrived.

“If I’m wanting to end up with monochrome photos, I always shoot in mono in the camera. In this day of RAW and being able to shoot in one setting and have infinite choice over the final result, it may seem stupid to be shooting in monochrome. I  don’t see it that way.

“I always shoot RAW because I like the choice that digital gives me with the RAW format. But, shooting in mono and seeing it on the screen like that allows me to get my head into thinking in monochrome. I then start searching for subjects that suit monochrome. It’s a better way to shoot, in my opinion. You begin to properly pre-visualise, just like you did when shooting monochrome film. It’s a set aesthetic which you work within and start to see through your eyes. Too many people these days shoot to fix it afterwards. I’m not denying that digital is convenient for that. But limiting your parameters is a good thing, especially when wanting to render subjects in a specific style. Always thinking ‘I’ll turn that black and white afterwards’ is not going to get you the best shots in monochrome. You need to start thinking that way.”

Paul comments: “I had the pleasure to spend two very interesting days with Alfie starting with the challenge of visualisation when walking the streets of Akabane. Making me understand how information partners in a picture and how a story can be told and tension can be built up in a single image has enhanced my ability to work on more eye-catching scenes and given me a tremendous amount of motivation to push myself. “

See the magazine that Paul and Alfie made, below or click on the link you see to boot a full-size copy of the publication at Issuu.

Find out more about Alfie’s photography lessons and courses here. There’s more details about his photo walks and tours here.

There’s a great article here by Kit Nagamura, about a walk around the Akabane area, here at the Japan Times.