Like to think of myself as a bit more than just a photography teacher for the people for whom I do tours. After spending a few days with a superb concierge recently and chatting to him, he suggested that, actually, that’s sort of what I am too…..
When you live somewhere for a while, you find your secret little places, your favourite walks, the places that make you feel calm or jazz you up when you’re feeling flat. There are places you go for architecture, food, bookshops, thrift stores or just to get a little nature in the midst of all the urban madness.
Tapping into the places the locals like is one thing. Seeing the place through the eyes of a long-term foreign resident can open up new and interesting perspectives.
I’ve been visiting Tokyo and Japan for 18 years. In 2007 myself and my family moved to Tokyo permanently. Since then there’s not a week that goes by when I’m not out exploring with my camera. I also shoot the city for a lot of different types of clients. One day I might be location-hunting for a car shoot. The next I’ll be out with a model shooting clothing. Often it’s portraits, sometimes travel work. No two jobs are the same and I’m constantly treating Tokyo like a movie set. Consequently, I know a lot of the town, know how it feels visually, know what sorts of photos and props and models each area might suit. It’s under my skin.
So why a concierge?
I’ve met some wonderful concierges throughout the years. In some respects the really good ones are a dying breed but top hotels still truly value the skills and knowledge of the concierge.
Tokyo is a big place. For the first two years of living here, I was walking on average about 65kms a week. Exploring. Getting ‘creatively lost’ as I would put it. Those first couple of years were still a time before Google Maps and such things were as ubiquitous as they are now. If you can see the sun, you know where are headed. The rest is just an adventure.
Typically my customers for photowalks and tours split into two main categories: folks who live here and want to learn something about their camera and see the city through my eyes. And people visiting who want to find some interesting places, take some interesting shots and learn to see better.
For each, I will tailor our routes and experiences based on things they like. That starts with a conversation on email and meeting in a mutually convenient place. Once we’ve chatted for ten or 15minutes, I can quickly figure out enough about each person and what they are into to know where to take them.
I’ll make Google Maps for people ahead of the tour, with a selection of places we can explore, neighbourhoods we can take in and the train lines we’ll use to connect it all.
A lot of the people I teach and tour around don’t speak Japanese. That’s ok, I do. I’m by no means native-level fluent at Japanese. I’ve never been to school for it. I listen. I have a Japanese wife and three kids, so I’m soaking up Japanese all the time. But I have enough to speak with the locals we meet and that’s part of how I help the people I do tours and walks and lessons for to get under the skin of the city.
Below there’s a couple of online magazines I’ve made, from work folks I’ve been out with have shot.
Check out a special edition of my digital magazine, Stekki, which I recently made with a student – pro photographer, Shelly Han – who was in town from the US to do a day-long lesson/photowalk with me.
Shelly was kind enough to say a few words about the lesson we had together: “When I first found Alfie’s website it was clear he could take great photos and had a fresh eye on a very over-photographed city. After our time together I can now say he is a that rare combination–a talented photographer and a great teacher. Within five minutes of meeting he had already pushed me outside my comfort zone–in the most very kind way possible, of course! I came away from the lesson much more confident with shutter speed and enjoyed the challenge of seeing things in black and white. He also helped me think more concisely about framing shots and talked to me about how he “sees” his photos. I came away with some photographs I really love and a lot more confidence in my street photography.”
Here’s another magazine, made with shots from a two day photowalk and lesson I did more recently with Paul Rasmussen.
Paul commented on the experience: “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. We have further worked on difficult light situations, shooting flash, shooting monochrome and dived into post processing workflow. Locations were Akabane, Shinagawa, a quiet library and the Hasselblad venue in Tokyo. Besides all the knowledge and tips Alfie has shared with me, I’m inspired by his professionalism. – On my flight back from Tokyo to Zurich, I spent two hours writing several pages of all the things I have learnt; two pages alone are merely on the topic of what makes a professional photographer.
You can find a map here with a hundred or so places and walks on it. Each has a photo embedded, to give you an idea of what I’ve seen in each location.
I don’t just do this in Tokyo. I’ve done bespoke tours for folks in south Japan, Kyoto, Tohoku and wider afield.
If you’re coming to Japan, to Tokyo and need someone to help you get under the skin of the place, need a visual concierge to help you put together a cool little selection of laces to walk and shoot. Drop me a line here.
I’m an Ambassador for Hasselblad cameras, too. So we can even arrange for you to borrow a camera for the day.
If you want to get out of town, I have a full and clean Japanese driving license that allows me to drive up to 8tons or a 29-seat bus.
Hit me up. Let’s explore together and help you get some shots to treasure.