Category Archives: Personal

A Splash of Colour

JL Tyler PhotographyHokkaido isn’t all grey seas and skies. Flashes of colour are few, true, but enjoyable when they come. You can see the brilliance this field of yellow sunflower brings, catching my eye from the highway as I speed through a recurring thunderstorm.

But sometimes the colour appears, and nothing else. Take this second picture, for example. That’s a brilliant sunset happening midst a grey, growling sea. And the dragon-shaped outcropping of rock is a dramatic counterpoint and foreground. But this wasn’t just a scene I stumbled upon; this is a man-made shot.

JL Tyler Photography

As I was driving along the coastal road on a western peninsula of Hokkaido, the sun was setting and I got a shot of the dramatic rays of light piercing the clouds and the sea. But that was it: a great sky, and a fairly boring everything else. Then, about 5 miles down the road, the dragon rock appears, but by now, the sky’s rays had disappeared, so the backdrop to the dragon was, well, a boring sea.

With a little creative layering and blending, I produced the shot you see there. The images were taken 11 minutes apart, on the same stretch of road and in the same forboding twilight. The shape of the dragon is very real, and is, I learned, a landmark on this stretch of road. But the combination of sky and rock wasn’t happenstance. And the dramatic splash of sea, sky and colour, of my own making. The creative thrill of photography isn’t just looking through the lens.

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Building a Portfolio

Building out a black and white portfolio isn’t as easy as you might think. Especially when you’ve grown up in colour, shoot in colour every day (Raw, technically), and really, view life through a colour-ful mind’s eye. The solution, I dare say, is less about learning theory and practice, and more about having a vision.


Developing the vision however, for most of us non-geniuses, means getting into the masters, seeing what has gone on before us, and getting a feel for what we ourselves would like to do. Educating myself on the world of B&W is ongoing, and involves not just absorbing the coffee-table collections of everyone from Adams to Stieglitz to Salgado, but also taking as many online tutorials as possible. But here’s the rub: the more I learn, the less I’m sure of. But also the more I’m aware of the “lack” of vision I possess. I’ve found that even when I’m hip-deep in theory or buried under wave after wave of practical advice, I suffer from an acute awareness that, um, I’m just making it up as I go along?

JL Tyler Photography

Downloading a software package is, for me, a practical step. The rules and inherent structure of using a tool, seem to me to be a step in the right direction for learning about what I can do, and what I want to do. But as useful and interesting and absorbing as a package like Nik’s SilverFX is, the number of options are overwhelming; and it doesn’t simplify the creative and editorial responsibilities of pulling off, and pulling together, thematically-linked (perhaps the most basic definition of “vision”) images. Playing around is one thing, but artistic intentions need direction, commitment, choice, and these have to be in place, or in mind, before any photographer can really start to build their B&W vision.

JL Tyler Photography

So suffice to say that this B&W portfolio is a work in progress. Using Nik’s SilverFX has helped me turn out a few images, which I’ve included here in a series. Four images that are united by the shared splendor of each wonderful sky. The set is certainly not visionary; more likely just something nice to look at, and united in theme. That’s a start. A step. For now.



A Graveyard for Boats

JL Tyler Photography

Japan is an island, and water is a large part of the culture. I’ve gone on many trips in-country, and was never far from the oceans and rivers and the people that live and thrive nearby. Fisherman are a recurring image in my photos, but the fish themselves are fewer and further between; they tend to show up frozen on a dock, with a gaggle of bidding buyers flailing above. Boats are represented as well, but are usually moored, their character somehow subdued.

JL Tyler Photography

I came upon this boat graveyard in western Hokkaido. Sunk in a field of grass, in an out-of-the-way section of pier, lay a score of abandoned fishing boats. As I walked through the field and noticed the detail of broken mast, punctured hull, twisted netting and bows asunder, I realized these workhorses of the fishing trade had not lost their glory or their bearing. They were not subdued; in fact, they were very much full of expression.

JL Tyler Photography

The smooth slope of hull is as graceful on land as it would have been at sea; you just feel it’s misplaced. The mooring posts still appear strong, as if they are wanting that corded rope to wrap itself around them again. The lines and characters of the names painted on each hull are smudged, faded, but they still feel as if they are providing identity. And the tilt of each boat is no less dignified for it occuring midst the waving grasses. There is still grace and beauty in this field. There is still voice.


The Ephemeral Cherry Blossom

[this post was originally written in 2011 just after the Fukushima disaster, updated here in certain senses.]

Here in Shimoda, along the southern coast of Japan about three hours south of Tokyo, we’re still a ways from spring, but we’re still on the verge of the most beautiful of seasons: that of the cherry blossom.


Though it is only February, this coming weekend marks the first real blossom-viewing weekend for us in Shimoda. We are blessed here to be home to the early-blooming variety of blossom called variously “mountain cherry” or “Kawazu cherry,” which blooms in February instead of April. This weekend, given the warm weather, will bring out the first large scale blooming in parks and along water ways, and will be the first of maybe three weekends where we call friends, meet in large groups of those we see regularly and those we don’t see often, and drink and tell stories and gaze at the flowers.

From all these trees

in salads, soups, everywhere

cherry blossoms fall

I like the image of this haiku, of blossoms falling into your soup or salad. Basho’s words, written 320-odd years ago, reveal a very modern sensitivity. With my friends it is much more often a glass of sake or beer that gets hit, but this is no less a pleasant experience. I get the feeling Basho would have approved.


The oak tree stands

noble on the hill even in

cherry blossom time

The image I see here is stoicism, a trait many people in Japan have to exercise regularly. The oak tree, long a symbol of strength and longevity, is also now a symbol of the Japanese person up in Fukushima, Miyage or Ibaraki, who has been uprooted, shaken to the core, and now, in the brightest of seasons, must stand stoic and deal with that which nature has wreaked.

No blossoms and no moon,

and he is drinking sake

all alone!

This is a sad one. In a time of catastrophe, how can you see the beauty of a flower when your friends or family may be gone? How can you appreciate a new season when you can’t even imagine what the next day will bring. Those people now forced to live in refugee centers, surrounded by others, crowded together,..  yet some of them, irreversibly alone.


The cherry blossom is a symbol of beauty in Japan, particularly because of its frailty and ephemeral quality; it only lasts a few short days before it is gone. In this season of change, the concepts of ephemeral and poetic cherry blossoms and the people of Japan are tied tightly together. This season, let friends gather and laugh and appreciate the cherry blossoms,… and a moment later grow quiet.

Elephants on the Web


Remembering things: elephants do it well. We learn to do it young and some do it well. Some don’t do it well, and some, well, some lose their edge at some point. The Internet however, now she’s a machine when it comes to memory.

I’ve been actively online since 1994. I used to build websites; I used to be an active reader and commentator; I was a editor/writer/blogger for some time as well. I *know* there are traces of me scattered higgly-piggly all over the Web. So I shouldn’t be surprised to see that The Machine has remembered some of my words here and there.

A while back, for kicks, I put my URL into Google. As I expected, links to most pages within my site came up. But a few unexpected links came up as well, content and comments that I hadn’t intended for publication or distribution. Here are a few of the hits returned (and to my great relief, nothing embarrassing or unsavory, since, well, who hasn’t posted something like that at one time or the other):


  1. Doublesquare, a company associated with the developer that built an earlier website, using that site as an advertisement for their design services. I like the showcase theme of this link, and the number of detailed images they highlight, like the logo and key photos. They’re “representin’.”


  1., a review of my novel, from 2006. This tickles me to no end. The only distribution for my novel came from word of mouth, and me plying friends and relatives with free copies, so to see a still-living page… saying of the novel: “Excellent!” and “the characterization is suberb” is rewarding in countless ways.


Finally, a video I put up for the benefit of a bunch of palm enthusiasts (that’s the tree, not the upturned hand). I’m an amateur grower, and being in Japan, it was great to find this program on a local channel highlighting not only a Japanese artifact (the brush shown at the end) that I have in my own home, but the fact that it’s made from palm fiber in little cottage-industry shops in rural Japan.



I have four novels listed below, and I consider the first two Learners, or what Stephen King calls “drawer novels” – those early writings which were the training ground for a craft. Though I’m proud of the stories told, I have since told better stories, and in better fashion. The fourth novel is now in progress, a situational plot set in Tunisia’s Grande Erg Oriental desert.

1. Puddle Jumper

An editor/friend stated early on he hated the title, so I suggested “Delusions of a Shared Existence?” Sorry, too cerebral. Puddle Jumper is Cam’s hitch-hiking trip from a fictional town in Canada to Texas (during which it rains often, hence the jumping of puddles), and the characters he meets along the way. In Texas, he hopes to meet an ex-girlfriend, and pour sugar in her gastank as retribution for cheating on him then dumping him. I know: puerile, but it was fun, and had a pretty tidy ending that didn’t include sugaror gastanks. I’m saving this story for my family to laugh at when I’m old and infirm and dodderingly unlaughable.

2. The Repatriation

Heavily-plotted and largely influenced by John Grisham’s story lines, less the murders and lawerly wit, The Repatriation is about Lewis Hobbes, a fund manager, and his transfer to the company’s Tokyo office. He meets stubborn and resentful employees, criminal intent (remember Nick Leeson and Barings?), and illicit investment activities that go beyond the provincial borders of Tokyo to span the corporation’s worldwide presence.

3. Lying with Chiyo

Cole Thompson thought he knew Japan. After six years living within Tokyo’s Yamanote loop, he spoke the language, he understood the culture, he even visited the Shinto shrine once a year to welcome the New Year. He had grown… accustomed. But a night of haggis and scotch at The American Club in Tokyo would shatter his complacency. There, amongst drunken foreigners and servile Japanese, he would meet Chiyo Toa — enchanting, articulate, professional, and married — who would change his life forever.

Lying with Chiyo opens the kimono of modern relationships in Japan. Chiyo Toa is an icon of the non-traditional Japanese woman — passionate, determined, funny, fragile. But she is duplicitous in her desire, and her search for satisfaction sends Cole Thompson spinning, halfway around the world..

4. Desert Rats

“Who was it that wrote ‘the tourist must always get screwed!’?”

Thus begins the tentatively-titled Desert Rats, a story of two journalists antagonized by a malicious local then stranded in Tunisia’s desert, the Grande Erg Oriental. Jan Wood and Young Soon don’t understand the forces that have brought and left them in the middle of Hell with a single ratty goatskin of rancid water to survive on, but realize they only have each other to rely on if they want to get out alive.

Italy Apologia

DSC_9415_JTHRF_sfItaly Apologia

Italy, as any writer who’s been there can attest, is a dream location. Interesting locals, weird tourists, astounding buildings and cities, a history that befuddles the mind trying to comprehend its events…. I spent an insignificant amount of time in Rome, Naples and Pompeii, and from this cursory glance, wrote a series of stories.

  1. Apologia
    We were woken by a swishing, muffled roar. I opened the shutters of the hotel and looked out into the pale light of our first morning in Italy. The highest floors of the buildings opposite were bright with sunlight and shadows hugged the corners down below. The lane was narrow. The buildings across were uniformly five and six stories, and created a canyon of brick and slowly descending light. The cut stones of the lane below were coated slick and dark with the slithering trail of a street washer now passed. The rumble and swipe receded as it crawled down another gorge.
  2.  The Secret of Service
    “You go there.” He was young and not young. A head of black wavy hair, crisp collar on his white linen shirt, an apron, still clean, covering black trousers with a thin silk strip down the outside of each leg. His five o’clock shadow looked unintentional; I imagined him telling the younger waiters to go home and shave when they showed up looking the same. But it gave him a casual authority over the tables. We followed his finger to the wall.
  3. Trading Places
    “Let’s take a walk to the Pantheon, just to say we’ve seen it, then find a restaurant for lunch.” H. has a practical approach to the trip. She wants to see and appreciate the art and culture and history Italy and Rome offer, but she has accepted more readily the schedule we are on. She is making the necessary trade-offs.
  4. Opening Doors
    A single question kept coming to mind as I walked the streets of Rome: how old is this? With monuments and noted buildings, histories are readily available, down to the month and day, but on the street there are no answers. When was this wall put up, this dark imposition with iron bars embedded into its windows and a layer of soot coating the top half of each brick? Or this road? The cobblestones are evenly separated and spaced as if by modern design, but the surface is worn smooth by time, much time.
  5. A Tale of Two Cities

At first glare Naples had nothing that was natural or organic, no subtlety. The only free movement was a shirt sleeve blowing in the wind. In the Quartier Pendino, a valley of grey apartments ran five blocks long and seven stories high. Blotting out the sunlight that fought its way down the narrow canyon was a tangle of tablecloths, towels, shirts, sheets, underwear and black-netted stockings, tied and strung across from building to building. A web of trapped insects straining to escape.