Some started with a background in videography, others have inherited their family's old 35 mm cameras, but for Queens native Maachew Bentley, his photographic adventure started with the iPhone 4. By shooting friends and always having a camera on the go while performing his daytime job as a DJ, Maachew developed his personal style. Finally, seven years ago, analogue came into his life under the form of a beat-up Minolta point and shoot to take on tour, as he couldn't afford a digital camera. Since then Maachew has mastered the art of film in all its shapes, sizes, and formats. During his recent trip to Japan, Maachew shot the Earl Grey B&W 100 ISO to create a hypnotizing, yet mystical, body of work around a particular aspect of Tokyo's street life: its umbrellas.
Why did you shoot this series on film rather than digital?
This was my first time in Japan and usually, when I travel somewhere for the first time, I find myself thriving under the pressure of capturing fleeting moments without a do-over.
Could you describe for us a typical day in Tokyo when you shot this series?
Oh man, I was green in this case. It was my first full day, and jet lag hit me pretty hard so I had woken up at about 5 am from flying in the afternoon before. Expecting busy streets I took a walk to the infamous Shibuya Crossing to capture what I thought was gonna be Times Square x 10. It was grey and dead as far as crowds go, on top of the periodic raining. I didn’t know most businesses don’t even open until 10 or 11 am. Trains don’t even start up until 6 am, so I slowly just loitered around until people started their days, about 3-4 hours later.
Do you have a favorite picture? And can you tell us the story behind it?
My favorite would be the overlooking crosswalk image, slow shutter with the cyclist waiting for the light to change.
This was the first image I took as it was raining pretty heavily and I didn’t have an umbrella, so the only shop open that early with a decent view with cover was a Starbucks at the Crossing.
While waiting for things to lighten up there, I set my camera up accordingly and sort of just posed like a wildlife photographer hoping something interesting happened.
This fellow pulled up and missed his chance to cross. Him sitting on his bike with his umbrella up, with the motorbike speeding behind him on the sidewalk and cab traffic speeding ahead of him gave me this feeling of time standing still, for him and I, as if we were both the only people it did that for.
Why did you choose black and white?
Perhaps a force of habit at this point, but I was told early on that black and white was great for grey days. I still don’t know the science of it, if there is one, but it always helped me capture a moody experience.
Can you tell us more about the project itself? Why umbrellas?
Truly, the umbrellas were an unlikely companion, in this case, they forced me to create a series. I’ve got a weird thing against umbrellas, as I usually like to keep my hands free to do other things if it is raining.
Umbrellas seemed to provide this window to the subject in each frame, a biosphere to the mind, whether they were listening to music, hiding their face if they saw me aimed their way, or simply using it to push against the rain or winds while moving forward.
Depending on my angle, I saw everyone in a sort of mental living room, blinds down or up, all so relaxed on their respective mission. My projection of Tokyo was this super colorful place and has always been from growing up watching anime, to even the pop culture references associated with Japan. This day provided the other side, a different impression.
What made you press the shutter? What was your decisive moment?
Honestly, after the rains softened, I just got on the crosswalk with everyone else, going back and forth. Try different angles. My only chance to shoot was when the traffic light changed. It’s gets pretty packed once a train lets out that early and people flood the sidewalk, so it’s rather easy to let a few shots off without being noticed since everyone is in their own worlds.
What inspired you to start this project?
I was just excited to be somewhere new and equally stimulating as New York, my hometown. I chose Black and White as I took my first steps out of the hotel when I realized I wouldn’t see the sun.
You look fairly close to your subjects. Did you use zoom?
No, just a 50mm, the only lens I own. I had to get pretty close, which is where the umbrellas came in to shelter some potential discomfort.
Do you have any tips to share with people who have trouble coming up with a body or a series?
With exception to a predetermined show, most of my series are rather ‘by the way.’ I tend to get into the habit of highlighting a specific item when shooting and after the 5th, 6th time doing it I accidentally noticed a series or body. I think it could be more fun if it starts unconsciously. It could be a mundane item, a snack, or a very specific person doing something. Find that habit, and if you want, title it.