The Thousand Words: Lee Chapman

A picture tells a thousand words... and we are here to tell you a few more in our ongoing series 'The Thousand Words' where we dig through the vault of talented photographers at Aperture Tours and get them to open up a little about some of their favourite images. 

Past in the present

Tokyo, by Lee Chapman

Past in the present  PHOTOGRAPHY: Lee Chapman • Leica • Ƒ/5.6 • 1/45 • ISO 3200

Past in the present
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lee Chapman • Leica • Ƒ/5.6 • 1/45 • ISO 3200

For all its modernity, Tokyo is a surprisingly traditional city, and the past generally is not very far away at all. This is something that is definitely true when it comes to many of the capital’s little old bars and eateries.

Invariably run by people way past retirement age, they are time capsules of sorts, that are an absolute pleasure to drink in, and even better, to document. The photography, in particular, feels especially important as they are businesses that do not, and can not, go on forever. In fact, a good number I have been to have already ceased to exist.

The one in the photo above is a particular favourite. The muted colours are great, and there is very little to identify what decade you are in, let alone what year. Plus, as the photograph amply proves, the mama-san is a genuinely lovely old lady.

Like so many of these places, there is a comedy element too. In this case, it involves the toilet, which to access you need to go behind the counter and then rather awkwardly squeeze past the fridge. It was on the return journey when I got the shot. A way better angle than the one from the counter and the silliness of the lavatory situation created the laughter which gives the shot so much of its warmth.

Wanting to get in as many of the bar’s wonderful details as possible, I had set the aperture to ƒ/5.6 and bumped up the ISO to 3200. And with surprisingly steady hands after way too many beers, I managed to get off a couple of shots at 1/45".

The photo means a lot to me personally, as it has memories attached to it, but the timeless nature of the scene also gives it extra appeal. The latter element, along with the roaring owner, has also made it one of my more popular images. A genuine little bit of the past in the present, which nowadays is not always that easy to find.


Photographer's Profile

NAME: Lee Chapman
BORN: Manchester, United Kingdom
INFLUENCES: William Klein, Joseph Koudelka, Moriyama Daido, Robert Frank, Martin Parr, Naito Masatoshi, Hosoe Eiko among many others.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO SHOOT: Shinjuku, Ueno and east Tokyo.
HIGH POINT: That feeling when you press the shutter, and you immediately know you have got something special.
LOW POINT: Being asked for an image, and then once again being told that there is no money available for photographs… just exposure.
TOP PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Find what you enjoy shooting, not what you feel you should shoot.

INSTAGRAM: @tokyotimes_lee
TWITTER: @tokyotimes
FACEBOOK: TokyoTimes


Lee Chapman is is a photographer with Aperture Tours in Tokyo. See more of his images and read his biography on his profile page and see more photos from this series in The Guardian’s article “Senior Staff: Tokyo’s Oldest Workers”