Archives for : photography

Auckland Festival of Photography

I feel very honoured to have been invited to participate in the 2014 Auckland Festival of Photography. Photos from my suicide forest story are included in the exhibition, a part of which deals with the theme of “Memory.” There was even a write up in L’Oeil de la Photographie magazine — very humbling.

The festival this year includes quite an eclectic array of styles, from Bronek Kozka’s “Auschwitz Revisited” to Ayala Gazit’s “Was It A Dream”, the latter centering around a portrait of a brother the photographer never knew.

A noose made from neck ties dangles from a tree

A noose made from neck ties dangles from a tree. Rob Gilhooly Photo. All rights reserved

This from the review: “One of the most profound exhibitions in this year’s Festival is British photographer Rob Gilhooly’s “Suicide Forest”.  This is a beautifully composed photo essay of what may be one of the loneliest places on earth for this forest is where an inordinate number of Japanese people have chosen to end their lives. In the densely populated bush amidst the solitude of nature, men and women who have lost hope make their final communion. This is one of the most powerful and moving exhibitions I’ve seen and points to an unspoken plague of modern life. The suicide rate in Japan is the highest in the world, more than double other developed nations including the US and UK.”

While on the theme of the suicide forest this year has once more seen a massive number of inquiries from students and researchers around the globe — most notably from the US — requesting interview for a project, thesis, and so on. I make it a point to reply to each of these, though there are occasions where I am not sure if I should have done so.

One of the requests came from a US student and partly due to the slightly rude emailed request  and followup mail but mostly because I was genuinely busy, I decided to turn it down (though not before posting a very detailed entry on this blog about the subject, toward which I pointed the student.) Incredibly, I had also been told that I would have to sign and date a form stating that I give the information voluntarily and that I agree that my name not be associated with any information I give in accordance with university requirements (over 100 students have requested information to date and not one has requested I sign such a document).

Of course I said I would not sign it and I forwarded a standard agreement for the student and her professor to sign. That should have been the end of it of course but I them received a pretty rude mail from her professor basically saying I should be ashamed of myself for not seeing “this opportunity as one to help a student learn the ins-and-outs of the research method.” I replied that I thought that was her job, not mine.

In the end I decided that the student herself was actually too industrious and committed and as I had already spent some time scribbling down some answers to her questions during a train journey spent an evening completing those answers and mailed them off to her.

The truth is, I have benefited hugely over the years from some very busy people who just happen to be very decent people as well. So it seems only right that I too should try and pay something back, and I have tried on may occasions.

But, it gets harder when for example a student who you have invited along to a photo shoot never shows up (and doesn’t even bother to call to say he isn’t coming), or another one sends you an interview request like the following: “Hi Rob, Fill out the answers to the following questions …” (in the case of the latter there was not even an indication that the sender was a student or to which university she attends.)

But the clincher for me is that I just remember how I was as a student …. And they ain’t half bad really — relatively speaking!

6000 demonstrators voice disapproval of Japan state secrets bill

By Rob Gilhooly

Over 6,000 people gathered to form a human chain around Japan’s National Diet in Tokyo Wednesday to protest against the controversial state secrets protection bill that is expected to become law this Friday.

Despite the inevitability of the bill being rubber stamped before the 185th extraordinary session of the Diet comes to a close on Dec. 6, opponents continue to voice their concerns that the bill is being unnecessarily rushed through Parliament.

If passed, the bill could  impose hefty penalties on leaks of any information deemed sensitive, opponents say. It will also inhibit media coverage and be used to conceal official wrongdoings, they add.

If ratified the law would give ministries the freedom to declare as classified just about anything they want, said Upper House member Takashi Esaki.

The longer (the bill’s enactment) can be delayed, the bigger public opinion will grow and can be heard,” he said. “If that were allowed to happen, the bill could be repealed. (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe knows that, which is why he’s pushing the bill through so quickly.”

This has led some leading figures to question Abe’s true intentions, with a group of academics headed by Nobel Prize winners Toshihide Masakawa and Hideki Shirakawa stating that the issue was the “biggest threat to democracy since World War II.”

During Wednesday’s demonstrations, banners accused Abe of “steamrollering,” while chants from spirited demonstrators referred to the prime minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party secretary general Shigeru Ishiba as “terrorists” and “facists.”

Ishiba has incited vitriolic criticism since writing in his blog last Friday that citizens who demonstrate against the state secrets bill are committing “an act of terrorism”.

Even though the bill enactment is pretty much a done deal, I decided to come out here today to voice my objection, but also to take a look at what a terrorist looks like,” said Hiroshi Satomi. “What I have seen is ordinary people shouting and singing about something they are wholeheartedly against. The real terrorists are inside that building over there,” he added pointing at parliament across the road.

People like Ishiba are not interested in democracy, said another protestor, Toshiko Miwa. “They call their party the Liberal Democratic Party, but there is nothing liberal or democratic about Ishiba or Abe,” she said. “I have started to see posters and so on showing Abe’s face superimposed over those of Nazis. I think that’s absolutely true.”

Another protestor, Naoki Takahashi expressed fear of a bill that by its nature is given excessive leeway when it comes to transparency. “It seems almost unconstitutional that lawmakers should be able to rush through a secrecy bill that does not clearly define what constitutes sensitive state secrets or even what acts would be deemed punishable” under the bill, he said.

The bill also does not bode well for the media industry, said a Tokyo union organiser and journalist Chie Matsumoto during a separate rally held by around 600 Japan newspapers’ union members. “It could mean information is less easy to obtain and even information that is not even sensitive may not be given out by officials due to a fear that it might land them in trouble,” she said.

Upper House member Esaki said the bill is a flashback to a pre-war, Imperial times and undemocratic laws that gave authorities the right to arrest anyone who voiced disapproval of the government.

We are now a step closer to Abe’s ultimate plan, which is constitutional amendment and in particular an amendment to article 9 (which outlaws war as a means of settling international disputes involving the state),” the Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker said. “He is targeting the right of self defence … this is part of Abe’s life work, something that he started in his first stint as Prime Minister.

He is a politician who wants to return to the way things were before the war — a stronger nation, a nation that worships the emperor, a nation that above civilian rights to know demands a unified, national commitment. In other words, a country that is some distance away from being either liberal or democratic.”



Taiji dolphin slaughter “inhumane”: Study

Grasping a steel spear in his right hand and the fin of a dolphin (obscured by tarpaulin) in the other, a fisheries worker smiles as he prepares to sever the animal's spinal cord in the bloody waters of 'killer cove' in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, in September 2009. ROB GILHOOLY PHOTO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


I have neglected this blog of late — always seem to have too many other things to do. So I shall attempt to play  a bit of catchup.

I had a story published in the Japan Times here about a peer-reviewed study that contests a previous (non peer-reviewed) study claiming that the method used to kill dolphins in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, was more humane than the method used previously.

First snowfall in 2013 for Tokyo

A woman walks through the snow in Tokyo on 14 Jan 2013. Rob Gilhooly photo. All rights reserved.


Jan 14 saw the first snow fall of the winter in Tokyo and it was pretty treacherous. From my apartment I got a view of people passing along the street blow and dozens of vehicles struggling to climb the icy road that runs past on the other side. Cars were basically stopping at lights and then sliding back down the hill – a couple of minor accidents resulting. The meteorological agency estimates more than 40 cm will have fallen around Tokyo by 6 pm today. I’m staying in!

Zaha Hadid wins Japan National Stadium contract


Zaha Hadid has won an international competition to build the new National Stadium of Japan, adding to the practice’s pretty impressive portfolio, which includes the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games and the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain. She was selected ahead of 45 other internationally renowned architecture firms for what is a $1.62 billion development.

During the announcement in Tokyo, celebrated Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who chaired the judging panel, said: “The entry’s dynamic and futuristic design embodies the messages Japan would like to convey to the rest of the world.” He also complimented the fluidity and innovation of Hadid’s design and how it complements Tokyo’s landscape.

The competition rules specified the stadium must be able to seat 80,000 people; have a retractable roof, be environmentally efficient and complement the surrounding landscape. It must also be up and ready by 2018 to host the Rugby World Cup the following year.

I interviewed Ms, Hadid a couple of years ago and have included most of it below for your enjoyment. She really is a unique and fascinating woman.

Zaha Hadid is one of the world’s most celebrated architects. The Baghdad-born Briton has won numerous international competitions and in 2004 became the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Her works range from a fire station in Germany to a ski jump in Austria, and she was commissioned to design the Aquatics Center for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Yet, more frequently than not she is remembered for the sheer quirkiness of her creations, many of which never actually came to fruition. Her unique ideas and determination to achieve them in a male-dominated profession led her former teacher and business partner Rem Koolhaas to once describe her as being “a planet in her own orbit.” The architect talks to Rob Gilhooly.

Were your family and upbringing in any way influencial on your desire to become an architect?

British architect Zaha Hadid at the Praemium Imperiale, a global arts prize, in Tokyo in 2009. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

I was born in Baghdad and had a very enjoyable childhood in a liberal setting. We lived in a large house and my father was a forward-looking man with cosmopolitan interests. In those days, Baghdad was influenced by Modernism and it was a very progressive city. Both Frank Lloyd Wright and Gio Ponti had designed buildings there. At home, mixed in with the more traditional artifacts, the furniture in my room was angular and Modernist, too. I remember as a child really wondering why these things looked so different, why this sofa was different from any regular one. There was an asymmetric mirror as well, which really was the start of my love of asymmetry.

People of my father’s generation were sent to study abroad. My father, who was a political figure, went to the London School of Economics, so there was incredible social reform everywhere. I went to a catholic girl’s school and the teachers who taught sciences were all from Baghdad University, so the standard of the science lessons was really incredible. The headmistress, who was a nun, was very interested in the education of women, so in a way she was a pioneer in that part of the world.  We were girls from many different religions – Muslim, Christian, Jewish – we had no ideas what our religions were!

I knew I wanted to be an architect from about 11 or 12, but I took math at university because I would have been the only woman in the engineering department of which architectural study was a part.

You majored in mathematics at university. How did you become an architect?

I became interested in geometry while studying mathematics. I realized there was a connection with the logic of maths to architecture and abstraction. Geometry and mathematics have a tremendous connection to architecture – even more so now with the advanced computer scripts used in many of our designs.

2. So computerization has had a big impact on your work?

Actually right from the 1970s we did drawings that were in a sense more complex than those done on a computer. What I think is interesting about computing is of course that it deals with complexity in a much more interesting way and efficient way. It advances the material tremendously. And it’s not necessarily only about saving time. There is much more precision and in the realization of projects it makes a big difference. It enables you much more to manipulate the project from every aspect so in that sense one can achieve much more variety and complexity than one could before.

3. Your work seems to be almost cinematographic. Has cinema influenced you?

I’ve always been interested in how movement affects architecture. As in the frames of a film: not seeing the world from one particular angle, but having a more complex view. We view the world from so many perspectives – never from one single viewpoint – and now even from the air and satellites – our perception is never fixed. So the concepts of fragmentation and abstraction have been central to my work of de-constructing the ideas of repetitiveness and mass production – moving away from all the ideas we inherited from the industrial societies of the 19th century.

Continue Reading >>

Fukushima Restaurant in Tokyo


A slideshow of photos taken at 47 Dining, a restaurant in Tokyo specializing in produce/cuisine from Fukushima. The photos were taken during an assignment for the Guardian newspaper and correspondent Justin McCurry’s excellent story about the place appeared in the newspaper on Nov. 17.

The online version can be found here

Of course it was mandatory to sample some of the fare on offer, which was excellent, especially the “ji-zake” including from the excellent but little-known Aizu Sake Brewery in Tajima

More photos can be found on my Photoshelter website here

It’s interesting that while people in Tokyo are slowly warming to the idea of purchasing and consuming produce from Fukushima, friends of mine in Fukushima and in most of the Tohoku region affected by last year’s disasters remain skeptical of foodstuffs that originate there.

That being said, my local supermarket often sticks produce from Fukushima but if the same item is available from another part of the country there is little doubt as to which is more popular with customers. One Fukushima grape grower I interviewed for a story said that despite there being no evidence of contamination in his part of central Fukushima he has his produce scanned both by the government and through an independent company in Saitama, which neighbors Tokyo to the north. The scans reveal nothing of concern, but his sales are down 30% compared with before the disasters. Other farmers have resorted to other means to try and regain consumer confidence, but admit it is going to be a long time before their produce is fully accepted on a wider level. If ever.

Kamakura Reitaisai Festival


I recently covered the 3-day Retaisai grand festival in Kamakura, which climaxes with the impressive “yabusame” mounted archery ritual. I have covered this before, but without such good access, including permission to shoot rituals inside the inner sanctuary of the main hall at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine and watching the archers prepare themselves and their mounts for the yabusame ritual. Enjoyable but tiring 3 days in intense heat. Only downside was the main procession, which was curtailed due to rain! I have included a selection of the photos from the 3 days with a couple of older shots thrown in.

Street Photography

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly









Photographer: Robert Gilhooly









Photographer: Robert Gilhooly


Been finding it hard of late to justify things. It took a bit of effort to go out and shoot, and it shows. But gotta start somewhere …




Solar Eclipse

Photo shows the eclipse that crossed the skies of Tokyo and Asia on Monday 25 May 2012. Robert Gilhooly photo


Caught a fleeting glimpse of the eclipse early this morning, unfortunately hidden by thick clouds during the most dramatic stage of its transformation. Still quite dramatic — first one I have seen in the flesh at it were.

Article published in New Scientist about Muscle Suit

Research student Hideyuki Umehara tests out the "muscle suit" exoskeleton developed by the Tokyo University of Science in Tokyo, Japan on 06 April, 2012. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Dr. Hiroshi Kobayashi poses with the prototype of his best-known creation, Saya the humanoid robot teacher, in his office at Tokyo University of Science in Tokyo, Japan on 02 April, 2012. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly


This is not a new development in the world of robotics, or indeed in the research that is ongoing at Prof. Kobayashi’s lab at Tokyo University of Science. But the groundbreaking technology employed in and imminent commercial release of the wearable muscle suit that Kobayashi and his team has been developing over recent years is a major step forward in this particular area of health and welfare-directed robotics. At last there is one that looks like it will actually be put to practical use.

Online version of the story can be found here

Online versions of a couple of other stories published in the magazine recently can be found here and here


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