One of Alfie Goodrich’s earliest memories is at the age of three, sitting in a darkened living room, looking at his father’s slides projected onto a big screen. It left a lasting impression which would shape his career. At seven, his father helped kickstart his son’s love of photography further by passing down an old rangefinder camera.
Goodrich used the rangefinder until he joined the British Army. A knee injury got him discharged, and began a three year study of photography at an art college in the U.K. He spent the next nine years at a record company, working his way up to Director of Public Relations. Taking many photos during his time in the music business, he eventually managed a record label in London for a few years before turning to a solo career as a professional photographer.
With his music industry connections helping to bring him clients,Goodrich was able to shoot many prime music assignments. At the 2002 Glastonbury Festival he was asked to sign away ownership of all his images, instead of the verbal arrangement previously agreed to. Goodrich stuck to his principles, chose to not sign his work away, and left the U.K. shortly thereafter.
Relocating his family to Japan, Goodrich threw himself into being a professional freelance photographer full-time. He shoots for many foreign companies like The Wall Street Journal and the BBC, who rely on him for his skills in both English and Japanese, not to mention his facility with a camera. He also teaches photography in Japan, and estimates eighty percent of his students are short-term, medium, or long-term ex-patriots. “The word for ‘foreigner’ in Japanese is gaijin, and I suppose a lot of people have said to me the gaijin eye is the thing that’s probably helped,” Goodrich explains. “Seeing the place differently from the locals has helped give my pictures an edge and helped me set up here from scratch a bit quicker than some people thought it might take me.”
Goodrich has Japanese clients as well, but cautions cultural norms make this a difficult market to tap into, with tremendous emphasis still placed on “apprentice finally becomes master,” he says. Learning Japanese is a critical step to opening more doors and opportunities, he advises.
Japan has had influences on Goodrich’s photography in several areas. His time shooting portraits for the music business served as a perfect bridge between photographing landscapes in his native rural landscape of South Wales and the guerilla approach of shooting street photography in one of the most densest metropolitan areas on the planet: Tokyo. “I’ve always been interested in street photography and I’ve gone through a formal education in photography, which meant you’re exposed heavily to famous people who shot great street photography,” says Goodrich. “The music business brought my confidence level in shooting people up to a point where I felt happy to go on the street and shoot strangers and Tokyo is a great place to do that because typically nobody really minds if you do that.”
Further, Goodrich cites the “camera-friendly” Japanese, compared to England, where he is regularly challenged by police operating under the guise of preventing terrorism. British civilians have also confronted him while he has captured them digitally when doing street photography. In London, they fail to see the irony in being upset over a photographer taking their picture versus the sixty closed circuit television cameras they had just passed beneath. Goodrich has many anecdotes demonstrating the differences between private security guards and municipal police. He firmly believes the former are less familiar with photographers’ rights and advises photographers to brush up on local laws before heading out with their gear.
Other cultural differences make Japan an easy choice for Goodrich. “I feel much safer in Japan,” he says. “I can walk around pretty much any time of day or night, in any neighborhood in the city, with a couple of Nikon bodies on me and that Mamiya with a digital back. That’s probably a good $20‑$25,000 worth of cameras, and I don’t feel the least bit threatened in Tokyo. There’s quite a large chunk of my own country I wouldn’t walk around with that amount of gear visibly showing, for fear of getting robbed. I don’t have that fear here at all.”
When civilians get interested when Goodrich is practicing street photography, he advises a policy of engagement. An elderly gentleman was once sitting on his steps in Tokyo. He asked Goodrich, who was taking photos, “What’s so interesting to you here?” Goodrich showed him some images for a project documenting things on the ground called “The World at My Feet.” The man replied, “I’ve lived in this street for 30 years and I’ve never seen any of that.” Goodrich finds the culture of Japan lends itself to a healthy inquisitiveness, and a minimal amount of language skills, virtually all confrontations can be pleasant.
Goodrich has been relying on Mamiya cameras years before he got to Japan, starting in college when he shot both the C220 and C330 models. A few years later, at the end of his college career, he got his own RB67. While many of his friends only used them in the studio, Goodrich took his to locations. “I grew up learning to shoot with cameras that weighed 20 pounds, so I know how to hold them and I know how to breathe when I shoot pictures,” he says.
One year ago a friend named Jeff loaned Goodrich a 645AFD III with a ZD back and a Zeiss 2.8 lens. “Having this Mamiya currently has given me a beautiful opportunity to rediscover some lenses I’ve used in the past, but with the convenience of having a digital back,” he says. “Just to have a medium‑format camera in my hands, but with the convenience of digital, that’s been a big thing. Having that medium format depth of field back in my hands again has been very exciting. I mean, I still think I’m right in saying that Mamiya 1.9 and Zeiss 2.8 is the fastest medium format lens you can get.”
Goodrich currently uses the following lenses:
- Mamiya 35mm f/3.5 AF
- Mamiya 80mm f/2.8 AF
- Mamiya 80mm f/1.9
- Hasselblad Zeiss Planar 110mm f/2
- Zeiss 180mm f/2.8
- Mamiya autobellows with 1948 Kodak 127mm lens drilled into a Mamiya bodycap which fits on to give TS capability
Although big, Goodrich claims there are advantages to using the medium format Mamiya he can’t get with other gear. “I pulled out that camera the other day on a job purely because I knew it would cope with the dynamic range better than even the FX chip Nikon that I’ve got, and that’s the massive advantage of having that big a chip,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily that it’s more megapixels, which really, after a point, doesn’t matter a damn. It’s the fact the dynamic range is so big I know, in a situation where I’ve got people back‑lit, I can still expose for their skin and without ruining the moment with flash. I can shoot a picture that has an enormous dynamic range, because I can pull the highlights back down again afterward and get all of that detail back. I can blow a shot more than four stops on this back, and I can pull those highlights all the way back down again. I can’t do that with the files from the Nikon.”
Goodrich has also been using the Mamiya to create some tilt shift experiments. He also reports people on the street tend to give him more respect and credibility than if he was carrying a typical DSLR.
Loving the camera-friendly citizens and authorities of his adopted home, Goodrich doesn’t see packing himself and his family to leave any time soon. The people are too nice, the scenery too gorgeous, and they make great cameras there, too: a wonderful combination for Goodrich’s diverse photography.
After I interviewed Alfie Goodrich for the above piece, the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 hit Japan. I reached out to Alfie and asked about his safety, his family, and how the seemingly ongoing series of disasters had affected him. When things settled down, he was able to send me the following text.
“When Ron and I first spoke some months ago and started putting this article together, it was a different Japan I sat in. There was Japan before and Japan after 11 March 2011. Life changed. Hell, life stopped for tens of thousands of people. Myself and my family are among the lucky ones. Tokyo was back to ‘normal’ pretty quickly. The summer looms and I’m not looking forward to a Japanese summer with less or little air-con. That and the usually bright lights of the city being dimmer are really the only outward signs that anything is different here. Up north the situation is very far from normality of any kind. I haven’t been up there yet. I had some offers but I have a wife and three children [one just a year old] and most of the offers to go north came early in the whole saga. I wasn’t going to leave my wife with three kids to look after when Tokyo was still being wracked by hundreds of aftershocks. I’ll get up there at some point.
“Tohoku is full of family — my wife’s family — so we’ll be back up there soon and we’ll be helping out. All our family are safe but they live only 50km from the nuclear powerplant in Fukushima. With the rods in one reactor now almost certainly melted, the situation in Fukushima remains serious.
“In the immediate afterwards of March 11th, we spent some time as a family 40km down the coast from Tokyo. We’d had my best friend from the UK holidaying with us when the quake hit. With our 8th floor apartment swaying around, daily, like bamboo in a stiff breeze, we opted to give ourselves a week off out of town. It was an eery sort of week to be spending time on the coast which is, naturally, not the no.1 destination straight after a tsunami. The usually bustling seaside towns south of Tokyo, on the Miura Peninsula, were deserted. In one way that was a pleasant change. It was a unique moment for our British friend to be seeing them. We traipsed shrines, temples, beaches and fishing villages for a few days. Me, of course, camera in hand.
“The pictures I took that week and those from the beginning of April — showing happy faces enjoying the cherry-blossom — proved to be a great tonic for people who saw them; it was good for them, and us, to see the Japanese smiling again at least in part of Japan.
“Work has picked up again for me after a period right after March 11th that saw about $20K of work evaporate. That’s tough when you’re freelance but it’s only money, right? Kind of stupid to get hung up on cash when you can still look at your kids healthy faces; when you still have a house to wake up in. Even the bad days are a gift.
“I’ve been auctioning some of my work to raise money for the relief effort up north and I’ve had pictures featured in a recent exhibition here in Tokyo, called My Japan, which has been raising money for Tohoku as well. Time Out Tokyo wrote ‘What Quakebook did with words, My Japan has done with pictures.’ It’s been great to be part of that show and I continue to look for ways to raise cash and keep awareness. Part of the income from all the photowalks and workshops I have run since March 11th has been going into a fund for Tohoku as well.
“So, that’s it. A little update. We’re getting back to a new ‘normal.’ Three years after first packing two rucksacks with emergency provisions, just in case, I actually got to use them. By the time we got outside our flat after the first big quake on March 11th I had everything the family needed for three days. And I had my camera bag too. And my laptop. And two of my hard-drives. That level of readiness is still where we’re at. It’s how we sleep at night.
“And ‘we’, for those who don’t know, means me, my wife and my five babies: Joe, Ami, Charlie, Mamiya and Nikon.”