Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Category: photography

Out of Africa, Through the Lens

IMG_1829

Selfie with a cute animal. Taken in the year I was born. The irony, from today’s perspective, is that his devastatingly handsome face is mostly covered.

When he met the 2-month old Little Brunette on a JFK-SFO flight, he was initially horrified to find himself seated next to an infant. By the end of the flight, he was impressed (and, I assume, relieved) that she slept the entire way whilst he scribbled and doodled in his notebook.

I still find it somewhat unexpected that he studied in New Haven and not in Providence. It would be interesting to get inside his head.

So 80s, Yet So Timeless

Tatjana, Linda, Christy, Naomi, Bruce, André, Yasmin, Suzy’s hair, Veronica, Alaïa, Ellen.

And, of course, Patte à Pouf.

Often copied but never equalled.

Harlem, 1970s

Two words: Super Fly.

Time to watch some Pam Grier films…

A New York Cultural Institution Under Threat of Demolition

I seldom resort to expressions like this (without a smile), but I think it’s scandalous. An outrage.

At 31 West 57th Street in Manhattan, there is a beautiful 3-storey oasis. It is called Rizzoli Bookstore, and they are about to lose their home. The building is now under threat of demolition because the owners want to replace the 6-storey building with a much taller ‘tower’. It can be saved if the building is designated as a landmark, but it won’t happen on its own. It will require persuading certain parties, and perhaps you can help.

I was just in New York for another 36-hour visit over the weekend. Unlike on most other visits to New York, I had a bit of extra time, so I stepped out into the freezing cold with a view to examining the latest wares at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys. I took the lift straight up to the top floor of Bergdorfs. After seeing that most of the yellowing silver hollowware inside glass display cases were full of fingerprints and that half the cutlery assortment was lightly tarnished and carelessly tossed into the cases, I worked my way down. As Adam once said after being expelled from Eden, it ain’t what it used to be. (Or, was that my old tobacconist?) Shops never look their best during markdowns, which I forgot that it would still be on, but it is a little depressing to find that at a shop of Bergdorf Goodman’s calibre, half the shop floor staff were playing with their smartphones, heads down and tapping away something undoubtedly urgent. I don’t quite understand why those phones are even allowed on the shop floor. When Chairman Mo used to rule Harrods, if he spotted such a scene during his daily tour through the shop floor, the old bugger would have sacked them on the spot. I am not sure if Ira Neimark would have actually sacked them right there and then but am certain he would have been as cross as Mo would have been. Ira and Mo having something in common, imagine that.

Rather than spending a lot of time examining their excess inventory, I went to the lower ground floor to accomplish the mission of the day, to get a pot of moisturising cream for the Brunette. As I was leaving the building, I spotted a pair of Joan Rivers look-alikes, appearing resplendent with reconstructed faces, radioactive tan and harsh highlights, one in a delicious caramel-coloured sable and the other in an exquisitely trimmed black mink, no doubt cocooning their respective owners’ re-calibrated bodies. Do they all go to the same cosmetic surgeon, or do all cosmetic surgeons use the same template, I wondered. Or, are they all secretly related to Mike Jeffries? The sight of them lifted my spirits a little but not enough to carry me over a few blocks northeast to Barneys or even across the street to Bergdorf Men’s to see even more leftovers. So, I headed west to Rizzoli.

Rizzoli W57 St

Rizzoli is my most favourite shop in the world, bar none. I love the place. I also hate it because I am always tempted to buy their entire stock. It is a calming place. It is also an exciting place, with all the fetching books showcased in a stunning environment. It is an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle called Manhattan, warm in winter and cool in summer. The helpful and knowledgeable members of staff can usually be found engaged in a suitably bookish conversation rather than texting or posting an update on Facebook or whatever it is that sales people at Bergdorfs do on their iPhones whilst on duty. Rizzoli is the provider of ‘retail therapy’ in its purest, unadulterated form. Heaven.

After having recovered from the visit to Bergdorfs, I met up with a dear friend for dinner. Whilst I was mildly regretting my choice of wine that failed to live up to the delicately flavoured duck breast, he dropped the bomb on me: ‘Rizzoli just lost their lease.’

What?

29 years after they had fled the space behind the facade that now houses Henri Bendel when it was threatened with demolition, Rizzoli are threatened by a wrecking ball once again. The LeFrak family and the Vornado Realty Trust who own 29, 31 and 33 West 57th Street plan to demolish the 3 buildings to make way for a new ‘tower’.

One way to look at Rizzoli is that it’s just a shop, in which case, it can just find another retail space and continue operating from a new address. I would agree with this view if they were selling tissue paper, toothpaste and other things that come in plastic tubes and bottles.

The Rizzoli Bookstore is a New York institution. It is also a cultural institution, housed in an appropriate environment that is virtually impossible to replicate elsewhere. After the demise of Scribner’s Bookstore, I would say that it is the last of its kind remaining in New York. If New Yorkers have any sense of their city being an important cultural centre, then they would designate 31 West 57th Street as a landmark building and allow Rizzoli to continue to serve in its current location.

Stepping away from the Rizzoli question for a moment, it boggles the mind that #29, one of the three adjacent buildings being demolished, does not have a landmark designation either:

29 West 57th Street top

One does not need to be a New Yorker to have a view on the matter. I no longer live in New York, but I think it would be a crying shame to demolish those buildings.

WHAT TO DO:

Regardless of where you live,

1. Sign the petition to landmark our building and ask your friends to do the same.

2. Write to Robert B. Tierney and urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule a public hearing to vote on the 57th Street buildings. Tell him you feel these beautiful buildings are architecturally and historically significant and protecting buildings like these is the mission of the Commission.

If you live in New York, also speak with your local elected officials and ask for their support.

To contact New York City Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick:

District Office
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10017 | (212) 818-0580

To contact Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer:

1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007 | (212) 669-8300

For more information, visit Saverizzoli.org.

Save Rizzoli.

Haters, the Best Validation of a Strong Brand

Rapha Rides Siracusa

WARNING: This post contains reference to Rapha.

A brand represents a point of view manifested by a compendium of tangible and intangible elements such as products, logos, styling, photographs, video, texts, colours, tone of voice, visual merchandising, service and anything else that is perceptible by others. A strong brand has a strong point of view.

Rapha Rides Andalucia

Not having a strong point of view is being generic. Being generic is the antithesis of being a brand. A brand must be differentiated. It must stand out from the rest.

Rapha Rides Norddal
Having a strong point of view necessarily polarises the audience. There will be fans, and there will be haters. A strong brand ought to have at least 3 haters for each fan. For every person a brand delights, it should wind up at least another 3. Of course, winding up people is not the objective, just a by-product of delighting those that are like-minded and share the clearly articulated values and spirit of the brand. The haters, as much as the fans, validate the fact that the brand’s point of view is worthy of consideration.

Rapha Rides Norddal

Rapha have a strong fan base. They have come a long way in a short time. Thanks to the founders’ vision, particularly Luke Schybeler’s aesthetic vision, they have a powerful brand with a distinct point of view. They are also blessed with a gaggle of haters. The Internet is awash with Rapha haters; they can’t stop talking about Rapha.

Bottom line, the Rapha brand fascinates people.

Occasionally, one comes across a hater in the flesh, and they tend to be amusing encounters.

Just after the Troisvilles-à-Inchy cobbled sector in this year’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge, there was a Brit standing at the side of the road wagging his pump, indicating that he needed help. I had a little tumble at the beginning of the previous sector and fell behind my group. I wanted to catch up with the boys but decided to stop and help the guy, remembering the kindness I received from a Dutchman during last year’s l’Eroica. As he told me that he needed to borrow a pump because his broke, I saw him look me over and noticed that a subtle but definite tenseness surfaced on his face. I was wearing Rapha neck to toe. He was similarly in Castelli. I knew what that look was about, but I tried to make small talk about the evil cobbled stretches. Of course, he was in no mood for a chat with some guy wearing Rapha kit. He just pumped up his tyre, thanked me and was on his way as if he was escaping from something. By this time, there was no hope in catching up with my group, so I just chuckled at the episode and continued at my own pace.

Swiss Alps

One of my cycling friends absolutely loves commenting on Rapha kit. He is an Assos fan and has declared on more than one occasion that he would never buy Rapha. Nevertheless, he cannot help commenting on Rapha. You would be forgiven for thinking that he is an undercover PR agent on Rapha’s payroll. By the time he says, ‘Assos make the best kit’, he has already mentioned Rapha on half a dozen occasions. And, he would mention Rapha again several times before he makes another short and unmemorable remark about Assos. Furthermore, his comments about Rapha tend to provoke a comment or two, positive or otherwise, from others within earshot, but his comments about Assos attract no reactions. He helps to keep Rapha firmly on the radar screen whilst ensuring that Assos may, at best, provoke a yawn. Very useful, these haters. Alongside the brand evangelists, they are the co-stars of a marketer’s wet dream. I would think that Rapha adore the sound of haters unwittingly but enthusiastically kissing their backside, at no charge.

The Tour du Mont Aigoual

All photos by Ben Ingham for Rapha

Lost in Translation, Bell Peppers

Like avocados, bell peppers are not native to Japan, and a Japanese name was never assigned to them. Words of foreign origin are usually written in a different set of characters called katakana. Usually, the etymological origin is easy enough to guess, but not in this instance. Sweet bell peppers are called peeman in Japanese (that is the romanised phonetic representation, so, ok, one could write peaman instead but it wouldn’t be as poetic). For years, I have wondered about the origin of the word partly because it is a somewhat awkward sounding word to an English speaker. However, whenever I brought up the question with my Japanese friends and acquaintances, no one knew the answer.

Pepper No 43 by Edward Weston, 1930

“Pepper No 43” by Edward Weston, 1930:  “Peeman No 43”?

On the way to my local Japanese restaurant Yamayu Santatsu today, I walked by a lorry emblazoned with the removal company’s name, Pieman, and was reminded of the mystery. I posed the question to Kurasawa-san, the chef-proprietor, but he didn’t know either. He did, however, guess correctly that they are of Latin American origin, so we hypothesised that it may have something to do with Spanish or Portuguese. We further hypothesised that it is more likely to be Portuguese because of the prolific trading relationship Portugal had with Japan centuries ago.

I found out that it is pimiento in Spanish and pimentão in Portuguese. Getting warm but not quite there…

Further research on the interwebz revealed that Christopher Colombus brought back chili peppers to Europe from Latin America. The Europeans (not sure which) eventually modified the plant to produce larger, sweet peppers. The original chili peppers were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century and became widely available in the Edo Period (1603-1867) during which they were given a Japanese name taugarashi (番椒).

The sweet peppers were introduced to Japan in the beginning of Meiji Period (mid 19th century) but became widely available only after World War II by accident. When they were first introduced, they had a much stronger fragrance that was not well received by the public. Soon, bell peppers were forgotten. Consequently, when the government ordered severe rationing of food during and after the war, the bureaucrats forgot to include bell peppers in the list of rationed vegetables. Someone spotted this error and started selling bell peppers to the public that was all too willing to buy them. This time, its name was derived from the French word piment despite the fact that it is sweet.

Predictably, we completely buggered the intonation, and the vegetable became known as peeman. Every once in a while, one can spot a Japanese, who is not particularly proficient in English, trying to say something to an English speaker about a peeman, assuming that it is an English word because it is written in katakana.

‘Do you have peeman?’

‘Where can I find peeman?’

‘I need peeman.’

‘Do you like grilled peeman?’

‘I like peeman very much.’

‘Red peeman is my favourite.’

I can only imagine what goes through the mind of the person being addressed, but the look on the person’s face is invariably priceless.

Shaking Up Japanese Politics? He Is Up For It

live_us_kirishima2

Rowland and I have known each other since we had green stuff hanging from our nostrils. Now, he is running for a seat in the upper house of the National Diet. To say that I am surprised about him entering politics would be the understatement of the year. Upon reflection, it is actually not surprising that he is a Tokyo district candidate for the four-year old, centre-right Your Party. I do not really like discussing politics, but the Japanese political / legislative scene has been stuck in second gear for about 15 years. It could use a bit of shaking up. Well, lots of shaking, actually. Rowly is not the sort that is shy about stirring things up.

Because Japan has very little natural resources, the country has been very reliant on imported fuel. In order to make up for this deficiency, Japan has had nuclear power plants operating for a very long time. Nuclear power has always been controversial in Japan, but things came to a head when an earthquake and a tsunami hit northeastern Japan in 2011. The debate about nuclear power has always been more emotive than practical in the sense that a robust, informed dialogue has been, well, as scarce as natural sources of fuel. Rowly is prepared to address the issue without mincing words. Every solution or alternative will have associated costs, but what is required is to assess each of the solutions and alternatives in a frank and informed manner.

Similarly, he is prepared to address tough issues that most politicians would consider too polarising.

This being politics, there is bound to be some dirt-digging. I hate to disappoint, but the worst thing I have on Rowly is he and I sitting at Caffe Dante in Greenwich Village, washing down a toasted prosciutto and cheese sandwich with espressos and cigarettes, or chewing on some greasy fabulousness and a thick Bloody Mary at Florent in the meatpacking district, nursing our hangover mid-day after yet another evening (morning) at Nell’s. (I heard Nell moved back to Oz?) And, we may not have been of legal drinking age according to local law. Absolutely scandalous…

In 2007, Rowly completed the Dakar Rally on a motorbike. Not just participated, COMPLETED. On the first attempt. If you know anything about Dakar, then you would know what that means. So, if you want determination and commitment, there you have them. I hope he gets elected and shakes things up a bit. It ought to be interesting.

From the Dakar 2007 web site:

Rowland Kirishima had intended to wait for his 40th birthday to take part in the Dakar. Caught by the passion and worried he might get injured, the Japanese from a Scottish father decided to come to the rally a bit earlier than that: “I just couldn’t wait any longer.” So it’s on a Yamaha 450cc that this racetrack biker embarked upon the journey to Lac Rose. A painful first time… At the Ayoun El Atrous bivouac, he admits: “I must be the biker who fell the most of the whole Dakar.”

Before the mythical rally, Rowland prepared himself participating e.g. in the Pharaohs Rally of Egypt where he finished at a very honorable 28th place: “But the Pharaohs is a walk in the park compared to the Dakar. I didn’t know it would be that hard; it’s constant agony. There is no time to catch your breath.”

In the stage between Atar and Tichit, Kirishima lived in hell and kept pushing his limits further. “I think I fell about 20 times in the first 50 km. I then drove at night with the broom truck right in my tail. The organizers wanted me to withdraw; they told me to stop for a few minutes to catch my breath… I kept going. And in the last 10 km I fell about 20 times again in the middle of the night. On top of that, I had no more headlight due to a battery problem. I was just driving with my front sidelamp.” The day after this apocalyptic stage, this professional photographer, suffering from a leg injury, did not dare go to the medical tent fearing they might force him to withdraw…

Lessons in courage are many on the Dakar particularly in the bikers’ family. Rowland Kirishima adds a bit of chance to his courage: the chance of the Atar stage being shortened due to low visibility or even the one of not having had to drive to Timbuktu. With a great smile, he adds: “at any rate, I’m getting my money’s worth!”

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