Photographer Introspection Amidst the Serenity at Kyoto’s Rurikoin Temple
desktop background image of gorgeous fall colors at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan -- A Moment of Quiet Introspection at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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A Moment of Quiet Introspection
at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan
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desktop background image of gorgeous fall colors at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan -- Your Seat Awaits this is absolutely what you'll find if you visit this weekend -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Your Seat Awaits
this is absolutely what you'll find if you visit this weekend
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desktop background image of gorgeous fall colors at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan -- Serenity Incarnate and other lies -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Serenity Incarnate
and other lies
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Some friends and I paid a morning visit to the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) in north-east Kyoto on Thursday. It was my second visit, after the first two years ago when Damien introduced me to the place.

Waiting For the 10AM Opening -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Waiting For the 10AM Opening

Two years ago it was probably about 500 yen (US $5) to get in, but I heard that they stopped being open to the public for a while. This year they're back, but it's 2,000 yen (US $20) to get in. It's a Buddhist Temple and so ostensibly a religious place (whose income is tax free), but during the fall-foliage season their business is all about photography: the vast majority of visitors are folks like me who want to take pretty pictures.

It's probably safe to say that 100% of the folks lined up that morning to pay their 2,000 yen were there for photos.

Heading In -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Heading In
Path Up to the Buildings -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Path Up to the Buildings

After entering, you're first funneled to the 2nd-floor room with the money view (so to speak) of the foliage. It's where I took the serene shots that open this post, but it was far from serene. The scene as it appeared when I first turned the corner at the top of the steps:

Scurrying for Shots -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Scurrying for Shots

(The photo above has its color balance set for the incandescent lighting in the room, rather than for the sunlight outside. Other photos are balanced for sunlight.)

The room is intended for meditation and the writing of sutras. The table in the background had pads of blank papers, ink, and brushes, so that you can copy the provided sutras. The seat pillows away from the table are for quiet contemplation of the beautiful scene outside.

But nobody here cared about any of that stuff. Everyone was there to take pictures, and I immediately became embarrassed about it for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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When visiting a temple or shrine, I never forget that I'm visiting a religious place, and that indeed I'm a visitor among people using the place for its religious purpose. But this time, there was not even the slightest pretense by anyone that the sole intent of the location and its visitors was anything other than photography. This made me sad a bit.

Yet, at the same time, since everyone had the same purpose, the same unwritten rules were followed, so, for example, the photogenic corner of the room was left empty so that it could be part of a good shot. People would sometimes try to creep in a bit on one corner or the other to catch a different angle, but for the most part it was sort of amazing how the crowd mentality worked for the common good:

Absolutely Teeming with rabid photographers all over the place just out of frame -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Absolutely Teeming
with rabid photographers all over the place just out of frame

In the shot above, one person had snuck a bit forward, only to soon retreat back to the scrum after she took her picture.

As I said, I felt a bit bad/embarrassed for nondescript reasons, and I was acutely aware of the old saying:

You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.

With this in mind I was trying to be extra reserved and deferential to others, but I was still there clicking away, as the photos on this post prove.

At one point a lone man ventured boldly into the open space to enjoy the view, but he was clearly irked by the photographers and, by the way he acted, it seemed he had planted himself there merely to spite them.

Rebellion -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/6.3, ISO 2500 — map & image datanearby photos
Rebellion

I felt bad for him because he had a right to enjoy the place for its intended purpose. These kind of scenic spots are deluged by folks with cameras during Kyoto's glorious fall-foliage season, but usually everyone enjoys the area in harmony, each for their own reasons. Sometimes you get occasional bottlenecks when folks' manners are temporarily overcome by their enthusiasm (an offense I try not to be guilty of, but I'm sure I am from time to time). But here, in the rush just after the temple opened to the scrum of photographers, there was no harmony.

I also feel bad for him because it seems his intention was to ruin the view for photography, but standing there alone, he actually added a nice human focal point. A photo of him leads this post, but that photo and the one directly above are the only I took of him. I didn't want to be the traffic he was stuck in, so I moved to another room for a while.

Eventually he moved on, and again the photo-crowd mentality took over and the most photogenic part of the room was left open...

Deserted at least until you get one pixel out of frame -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 220 — map & image datanearby photos
Deserted
at least until you get one pixel out of frame

I often use creative composition to take advantage of the easiest way to lie with the camera (If It’s Not in Frame, It Doesn’t Exist), and in this room with these photographer crowd mentality rules in play, it was quite effective.

But all good things must come to an end. One of the photographers, after waiting for a while, sort of asked the crowd whether he could move forward to take a picture. One of the temple worker said yes, of course, go ahead by all means don't hesitate, and he very quickly and apologetically moved forward to take a shot...

desktop background image of gorgeous fall colors at the Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院), Kyoto Japan -- Nabbing a Quick Snap -- Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
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Nabbing a Quick Snap
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But with that the spell was broken and the dike burst. Here's the scene 10 seconds later:

Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/80 sec, f/7.1, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos

And another minute and a half later, as I was on my way out for the last time...

Rurikoin Temple (瑠璃光院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2200 — map & image datanearby photos

I have some interest in these places as historical sites, to imagine who build them and who maintained them over the years, but 99% of my interest is in the ability to take and share photos. I have no qualms or embarrassment about that, but something about that morning made me very uneasy.

It could be that the hefty admission price filtered out (almost) everyone but those serious about getting nice photos, and the resulting scrum/mood just didn't fit the setting in my mind. I've had the occasion to take photographs during a Catholic Mass (examples here, here, and here), but even though in each case I had the explicit permission from the priest, I still felt uneasy because the intention of Mass lies elsewhere.

And then on top of that, to see someone who didn't get the cameras required memo bristle against the rainfall of shutter clicks made me feel bad for being part of the problem.

I'd like to think that I and my friends were more respectful and courteous than the bulk of the scrum there, but perhaps that's just me looking at myself through autumn-colored glasses.

Anyway, that's why there will be no wigglegrams from this room. To make one requires a high-speed shutter burst (10 frames per second for a second or two), and given the particulars of the setting and my feelings, I just couldn't allow myself to be that much traffic.


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

Great images of the beautiful fall colors. Also, enjoyed the commentary on how photographers and other visitors interact.

— comment by Tom in SF on November 30th, 2014 at 12:41am JST (2 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Very nice photos, and interesting sentiments. When among a group of photographers, I’ve also felt that sense of embarrassment.

In my case it was with bird photography. I think that my goal as a bird photographer was pure: to raise awareness over and appreciation for the birds. I spent about a year in New York City’s Central Park (which had a surprising amount of bird diversity), photographing the birds across all different seasons, starting in the winter. Spring and summer brought out large numbers of birders… and a lot of other photographers. We were all there to appreciate the same thing, yet the photographers were clearly different. Whereas the birders tended to stay in the same place for a long period of time, watching the same bird, the photographers would get a few snaps and then move on. Some photographers were aggressive to the point that they would scare off the bird that a group of birders had been focused on. It probably didn’t matter to the photographer – he probably got a great shot right before the bird took flight – but it clearly spoiled things for the people behind him.

I even remember an old woman asking me if I was a birder or a photographer. I replied that I was a bit of both but considered myself to be a birder. She looked me over skeptically and asked, “where are your binoculars?” That’s when I realized how much of a cultural distinction there was between the activities of birding and photographing birds.

Perhaps that’s what it comes down to: the goal. My goal involved photographing the birds and then writing about their behaviors or the overall scene beyond the photograph when I’d post it online, which I believe makes me a birder “culturally.” Other photographers were in to get that prize photo and little more: the rest of the scene and even everything about the photo subject was not somehting to be enjoyed or observed. It was a hunt, and a wild chase was on. Perhaps there’s something similar wih your shrine photos? You write thoughtfully about the places you visit and even take effort to show us sights beyond the perfect framing and perfect post-processing. You take note of the people. Each entry of yours is far more than a simple photo collection. It’s a sharing of the experience, an immersion. You respect the location. Yet in this case, you were in the middle of a feeding frenzy, a pack that didn’t all necessarily share the same goal.

Or perhaps the shared goal doesn’t matter? As your quote about traffic mentions…

— comment by David K. on December 1st, 2014 at 1:45am JST (2 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I wonder if it would be a good idea for these temples to have two kinds of visitor hours:
Hours to make pictures, for photographers, and hours where no pictures are allowed, for plain visitors.
This might defuse these kind of situations.

Seems like a good idea. There’s a lot of money to be made from folks interested in photos, so I would have thought we’d have seen these kinds of “special access” hours long ago, but maybe such income would not be tax free like the rest of their income, and so unappealing. I dunno. —Jeffrey

— comment by Sam on December 5th, 2014 at 5:59pm JST (2 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink
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