When you look at a photograph by Ahraun the first thing that may come to mind is your own memories of youth. Whether it's a single still or a collage of mismatched photos, each scene makes us imagine storylines of young love, friendship, and coming of age. Ahraun's photography, though described by himself as mundane and simple, shows how the power of shooting real authentic people can make a simple image speak to us.
We sent Ahraun some LomoChrome Purple 35 mm ISO 100–400 and Lomography Redscale XR 35 mm ISO 50–200 to see how he could use these color shifting films to transform his usual slice-of-life photography. Let's take a look at his results.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about how you started your analogue journey?
Hello, my name is Ahraun. I’m from California but I'm currently based in Kyoto. I pretty much started photos out of boredom in my freshman year of college in San Francisco. I had no job, and the assignments from my general ed courses didn’t keep me too busy. I think I always had the desire to create something but at the time I couldn’t find what fit me.
I ended up finding a mint condition Canon-AE1 program with a 50 mm lens for 35 USD on Craigslist. During my second semester of college, I took a contemporary cinema course as an elective. What I’m really thankful for was that class putting me onto Wong Kar Wai. We watched In the Mood for Love in class, and I did a final report on Chungking Express. I remember falling in love with the frame-within-frame shots at the several beginning scenes of the former and the ‘smudge motion’ filming in the latter. I didn’t use what I saw for my own photos in the beginning, but seeing his films has probably inspired my photos in one way or another. In any case, I just wanted a hobby to enjoy. Even to this day, I don’t expect any kind of success from my photos. I’m doing my best to make sure that it remains a hobby.
What kind of gear do you use? (film stocks, camera, lens.)
I still use the Canon AE-1 Program 99.5 percent of the time. (I have an A1 as a spare.) 50 mm f/1.4 and 55 mm f/1.2 lenses. I know that there are better cameras to use and that I should be less narrow-minded when it comes to equipment, but I just feel so in control when I have the AE-1 in my hands. I hardly ever feel at a disadvantage when using it.
During the summer, I also used the Kyocera Samurai. Something about summer makes me want to shoot wastefully, and half-frame cameras are perfect for exactly that. To me “half frame camera” and “running around outside and doing stupid shit” go hand-in-hand.
Given the economic situation in Japan, I am mostly shooting Fuji 400. It’s probably the most dependable and versatile stock out there right now, regardless of price. Love it to death. Other film stocks I like include:
Cinestill 50D on beach days.
Cinestill 800T pushed to 1600 or 3200.
Lomo 400 when I’m anticipating the blue hour.
Lomochrome Purple if the conditions are right (like rainy season etc.)
Portra 400 if I’m seeing someone I really like (or if someone is paying for my film.)
Portra 800 when the days get shorter.
How would you describe your style?
I won’t say that it’s cinematic, but it’s definitely cinema-inspired. I think that’s why most of my photos are taken horizontally instead of vertically. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of storytelling, so putting together two to three photos to make something with a little more depth has always been an important aspect to me. My photos don’t hold up very well without collaging/diptychs. Anybody could do what I do, really.
Unless I have an idea, which I almost never do, there is no planning done. It’s just a recording of my slow, mundane life. Even with that, I’d say I’m pretty genuine about it. I don’t take photos of anything or anyone that I’m not interested in or curious about, which is probably why my content is very repetitive and probably hard to look at for a long time. You can definitely tell how I feel about the people in the photos, what specific parts I like about them, how important they are to me.
For whatever reason, I have an obsession with romance. That topic is just so interesting to me. I have all these photos of couples. In most cases, I don’t even think I’m taking those photos out of loneliness or anything like that. Moreso, I’m just curious.
I spend a lot of time walking (an average of 11k steps per day, according to my iPhone), and I make sure to have my camera with me wherever I go. There are plenty of days where I don’t shoot anything. I’m not sure if this counts as a part of my style or anything, but I do think that it contributes to my photos. If I only took my camera out of the house when I had plans or a scheduled shoot, my photos would be a lot different and most likely weaker than they are now.
What are some of the inspirations behind your photography?
I say this all the time, but I don’t really look at other people’s photos too often. Most of my inspiration comes from movies, manga, and books. It’s not even like my knowledge of any of those is that expansive, either. I think I just go through phases of being obsessed with a single work and revisiting it multiple times.
The works I obsess over change from time to time. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by Hamaguchi Ryusuke has been my favorite movie for the past year or so. I remember watching it with my friends and then talking about it for like two hours afterwards. I went to see it by myself the next day and was taking notes the entire time. My recent favorite mangas are Chainsaw Man and Slam Dunk. But my all time favorites would be Oku Hiroya’s GANTZ, Inio Asano’s Girl by the Sea, and Oshimi Shuzo’s Aku no Hana. My all-time favorite movies are probably Love Letter and Hana and Alice by Iwai Shunji, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Yuasa Masaaki.
How do you feel about the perception of your photography and the fans you have on Instagram?
For my first five years of shooting, I only posted my photos on Facebook. I didn’t see a reason for strangers on other platforms to take any interest in what I was doing. They were just photos of me and my friends doing dumb shit (just like now.) But after an annoying amount of persuasion from those friends, I made an Instagram account and have continued to post every three weeks or so.
It has been much better than I originally expected. Most of the people who message or leave comments have been very pleasant and supportive. I don’t really like the idea of ‘internet friends’, nor do I like what Instagram is becoming these days, but I enjoy the occasional exchanges that I have with most of these people. All the friends I’ve made via Instagram are the reason that my photos are being seen by others. I don’t use hashtags unless I am asked to do so by a client, so there’s no way for my photos to be seen by people who don’t follow me. A large part of the little success I’ve experienced is all thanks to those sharing my photos on their stories or telling their friends about me. I'm infinitely grateful to those people.
I actually did not plan at all. I just decided to save both films until I was able to meet people I like. I’ve used LomoChrome Purple several times in the past. The first time I used it, I completely misunderstood how extreme the color variation was and ended up being pretty unhappy with the results. But a few years later (yeah it took me years to recover from my failure) I decided to try it out again. Honestly, this film stock has so much potential and is too slept on by film users. Maybe it was because I knew that I only had one roll to work with, but I ended up being satisfied with most of the shots that I took.
I actually feel that I failed with the Redscale, only really liking about four or five of the shots that I took on it. Again, this was a lack of knowledge and experience on my part. I feel that I’d be able to make something pretty if I gave it another shot. I really had certain images I wanted in my head but I wasn't able to replicate them. But I would really try Lomography Redscale again. Most Lomo film stocks require a short process of trial and error. I’m kind of salty about not being able to take better photos, but I also more or less expected a result like this and was able to smile about it in the end. I'm looking forward to using it again in the near future.
Do you have any favorite photos from this shoot?
I was mega happy with the Tatami Galaxy (double exposure of a boy’s face and the Kamogawa river) shot that I took with the LomoChrome Purple. I wasn’t really planning that, but I looked at the river delta as we were crossing the bridge, and then the image of Akashi-san and the river popped into my head. I was like, “I have to try this!" I’m glad it worked out.
You launched a photobook last year. How does it feel to have your work printed?
It’s kind of unreal. You know, I spent so much time planning for that book. I truly thought that it would never get done. It was a long, long year and a half. I printed out all of my photos, taped them to the walls of my room, sat down in a chair, and just looked at them for hours, trying to figure out what goes together and which pieces would look good in a spread together.
I fluctuated between being steadfast in my ploy for a straight month and then getting sick of looking at my own photos. We even canceled the project for several months. I have to thank my publishers at Allied Forces and Brrwd for being patient with me. I was surprised that it sold out in less than a day. I really appreciate all the people who have been supporting and encouraging me over the years. Content-wise and timing-wise, it was the best that it could possibly be. I can never make something like Pretending ever again. I honestly used all I had to make it, and I can’t imagine doing that twice. It’s a special work that encapsulates an important phase in my life.
What's next for you?
I have an exhibition and a book coming out at the beginning of December. The theme of both projects is pretty much celebrating my friend, Haruma, turning 20 years old. I met him by chance when he was around 16, and I was lucky enough to be around and record the most important years of his teenage life. Haruma is much younger than me and somewhat like a little brother, but becoming close to him did so much for my experience in Okayama. I can say with confidence that there were many things I couldn’t have done if I didn’t know him. This event and book are my way to thank him for all that he’s done for me.
As far as photo activity goes, I think I want to continue shooting the photos that I can without stressing over it too much, the way that I’ve always done. The past six months have been full of nothing but planning for events and losing sleep because of it. I would love to just go back to my previous slow, mellow life. I spent almost the entirety of 2020 renting movies and just watching them in my room with a notepad in my hand and snacks on my bedside. It was a mentally healthy phase of my life, and I miss it from time to time.
If possible, I’d like to have an event in Tokyo sometime next year. I should probably relax and take some time off from events and bookmaking, so even if I end up doing it, it probably won’t be until July or August 2023. For now, let’s just say that I’m considering it.
What's some advice you want to give to the community?
All I can say is that being honest with the people around me, and more importantly, being honest with myself, has always produced better results.
We thank Ahraun for chatting with us! You can check out more of his work on his Instagram.