I was going to Hokkaido to climb a volcano. I’d already been in Japan for a while with my girlfriend, mostly travelling around the Kansai and Tokyo regions looking at Shinto shrines, eating noodles, drinking sake and staring at Mount Fuji. After two weeks she returned to Australia for university, while I had another 10 days there by myself. With no real plans, and having gorged myself on the lights of the cities and the sight of ancient temples, I decided to head north. I’d heard about some national parks with volcanoes.
At a hostel in Sapporo I was doing my best to avoid being an Awful Australian Abroad (tip: drink less than usual), and I got talking to a French guy named Ruben. He was a photographer who’d spent the last 18 months travelling around the world trying to finish his latest project, which involved taking photos of naked people set against backdrops of dramatic natural beauty. I was intrigued; he seemed like a friendly guy, relaxed and not at all creepy. He showed me a scuffed book in which his last collection of photos had been published.
I know nearly nothing about photography as art (or photography in general – I always press the wrong button) but I was quietly moved by his work. In each picture the subject was miniscule, hunched over or curled up on the ground, dwarfed by whatever ice floe, torrential river, precipitous cliff or cloud-drenched mountain they were transposed against. Peru, Israel, China, even Afghanistan; Ruben had been everywhere. He seemed genuinely chuffed when I told him that I liked his photos. He had to leave the next morning, so we shook hands and said goodbye.
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