From idle security guards to ultra-modern ryokans, Polish imagemaker Stanislaw Boniecki paints a seductive portrait of the country he once lived in
To return as a tourist to a country you once lived in is always a partly nostalgic and partly surreal experience, something that Stanislaw Boniecki knows well. The New York-based photographer lived in Tokyo for a year in 2011, and visited Japan once again last November to travel around the country he once called home. The fruits of this recent trip are a collection of intriguing photographs of Japan that Boniecki shot as he travelled around the country. It was the desire to discover more of Japan that drew him back, he tells us over the phone. “When I used to live there, I never travelled out of the city. I felt like I’d never been out of Tokyo, and this time I wanted to see Japan by travelling around more. The pictures are from Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Hakone.”
Due to his travelling around, Boniecki’s photographs offer an alternative and varied view of Japan in hazy, muted hues: serene expanses of the country alongside the more quotidian shots of schoolgirls, or a security guard caught amusingly off-guard (and placed irreverently adjacent to a nude of Boniecki’s girlfriend). “That was in Kobe,” Boniecki explains. “I saw this guy, he was working in a uniform – I think it’s a brown uniform and everything around is brown – and I just found it interesting because he looked so bored. He looked like he had nothing to do.” This struck Boniecki as unsurprising because, he attests, “Japan is a really safe country, I’ve never been to such a safe place. He’s kind of aware that there’s not much to be afraid of.”
As well as shots of Japan’s cities, the series comprises photographs taken in Hakone, which “is a place for people from Tokyo to go for a weekend getaway, it’s about an hour train ride from Tokyo”, and quite frankly sounds heavenly. “I loved Hakone. The picture of my girlfriend in the bathtub – that was in Hakone. We stayed in a beautiful, brand-new, very modern ryokan in the mountains. You get there and there are hot springs. It’s amazing.” Ryokans are traditional Japanese guesthouses, found all over the country in both historic and modern form, and some boast spas and onsens – natural hot springs formed from Japan’s many volcanoes.
Boniecki’s photographs are indicative of his enthusiasm for Japan; he’s the first to admit that he’s “still fascinated by it” and will be returning soon. That’s not to say that the Japan that he lived in has stayed the same. “Japan is more open right now than it used to be, for example in Tokyo you can find a lot of people who can speak English, there are lots of people who want to help you, who want to show you something – it wasn’t like that when I was there last.” Nor is it possible to draw one single conclusion about the country because “all the places are different – Tokyo is very different to Kyoto; Kyoto is very old and Tokyo is very modern.”