The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

For this precocious global adventurer, videographer and committed expat, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs! “A Picture Says…” columnist James King promises to be back in the new year, so this may be my last column for a while. We’ll see! (James like to keep us guessing…)

In any event, I’m super excited about today’s guest, Andrew Marston. Andrew first flashed across my screen when an exploit of his got featured on Rocket News 24, the English-language blog that reports interesting, strange, and random news items from Asia.

According to the report, Andrew had made a video, “Mt. Fuji: Sea to Summit,” about climbing to the top of Mt. Fuji with a few of his expat mates.

Now, reaching the summit of Japan’s sacred mountain in and of itself wouldn’t merit special news coverage. Fuji-san is, after all, the most ascended peak in the world, and people of all ages, including some centenarians, go to the top every year. Their numbers also include expats, some of whom view it as a rite of passage into Japanese culture. It’s said that a foreigner shouldn’t leave the country without having attempted to climb Mt Fuji once—with the emphasis on “once.” If you remember nothing else from this introduction, remember this:

A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.

But I digress. What exactly had Andrew and his friends done to attract the attention of reporters? They had upped the ante, starting at Japan’s lowest point, at the sands of Taganoura Beach in Shizuoka Prefecture—50 kilometers (31 miles) away from and 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) below their destination—to reach its highest point, a journey of some 27 hours. And then they stayed at the top long enough to watch the sun rise, a storied tradition in the Land of the Rising Sun.

As I did a little more research on Andrew, I discovered he describes himself as a “creative freelancer,” who has been making a living doing photo shoots, films, graphic and Web design for clients. As his sea-to-summit Fuji trek attests, he has a passion for producing travel videos about Japan. He also enjoys watching samurai dramas and running.

Andrew Marston doing a "palm jump" in Indonesia (supplied).

Andrew Marston doing a “palm jump” in Indonesia (supplied).

But let’s talk to him about his photography, shall we, before he dashes off on another of his madcap adventures?

* * *

Hi, Andrew, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’d like to start by asking: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
Hi, ML, and thank you for inviting me to take part in this column. I was born in Portland, Maine, USA. My family took a lot of road trips up and down the east coast when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I went to university that the travel bug bit me hard. When I was 19 I went to Japan for the summer on my own. I think this cemented my love of travel and discovery.

Wow, you traveled to Japan on your own at age 19? That’s pretty gutsy! I didn’t get there until I was an adult, and that was challenging enough. What did you do once you arrived?
I volunteered as a maintenance man at an ESL camp in far western Tokyo prefecture.

And Japan, I understand, was just the beginning. Which countries have you visited thus far?
Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, India, Singapore, Ecuador, Mexico, Canada, USA… so only 12.

Ha! “Only 12,” he says, modestly. Which of these countries have you lived in and for how long?
I lived in Singapore for 2 years, and Japan for three years total. The rest of my life I’ve lived in the US.

Where are you living right now?
Nagoya, which is in the center of Japan. My wife, who is also American, and I arrived here last summer. We both love living in Japan. We travel a lot domestically. We’ve got no plans to move away. For work I make Japan travel videos, and she is a science teacher at an international school.

百聞は一見に如かず(hyakubun wa ikken ni shikazu): Hearing about something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once

Now, I know you’re into moving images, but this column focuses on photography, which is also a passion of yours. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global residency and travel and tell us about the memory each photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
We took an end-to-end cycle tour of Japan one month after the 2011 earthquake there. (You can see the whole documentary of the trip, Japan by Bicycle, and download the accompanying e-book.) This first photo was taken about mid-way through the tour, right after waking up and putting away our tents after camping for a night in a bamboo forest.

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

My first paid photography job was literally the day after graduating university. We went to Ecuador to photograph a hat production facility in the Andes Mountains.

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

In Japan society really goes out of their way to appreciate each season. This shot of people sitting quietly observing the fall foliage was taken in a Zen temple famous for its stone garden, located in Dazaifu, Fukuoka.

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).



Ever since living in Japan myself, I’ve adored the look and feel of bamboo, and the photo you took of that bamboo forest shows just how enchanting it can feel. The photo of the hat maker in Ecuador is simply amazing: a window into another world. And I really like that you’ve done the photo of the Zen garden in Fukuoka in black and white, which is much more Zen, so to speak, than color would be. It tells me that, even though the people in the temple are gazing at the colorful autumn leaves, they are in a quiet, contemplative mood.

住めば都 (Sumeba miyako): Wherever you live, you come to love it

Having seen these first three photos, I am guessing Japan will make the list, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
Yes, Japan is obviously one of the places. Specifically, the Japanese Alps. Here is a photo I took of the snowy rustic village of Shirakawa:

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Another favorite Japan location is Ōhara, a rural town nestled in the mountains of northern Kyoto, which is famous for the Sanzen-in Temple, especially in autumn, though it’s beautiful any time of year:

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Besides Japan, I will pick my home state. Here’s one of the lighthouses of Maine, USA:

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Photo credit: Andrew Marston (supplied).

Wow, that first one would make a dramatic Christmas card! I never got to that particular temple in Kyoto when I lived in Japan, but your photo has taken me there. And I like that you still see beauty in your homeland as well as in your adopted country.

見ぬが花 (Minu ga hana): Reality can’t compete with the imagination

Your photos are very artistic. What drew you into pursuing photography as an art form?
Communicating through images transcends language and can quickly evoke a deep connection with a person or place. Photography and video are both passions of mine, but lately I’ve been concentrating on the dynamism that video provides by allowing the images I was used to capturing and creating with photography, to move. I find moving images fascinating.

I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it??
Yes, this can be uncomfortable. Usually if they notice me pointing the camera at them, I just ask if it’s okay. If they say no, then I don’t.

Switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
My main camera body is a Nikon D750, but I’m hoping soon to switch to a mirrorless system because they travel better. I also have Canon and Sony point and shoots as well as a few GoPros. For editing I use the Adobe Creative Cloud…so Photoshop and Lightroom when I’m working on photos.

はやかれおそかれ (hayakare osokare): Sooner or later…

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
I would encourage every “wannabe photographer” to think of themselves as a “photographer who isn’t fully funded yet.” Often, enthusiasts are already taking shots that are pro-quality, they just aren’t being paid for it. If this is you and you’re hoping to turn your hobby into a career, I suggest contacting and networking with as many semi-pro and professionals in the photography and travel industry as possible. It won’t happen overnight, but if you consistently produce amazing work and diligently grow your connections, you’ll eventually hit pay dirt somehow.

Thank you, Andrew! As I was once an expat in Japan, I get very nostalgic for that part of the world—especially this time of year, when I can clearly remember how festive it feels, with everyone preparing for their end-of-year celebrations. So for me, your photos of Japan are exquisitely well timed. Thank you for that vicarious travel experience! Plus your lighthouse photo made me think I should visit Maine again, now that I’m back in the States. Last time I was there, I was a kid, and couldn’t appreciate the beauty…

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Andrew’s adventuresome life and his photography advice? Did they arouse any particular feelings or emotions, as they did for me? Please leave any feedback or questions for him in the comments!

If you want to get to know Andrew Marston and his latest creative works better, I suggest you check out his YouTube channel, Happy in Japan. You can also follow him on Twitter.

NOTE: If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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2 responses to “For this precocious global adventurer, videographer and committed expat, a picture says…

  1. Helena Halme Author (@helenahalme) December 19, 2015 at 4:52 am

    Beautiful pictures, thank you for sharing your story.

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