Captured Contrasts

Japan - Tom Bunning Photography Limited

Layered in meaning and as diverse as they come, attempts to photograph Japan can lead to quite an adventure.

Photographs by Tom Bunning; Words as told to Jen Harrison Bunning

Being a photographer can give you access to things that most people could only dream of seeing. It can be a key to a world of possibilities, a passport behind the scenes of other people’s lives or a ticket to secret spaces. However (with apologies to any budding image-makers certain that every day is a veritable dream), after ten years on the job, it can be dull: there are studio shoots where the day passes without a whiff of sunlight; tellings off from benighted bookkeepers when you fail to produce a crucial receipt; and hours spent in airports praying your kit clears customs. But then there are days when you get a phone call that makes your heart sing, and in this case it went like this: “Tom, how’s the first week of October looking? … Good, you’re off to Japan.”

There are a number of my esteemed fellow photographers who, as soon as they know they’re off somewhere new, jump online and begin to research: where they’re going, what kit they should pack, which perfect shot they’ll seek. Not me. I know I should be doing these things but there’s something wonderfully freeing about foregoing research, over-packing and being carried along on a wave of juvenile excitement, hoping my instincts, eyes and camera will deliver the goods. And this system hasn’t failed me yet. I never come home disappointed that I didn’t get that ‘perfect shot’.

Instead, I return with a treasure trove of images and associated memories of human stories and wild places. But Japan? From what I’d happened to soak up from books and films, I was diving in to a world of blazing neon, dangerous culinary delicacies, vast swathes of protected parkland and complicated social etiquette. Was my usual blasé attitude going to work in this most respectful and mannered of countries? We would have to see.

Tom Bunning, Tokyo

First stop: Tokyo. From touch-down it was a short, wide-eyed transfer from Haneda Airport to Palace Hotel Tokyo where, after a quick freshen-up in the luxurious Evian Spa, I was off on a crash course in the art and architecture of Aoyama, courtesy of the hotel. With the wild child fashion district of Harajuku to its west and Chiyoda with its stately brick station and imposing Imperial Palace to its north, it would be easy to forgive Aoyama an identity crisis – but there’s no need, for it has a brilliantly bonkers inner life all of its own. Here, huge brushed-concrete walls nestle against towers of twisted glass and locals take matcha tea and Taiwanese pineapple cake in the playful wooden lattice structure of the SunnyHills cake shop. Prada, Mui Mui and similarly high-end brands vie for first place in the ‘Most Impressive Architecture of a Retail Store’ competition (designed by the likes of Herzog & De Meuron and Gehry, no less), whilst the Nezu Museum (by the architect of the 2020 Olympic Stadium, Kengo Kuma) sits serenely behind its bamboo grove cloisters.

Despite its tranquil corners, there is an overriding sense of impermanence and newness in Aoyama which, as our guide Professor Matsuda explained, is partly due to earthquake fears as buildings are constantly torn down and rebuilt to the latest quake-proof technology, but also to the nation’s long-term obsession with the new, the disposable and the consumable. It’s a fascinating area and I could have spent hours there but Japanese trains wait for no man (and especially for no man slowed down by an abundance of camera bags), so it was all aboard the great green dragon of a bullet train for a silent and speedy 700 kilometre journey north to Aomori and on to Towada-Hachimantai National Park.

Tom Bunning, 320kph, Japan
Tom Bunning, 320kph, Japan

Some places in the world make you feel like you’re the first person to ever stand there. Even if you’re with a guide and gaggle of fellow travellers, everything is turned down a notch and all you know is what’s directly in front of you. If you visit Towada-Hachimantai National Park on a rainy October day, this is what might happen: your eyes may feast upon the towers of light casting through the clouds, the lush green wall of conifers, the mist hanging on the horizon. Your ears may delight in the silence, punctuated only by the creaking of branches and the odd birdsong. You may look out over the lake and feel a deep sense of freedom. But if you do visit and you don’t experience any of this then don’t despair, as you’ll still be treated to a spectacular view.

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From the ever-changing urban landscape of Tokyo in the south to the ancient arboreal backdrops of the north, next I was off to a city that had no choice but to start again. Despite my lack of planning, the one place I had intended to photograph was Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a city that thrived on commercial fishing before it was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. I’d read about the effects of the disaster at the time; the dead, the missing, the school children and teachers swept away on the bridge, the port and buildings swallowed up by the water. I’d planned to shoot the wasteland, the reconstruction, the decimated waterfront, to take portraits of the people I met and to tell their stories. But when it came to it I couldn’t hide behind my lens. I felt I had to be entirely present, to listen and keep what I witnessed in my mind’s eye and not commit it to memory cards and print. I can’t tell you exactly why I felt like that. Perhaps it was the only way I knew how to honour Japanese culture’s acceptance of impermanence and insubstantiality, of mono no aware. Perhaps I’ll go back someday and it will feel right to capture it then, perhaps not.

Luckily, I did manage to photograph a little more of Japan than Tokyo and Towada. I rode the Gonō Line along the shore of the Sea of Japan with the Shirakami mountain range looming overhead.

I saw leaves fired up by golden light in Ginzan Onsen and followed in the 1,000 or so steps of one of Japan’s most famous poets, Matsuo Bashō, up a winding mountain path to Yamadera (mountain temple) perched high in its craggy nest. It’s a long and arduous climb but when I reached the top I was able to catch my breath in Godaido Hall, an observation deck dating back to the 1700s that juts out from the mountain.

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Here, as the sun set, I was rewarded with a view of rolling pastel hills and golden cedar trees. If I was poetically inclined I might have recited Bashō’s famous haiku penned here in 1689,

“the stillness / penetrating the rock / a cicada’s cry”

– words that felt pretty spot on, even for a non-poetic type.

On my way home, back on urban turf for the night in Sendai ‘City of Trees’, I began backing up my images and gazed out of a high hotel window. With the twinkling towers of the city growing out of the concrete-covered earth in front, and my photos of mist-shrouded woodland and ancient temples on the screen behind, Japan’s new and old – its man-made glass towers and natural wonders, its thriving capital and tsunami-devastated coast – seemed at once intrinsically linked and yet miles apart. This wouldn’t do. I would have to make a plan to come back, and go deeper.

Spring sunshine in Faro

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley

Given its underwhelming popularity, it would be easy for Faro, the capital of Portugal’s Algarve, to have an inferiority complex, but it continues to hold its own. At the airport, as the hoards to tourists head west, lured by the region’s epic beaches and resort towns, I breathe a sigh of relief and take a short taxi ride into the sleepy port town that is to be my home for the next three days. 

I’d been to Faro before, so when it popped up as a relatively cheap destination for a few days of spring sunshine following a fairly dismal London winter, I didn’t hesitate. With memories of clams cooked in butter, white wine and garlic, and endless blue skies, I knew it would be the perfect salve. 

With its broken cobbled streets, ubiquitous graffiti and decaying buildings, it’s hard to call Faro pretty. The town has the rundown feeling of a place forgotten, but there are pockets of beauty if you take the time to look. On the pedestrianised streets by the marina, I eat freshly baked pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) while inside Faro’s ancient walls, I walk past the fruiting orange trees by the cathedral to drink a glass of vinho verde as the sun sets over the water. I eat the aforementioned clams at every meal they’re offered – invariably prawns, octopus and chorizo (barbecued at the table over a mini spit) join them. 

Before heading home, I take a short ferry ride to Baretta Island. Also known as Ilha Deserta, this small parcel of sand has a single restaurant, a few fishing huts and nothing much else – unless you count the seagulls and other birdlife I encountered on the 2km boarded walk I took before heading back to the mainland. 

And here lies the reason I returned to Faro – sun, sand and peaceful moments. An unusual find in this part of the world. 

Bolivia the Beautiful

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley.

Frozen fingers. Lonely flamingoes. Tufty scrubland. A dome of blue sky. Pastel lakes. Slow trains with white tablecloths and real china. Cheap beer. Hand-knitted alpaca wool socks. Salty pentagonals. And a light case of high altitude pulmonary oedema. These are just a handful of memories of Bolivia in late May.

I crossed the border on foot – from La Quiaca (Argentina) to Villazon (Bolivia) – and jumped on a leisurely train to Tupiza. From there, along with a guide called Elvis and an evangelical traveller preaching a new religion, we drove into the mountains.

For four days we travelled across stark plains and Martian desert scapes. We climbed high and gazed at geysers and braved the biting wind to paddle in geothermal pools. At night, while the the King of Rock practiced walking on his hands, my travelling companion did his best to convince me that God exists simply because so many people believe in her. In bed, with the temperatures plummeting to -10ºC, I tried (and failed) to keep warm under a pile of slippery sleeping bags.

In spite of their beauty and vast horizons, Bolivia’s Andean Highlands are sparsely populated – by humans and animals alike. A few small towns exist here and there – the locals who brave the weather are mostly employed to serve tourists or to farm. Infrastructure is minimal: hot showers are synonymous with luxury, WiFi is practically non-existent, and it’s lights out at 10pm. But what need did I have for these extraneous things in an environment where every twist and turn brought some new marvel to keep my curiosity, and cravings for my creature comforts, at bay?

The annual flamingo migration was coming to an end, so it was only a lazy few that we saw wading ankle deep through the many lakes we passed, scooping up algae with their hooked beaks while pondering where their hundreds of thousands of friends had gone. The only other animals we saw were the ubiquitous alpacas, replete with ear streamers and expressions of complete indifference.

After three nights spent at air-gulping altitudes, we got got up before sunset and dropped down onto the vast plateau of the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat. In all honesty, I thought this would be somewhat of an anti-climax, but as the sun rose and the crackly pentagonals began to appear, my wonder grew. Stark white in all directions, our colourful clothes, even my pale skin, in full contrast. If you ever want to feel both small and inconsequential, but so utterly connected to our earth, this is the place to visit.

Kate joined the basic four-day Tupiza-Uyuni tour with La Torre Tours.

Notes on Japan

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley

A friend asked me recently, after reading my wabi-sabi essay in our latest issue, if there’s anything else about Japanese culture that I’ve applied to my daily life – an intriguing question that got the cogs turning.

Japan was the first of the many countries I’ve lived in since leaving Australia. Arriving after a massive false start (the first plane I caught to Osaka fell out of the sky), I had never felt so foreign in my life. It was the mid-90s and there I was: 19-years old, 6-feet tall with blonde wavy hair to my waist and blue eyes. To say I stood out is an understatement.

Perhaps if I’d been living in Tokyo or one of the other mega-cities the differences wouldn’t have been as acute, but I spent most of my time in Kanazawa, a picturesque university town, and on Kikai-Jiima, a tiny sliver of an island in the Ryukyu archipelago so remote that most Japanese people have never heard of it.

For the most part, the attention I received was well-intentioned curiosity, but it took me a while to come to terms with feeling so different as well as being the open topic of public conversation – a fact I was all too aware of as I learned to speak the language.

In Japanese the common word for foreigner is gaijin, which literally translates as ‘outside person,’ a fact that’s unsurprising given the countries unique relationship with the rest of the world. They did, after all, deny entry to most foreigners for over 200 years as part of the Sakoku policy that held fast from 1639 to 1853. And it’s this sense of the other – along with with fact that I can fold a mean origami crane and make the best okonomiyaki this side of Cape Irizaki – that I’ve carried with me ever since.

Growing up in Australia, I always felt uncomfortably out of place, but spending two years in Japan taught me to embrace my differences – and eventually use them to my advantage. There is something very powerful in being an ‘outside person.’ You become more daring. You can disarm. And failure seems to mean less. It’s an attitude I’ve tried to embrace everywhere I’ve either lived or travelled to since – and it hasn’t let me down yet.

This post was inspired by Kate’s essay, extracted below, on wabi-sabi in the Japan issue of Lodestars Anthology.

I’m kneeling at a low table, legs folded politely but painfully beneath me. My host, the wife of a university professor tasked with welcoming me to Japan, has invited me to tea. I rest my cup, which is more of a bowl as it has no handle, in the palm of my hand. I run my thumb over its mottled earthy surface, tracing with my fingernail the gold-flecked cracks that highlight rather than hide its so-called flaws. I notice that the rim is not quite symmetrical as I raise it to my lips. 

At the time – it was the first week of the two years I would spend living in the country – I didn’t realise that the aesthetic I was admiring was actually a small example of something far more philosophically relevant – a notion so deeply rooted in Japan’s culture and identity that it even had its own name: wabi sabi.

To read the rest of the essay, as well as immerse yourself in 160-pages of Japanese art, culture and travel,
pick up a copy of our latest issue, available for purchase here.


Words and Photography by Diana Pappas

Northumberland, in North East England, is where my husband, and fellow Lodestars Anthology contributor, Tom Bland is from – and without our paths crossing, I doubt I would have known this place existed. You may have heard of Newcastle upon Tyne, Lindisfarne, Hadrian’s Wall or maybe Bamburgh Castle, but if you don’t call Great Britain home, odds are that Northumberland and its adjacent counties are not known to you. We like it this way, of course, and coming here is a welcome respite from our day-to-day life a stone’s throw from New York City.

Detail of Anglo-Saxon stone cross at Bewcastle, Cumbria
Northumberland woods

A vast and sparsely populated county of moorland, farmland, and forests bound by stone walls and rugged coastline, Northumberland was easy to appreciate from my first visit seven years ago. I have traveled here often in the years since, fortunate to enjoy repeated visits in different seasons that reveal new viewpoints and greater understanding. This winter in particular has been a chance to see this part of England anew, with unusually calm days full of low-hanging sunshine made for leisurely walks in Hexhamshire or venturing further afield into County Durham, Cumbria, Teesdale and even into the ‘debatable lands’ in the Scottish borders – all of which are part of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. These lands are home to complex layers of history and today are a spectacular setting for natural beauty. This landscape can be extreme and wild, bleak and isolated, lush and bucolic in turn, changing by the season and sometimes by the hour.

Instagram: @dianapappasphoto

Belted Galloway cows at Askerton Castle Estate, Cumbria
Upper Teeside
Tynemouth Priory, Northumberland
Sunday lunch at the Black Bull Inn, Frosterley, County Durham
Hawthorne berries, Northumberland
Rainbow over the woods, Northumberland
Fields, Northumberland
The sky above, Northumberland
Hexhamshire, Northumberland


In Iceland – the Water and the Sky

Photographs by Tom Bunning

In winter our thoughts turn to candlelit rooms and warming fires.  But Tom Bunning’s photography reminds us that the cold comes in many guises and draws our gaze to Icelandic landscapes – the waterfalls, the birds wheeling under eggshell blue skies and the endless snowbound vistas.  Be warned though, if you venture out into the cold, you may not come back again…


Land Rover Iceland - Photographed by Tom Bunning

Land Rover Iceland - Photographed by Tom Bunning

Marti Illustration

We take the chance to talk about music, cartoons, techniques, influences and inspirations with Michaela Pointon of Marti Illustration, whose work is featured in Lodestars Anthology Canada (which you can pre-order here). For more of Michaela’s illustrations, visit her website at and follow her on Instagram @marti.illustration.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background – where you trained, how you learned, and what inspired you to become an artist and an illustrator when you were younger?

I’ve always been passionate about storytelling – creating something magical out of something not so magical seemed to be the thing I found most exciting when growing up. I grew up in Southport, which is a small seaside town in the North West of England and there was just something about it that fascinated me and made me question what was out there beyond the water.

I originally studied Fine Art in Southport as a diploma, and went on to specialise in Illustration as an A-level equivalent.  From there I went on to The Glasgow School of Art to do my degree in Visual Communication, which was the perfect course because it wasn’t tied to any specific skill and allowed me to explore different ways of working.

I was so lucky to be placed in a class full of really great and talented people, we were all very close and I’d say they were a huge influence on me throughout the four years I was there. It helped so much to belong to a group who also lived and breathed the things they were most passionate about.


You’re based in London – do you take the city as an inspiration?  Does it feature in your work?

I adore London, living here certainly has its ups and downs, but the energy of the city never stays still and I really enjoy that. There is so much see, and everyone you meet will have a story to tell about how they came to be here or their experience of the city and I find that so inspiring. There’s a real sense of determination and strength of character, which I love.

I wouldn’t say the City of London is featured in my work, but most certainly the journey I’ve had since living here and the people I’ve worked with along the way have influenced how I work.

You’ve mentioned that you’re inspired by mid-century design and travel – what is it about these themes that drew you to use them as an inspiration for your work?

For me, mid-century design is the perfect example of something being able to function in a beautiful and simplistic way. I love how bold and charming it can be just through its use of form and colour, I find that method of working very inspiring!

I wrote my dissertation on The Festival of Britain and just adored the psychology behind how things were designed for the purpose of healthy living and happiness. I think there’s so much to take away from that in our own lifestyles.


You’ve travelled to some interesting locations, and produced work relating to travel – have your travels influenced you significantly?  Do you have a favourite country that you’ve visited?

Travel has always brought a change of scenery and a new experience. Everywhere you go people and places have a different story to tell.

I love the East Coast of Spain and have had great adventures in Greece, but I also feel a real connection to Blackpool and Glasgow, which are very contrasting!

I also enjoy illustrating places that I haven’t seen. The idea of creating a journey you haven’t yet experienced is a nice way of travelling on a budget!


You’ve worked across a number of different mediums and techniques, such as pen and ink – can you explain a little about the mediums/ techniques you use? Do you have a particular favourite?  Do you find that working with one medium/ technique helps, or feeds into working with another?

I think the medium you use can really alter how you express the things you’re working on.  I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories for my final year of my degree and found the words alone weren’t enough by themselves, so I began building installations to allow the reader to experience the sequences I played out in my mind when creating these stories.  Since then I’ve become much more confident in illustrating and realising that you can tell a story with just as much meaning and expression with the stroke of a brush and some ink.

Illustrating with a tablet has become second nature, but I’d hate to lose touch with my ever-faithful brush set and pastels, so I try as much as I can to keep that up.


Some of your work has a lovely, Picasso-esque feel to it – has Picasso ever served as an inspiration to you?  Do you have a favourite artist or illustrator?

That’s a really lovely complement!  His used of big bold colours and exaggerated shapes have always been huge win for me.

Satoshi Hashimoto’s work is incredibly beautiful, and I just love the subjects he illustrates. They’re very clever and a real treat.  I could also look at the works of Paul Rand, and Miroslav Sasek all day, every day and never get bored.

Mary Blair has also been a huge inspiration for story telling and vision. I could go on!

Peace, Doves

Your website mentions a fondness for Tom and Jerry, and your work can be quite playful – have cartoons been a significant factor in your work?  Do you have a favourite cartoon?  Is working in animation something you’re interested in?

Cartoons have played a huge part in my work. The further back you go the better they get! I’m fascinated by the work which was being produced in the 50s and the 60s because it adapted so much of its style to reflect design trends at that time. I’m still a big kid at heart and love that so much of what you find in the animation industry is created by people who are also living out that part of their imagination to entertain the masses, it’s a really lovely thing.

Disney’s 1953 Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom and UPA’s 1951 Rooty Toot Toot get a regular screening at home, not to Mention Ren & Stimpy!

Animation is something I’ll always be interested in, I’d love to be clever enough to make my work come to life, but I think I’d need some help from the pros!

You’ve mentioned Kryzsztof Komeda – do you find that music helps you produce your work?  Do you have a particular piece that you enjoy?

I love listening to music when working, it’s a healthy way to free your mind a little more when it’s rammed full of day-to-day admin. More recently I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts, they’re so great for learning on the go, especially if you just want something easy to tune into in the background. The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast is top of my list.

Piano and Jazz

You’ve worked for a number of publications as well as producing personal work – do you have a favourite piece out of all the illustrations you’ve made?

I feel really excited about the things I’ve been lucky enough to work on so far, Lodestars in particular! The world of illustration is so exciting, and seeing your work in print is always a really special moment.

The great thing about working on editorial pieces is that it allows you to work on subjects you wouldn’t necessarily think to explore, so I’m learning all of the time, and that’s super rewarding.

Moonlight and Lipstick

Love, Mascara