I met Andre in a path somewhere in the bowels of a temple compound in Kyoto. He was taking photos of the leaves and the bamboo stalks that jutted out of the ground on both sides of the path like outstretched, handless arms. We re-joined the crowds after a while—the place was thick with Chinese tourists. ‘They’re talking about us,’ he said to me.
'Yeah, but also me,’ he said. He pointed to his face: a long scar ran from his eyebrow to his chin, carving his face in two. It made him look younger, somehow, though I later found out that we were the same age.
‘Don’t they know that you can understand them?’
He shrugged. ‘They’re Chinese. They don’t give a shit.’
I almost pointed out to him that he was Chinese too, but I didn’t because he wasn’t, not really. He had a whiff of Sydney about him—I could recognise it since I lacked that same sense of place in myself. Existing in this sort of negative-self-space, you learn how places cling to other people like a film. Once you figure out the signs, you can't really un-see it. Despite myself, I’ve come to be slightly envious of people who carry around a sense of place with them. I don’t know why my accent has never settled or why I’ve never lived in a house for more than a year since I was seventeen or why I feel compelled to move between strange corners of the map. I don’t want to know why. I don’t even know if I want to be rid of it. But I’d like to experience a sense of home for a little while.
Andre was an immediately likeable guy: earnest, easy-going, and filled with a practical sense of purpose that I found admirable. He had a huge medium format camera with him: it was a Kiev 88, a bad Ukranian copy of the medium-format Hasselblad camera. Whereas Hasselblads were universally renowned for their image and build-quality, the Kiev’s were infamous for their shoddy construction and temperamental mechanics. It had a metal shutter that opened and closed with such ungainly force that it was almost impossible to shoot a stable image at slow shutter speeds and its thick, broad levers and buttons required an uncommon strength to manipulate.
‘Did you know how they made these?’ he said when I asked him about his camera. I told him that I did not. We were walking sedately along a wooden bridge, waiting for the tourists to clear out so he could take photos. We complained good-naturedly about the tourists and chose to ignore the fact that we, too, were strangers here.
‘Well, back in World War Two the Russians shot down a German spy plane and inside they found a working model of a Hasselblad and decided to reverse-engineer it. Only, they made them in a Ukrainian tank factory. Nothing works in this camera, but it’s cheap to repair, built like a brick, and takes great photos.’
He then took a look at my trusty Canon and called me an idiot for shooting 1600 ISO film in the midday sun. He was in Kyoto to shoot portraits of Yakuza members and work on his portfolio, and I, having nothing better to do, tagged along with him for a while. He confessed to me that he'd always wanted to learn to write and I told him that I always wanted to take better photos. We then swapped stories of times that we almost died: him while stuck on a mountain in New Zealand during a blizzard, and me during a childhood misadventure in a storm-water drain. We made plans to hang out in Sydney when we both got back. I was considering a move there at the time, but I ended up staying in Brisbane for longer than I had planned. Which is how things go, I guess.