Much before Greg Girard found himself in 1970s Tokyo, he had nurtured an interest in photography. As a teenager in Vancouver, Girard learned the craft, traveling from his suburban home to the city, where he photographed everything from eerily deserted streets to people in diners and the colorful reflections of neon signs in rain-slicked streets. These early photographs would be the building blocks of the vision Girard would cultivate in his travels as a teenager and later.
When he was 18, he embarked on his first trip abroad. Boarding a freighter in San Francisco, he headed to Hong Kong. Girard would go on to do a significant amount of his work in Hong Kong (and even live there), but not on this trip. He wasn’t ready to live abroad yet, and he returned to Vancouver to work and save for another trip. In 1975, Girard went back to Asia and ran into a fellow traveler whose vivid description of Tokyo sparked Girard’s interest in that city.
In 1976, the now-20-year-old Girard headed to Tokyo. He wasn’t planning to stay for long, but when he got there, he was instantly entranced. As curator Christopher Phillips notes in his introduction to Girard’s book, “Tokyo-Yokosuka 1976-83”:
“Landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, he took a commuter train into the Japanese capital for what he expected would be no more than a quick look around. Walking the city streets from night to morning, he experienced an instant attraction to the city, and an intense curiosity about its mix of non-Western customs and hyper-modern urban surfaces. ‘It was just so obvious that it was a kind of science-fiction place — that word just popped into my head looking out the train window at the city. I thought, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?’ It was clear that first night that I wanted to stay.”
Fully enamored by Tokyo, Girard was determined to stay. He found work teaching English, which provided him with enough money to rent an apartment, and he continued with his photography. Girard would live in Tokyo from 1976 to 1977, and then again in 1979-80, taking photographs of the city, until he eventually moved to Hong Kong.
Girard lived in Asia for three decades, making a name for himself as a magazine photographer, working for most of the world’s top news magazines.
Of the book about his time in Tokyo, Girard says: “Whatever the nostalgic appeal of these photographs, their real value might be that they provide a glimpse of the moment when two historical streams passed each other headed in opposite directions. One, the decline of U.S. preeminence in the postwar world, particularly in Asia; the other, the emergence of an Asian city, the non-West, as the default for what our future might look like.”
You can see more of Girard’s work on his website, here.
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