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The Fruits of "Alone in Kyoto"

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Photo by Simon Jowett, published as Public Domain in the Creative Commons via Flickr. Here is his description:

"Today I missed the direct train home from work and ended up taking a longer route. None of the following is a complaint. I do, of course, fully understand the need for social distancing measures. I did though want to record how I felt on the journey. It was a very strange experience: seats taped up ‘out of use’, hardly any passengers at rush hour, lengthy one way systems to navigate. It all felt like landing in a very different country, but with elements of familiarity. It was the most surreal journey I’ve ever made. The picture was taken at York and shows 802218 with a Newcastle to Liverpool Lime Street service. To be fair, the TPE trains have clear but discrete social distancing signs in the form reservation type labels with a red and cross/green and tick to indicate where to sit. 4th June 2020"

The title refers to a track by Air of the same name, the "Lost in Translation" version. He provides a link to the track on YouTube. I have a little bit of familiarity with Air, in as much I fell in love many years back with their album, "10,000 Hz Legend." It's because Simon presented the music information first in the description of the photo on its Flickr page that I initially got confused about where the photo was taken. I've posted quite a bit of the work I've done on this image on IG and FB, and throughout I said that this was a picture of a station in Kyoto. Lesson learned about reading all the details first.


I knew immediately upon first seeing this photo that it was ripe for manipulation. My first pass at it was a simple one using GIMP. First, the necessary scaling and tweaking (MCB, Cartoon, and Unsharp Mask) to make it a suitable size for printing (usually around 8600x6500). Then, duplicate layers mirrored and rotated using the Lighten Only Layer Mode (Image 1). Image 2 was made by applying Polar Coordinates, then Offsetting. Images 3 and 4 were made by applying the Kaleidoscope filter, and then again on the result.

Not bad, and I like the final mandala quite a bit; the palette is very soft with light, warm grey tones, and one of the artifacts produced looks like something like a butterfly. Just for fun, I threw it on to a pair of leggings using Zazzle. Placing the centre of the mandala just below the right (occasionally left) hip is something I do regularly. Again, not bad. I would call these leggings mild, and it's good to have mild offerings because not everyone likes to wear strong and/or busy patterns.

A quick word about Zazzle. They have an excellent design interface, the best in my experience. You can add layers, flip, crop, rotate, resize, filter (to a limited degree) and add text with a pretty impressive selection of fonts. Layout is assisted with dynamic alignment lines which flash green when layer edges align or meet, and red for centre alignment. This means you can do a lot with just one image or use bits of multiple images - total flexibility. Equally great is the on-the-fly preview mode that reflects design changes in real time. This allows very for very efficient and fine-grained position tweaking. Finally, the views of their virtual models capture all the relevant sides, something one would think is a necessity but is often overlooked on some platforms (I'm looking at you, Society6!). Their prices, though, are very high. The above leggings cost $92.40, and a print-all-over tank-top is $61.60. Ouch! These prices are so high, in fact, that I have not ordered anything from them. Consequently, I really just use Zazzle as a design tool.

The Zazzle design interface
The Zazzle design interface


The above designs have a lot of white space and don't include the very dramatic roof because the lower half of the photo is predominantly off-white and I used the Lighten Only option. To get the full effect of the roof, I cropped to it, mirrored the result, and rotated it 90 degrees. I like the sci-fi borehole feel of this image; perhaps a zero-gravity transit tube. I also really love the palette and strong contrasts, evoking early black and white photography. A fusion of wartime newsreel and Buck Rogers.

Manipulating this image has been very rewarding. Those radiating ribs start to create some mesmerizing patterns after multiple mirroring via Kaleidoscope and distorting, usually using Polar Coordinates. The following image was produced by two passes with the Kaleidoscope filter:

Here's one of the more deconstructed versions that I like a lot, along with some detail views. It has, I think, a strong graphic novel quality, if the book was about a splintering and fragmenting environment:

Other variations, in more-or-less chronological order:


I've placed a number of these images on tanks and leggings using Zazzle. No doubt I will also be uploading some of these to Redbubble as well.

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