Huh — A Photo-a-Week Newsletter
It is crazy difficult to stay inside these days here in the Kanto region of Japan — we are amidst the glory of Mild Japanese Winter, and every single moment of every afternoon is suffused with glancing golden sunshine and blue skies and the textures of the stone walls and wooden fences and roof tiles and bamboo groves down all the winding backroads are glowing with this better-than-HDR mega-HDR-like quality of light. Which means the days must be structured around walks or runs or bike rides or else you’ll go nuts. It’s simply too nice not to be outside.
And so it’s within this spectacular winter season I’ve been wrangling together a new newsletter focused on photographs. A single photo a week. That’s it. It’s called huh, and Season One runs from March 3 - July 14. Twenty weeks. This first season’s full title is: huh, A Cafe with a View of the Waterfall. You can subscribe and read the welcome essay here or here:
Why why why another newsletter? Couple things we’re playing with here:
- This is a hack to get me to go back through my voluminous archives of past walk-related photographs and try to collate them into “seasons” of twenty-photo sets
- It’s a hack to “look ever more closely” and we’re doing that, in part, by flipping image <-> description flow: you’ll get a one sentence “alt text” of the image as the email, and can choose to tap/click through to see the photograph
- I want a nicer place for my photographs to live online, something distinctly separate from, say, Instagram1 — so the landing pages for each of these images will allow for viewing high-res versions of the shots, tapping, zooming, flitting around; again, in service to “looking closely”
- This is a forcing function to get me to offer limited prints of photograph more regularly — the plan is to conclude each season with a print
Last year, the publication of Kissa by Kissa validated my impulse to produce “book shaped” things. Books are great “homes” for photographs, so I’d like to make more of them. In my SPECIAL PROJECTS year-end membership essay I talk about books and the membership program and my general goals in life as an artist-shaped human:
My main goal is embarrassingly simple: A continuous and rigorous production of book-shaped projects until I’m dead … And so, whenever I embark on a new membership-adjacent project — walk, newsletter, members-only zoom session, podcast, et cetera — the main question in mind is: How does this help us make a book?
huh is above all a book-helper — i.e., I can imagine a few seasons coming together as a photo book. As I wrote above, at the very least I expect it to generate prints.
But I also want it to be an archetype for other photographers to steal. In my welcome to huh essay I write:
As I was conjuring up the shape of this thing it struck me as slightly insane that more photographers don’t do this — mail out a single photo once a week. Ideally we’d subscribe to a cadre of our favorites. Maybe they’d all arrive on Wednesday and Wednesday would be this visual inbox party. No comments, no likes, no stream of other images to compete against, no Reels to be sucked into, no algorithmic curveballs. Just a few compelling images, from the four or five photographers whose work we adore. Things to be enjoyed as units unto themselves in ways that are difficult to do in the din of social streams. And best of all — if you want to say something nice, we just have to hit reply. No public-space posturing.
And, as for the name:
Looking closely and deliberately is more difficult than it sounds. It’s a deceptive skill, but one that accrues huge dividends in small quantities. The closer you look, the more details you notice, and with each detail, a little: huh.
Huh is the unassuming sound made by curiosity in motion. “To get good at the huh is to get good at both paying attention and nurturing compassion; if you don’t notice, you can’t give a shit. But the huh is only half the equation. You gotta go huh, alright — the ‘alright,’ the followup, the openness to what comes next is where the cascade lives. It’s the sometimes-sardonic, sometimes-optimistic engine driving the next huh and so on and so forth.”
So, would you like to join me?
I noticed a strange cafe a few years ago and it elicited a huh, that’s a pretty weird cafe with a view of the waterfall.
Let’s see where this takes us.
I’m sort of banging on the hull of Instagram a bit here — to be clear: Instagram is very good and miraculous for certain things, and not so good for many other things. I think it’s become significantly less good at simply being a place for photos to live; but then again, it’s never been great at that. So my general philosophy of these social networks is to lean into what they do well — a bit of distribution, a bit of playfulness — and don’t kill yourself trying to make them do things for which they aren’t designed. So — I’ll promote huh on Instagram, but probably won’t put many of the posts up there. ↩︎