Japan throughout the seasons

Italian nature photographer Marco Ronconi has a special connection with Japan. As he works on his third and most elaborate project, he talks to us about his fascination with the country’s wildlife and what draws him to the archipelago along the Asian East Coast.

“Even before my first two books—Chiaro Scuro in 2020 and Hueco Mundo in 2022 – I wanted Japan to be the central stage of a project”, Marco tells us. “The country has been one of my main interests, and I visited it regularly until 2020. Then the pandemic started, and Japan became inaccessible for two years.”

The North has drawn his attention for many reasons. “People interested in Northern Japan focus on the winter and the infamous hotspots: the swans, the stellar eagles, and the cranes. However, the expansive region has many stunning places that evolve beautifully during the seasons. There are mountains, volcanoes, lakes, this incredible countryside, and many intriguing animals like brown bears, foxes, and killer whales … Northern Japan lies on the same latitude as Alaska and has a similar morphology. It’s every bit as diverse. It always amazes me that nature photographers haven’t explored this more.”

Marco’s work and preferred style reflect several principles of Japanese aesthetics, such as Yügen (profound grace and subtlety), Shinto (deep respect for the wholeness of nature and the beauty of landscapes), and minimalism. “This has always appealed to me, even without knowledge of the Japanese principles. I prefer a minimal and holistic approach,” he tells us.

“I also bought a small Japanese book about powerful colour combinations, to guide my choices. I link this to the seasons. Throughout the year, I see 3 dominant colours in nature – the white of winter, the green of spring and summer, and the terracotta shades of autumn. These are beautiful colours that bring peace of mind. To me, art is meditation, and many places in Japan create the perfect setting for this.”

Japan feels like home to Marco – a safe place. But the country harbours more than meets the eye, he tells us. “I’m also inspired by the beliefs of the Aino, the indigenous people whose culture has disappeared. As you know, I named my publishing company after their word for ‘spirit’ – Kamui. The animals are deities to the Aino, and they attribute great strength and personality to them. For example, the cranes are deities of the marshlands; the brown bear is the God of the mountains … It inspires me to photograph them in these settings, in different seasons.

I’m planning several more visits to Japan this and next year, I am dedicated to this project. As you know, I’m a perfectionist. I’m still refining my idea; it will be my biggest challenge yet. This will be my declaration of love to the archipelago.

Packing the right gear

Marco likes to travel light and compact, and needs backpacks that allow him to reach for his camera quickly when an opportunity arises. That’s why he uses the Rise Trip Pack and Rise X50 Multicam. When wading the waters, The Suit is convenient for him.

And, of course, there’s the Ponting Ronconi – a waterproof pack he tested in Alaska as a prototype. “I thought it was great, so Jan named it after me”, Marco smiles.

All images © Marco Ronconi