After spending 10 years in Japan, the American Sean Lotman has unveiled a disconcerting and psychedelic series about the country, far from the stereotypes of the “land of the rising sun”.

It’s almost like discovering Japan on acid. With Sunlanders, the Californian Sean Lotman has reinvented street photography by painting the country that adopted him 10 years ago in psychedelic colours. While his photos work alone, they form a troubling universe when placed side by side. The series is now available in book format with the publisher Bemojake, six years after Sean began the project. He invented the one-word title as a reference to the term “land of the rising sun”, which he finds especially clichés.


“I wanted to be original. I didn’t want my Japan to look like something the audience had already seen; I wanted to make a photo book that shakes things up and changes direction”, Sean told us. The artist deconstructs the myth of a country seen in old Akira Kurosawa films and brings alive a sort of waking-dream experience for the viewer, through colour photos shot on film.

The world through Technicolor films

The artist has set aside digital photography; by developing his photos in the darkroom he has the impression of really being able to claim ownership over his images. He found his style when he was around 35 years old: images with a very distinct ambience which he achieves by using the dodge and burn technique (where different areas of the photo are lightened or darkened). Developing just one photo can sometimes take him several hours. He draws inspiration from the Technicolor films made between 1930 and 1950, in which the blue, red and green have an unreal quality.


Arriving from Los Angeles in the middle of the 2000s, Sean Lotman first intended to capture the essence of Japan at a specific moment in time. “Bit by bit, I realised it would be more interesting to make a book about the country which shows it as it’s never been shown before. A Japan made of dreams, nightmares and oddities. Once I understood that, the ambience became much clearer, as did the prints, the editing, the narration and the overall vision”.

© Sean Lotman
© Sean Lotman

“Improve the haikus”

That said, the photographer still allowed for an element of chance in his meticulous work: “The image of the taxi [above] was taken in a small town in the middle of nowhere, in Tohoku, in the north of Japan. I was changing trains, I was waiting outside for the departure and I saw someone get out of the taxi. The light was perfect […]. No one came, so I took the photo with the door open, with the light illuminating the facades in the background”. Sunlanders is his first photo book. Printed in Italy and published in London, it has a print-run of 1000 copies and costs 30 pounds. At the same time, Sean is leading a long-term project called Blown Zen Moments, where he pairs photos taken on a Diana F with a haiku he’s written. “I have 45 images for the moment; to finish the project I’m going to drink a ton of sake and improve the haikus”, he told us.

© Sean Lotman


Images by © Sean Lotman