Adrian Storey aka Uchujin(1972), is a photographer / film maker residing in Tokyo Japan. Born in the UK but residing in Asia over the past 15 years, Adrian has been living the kind of life that makes you want to get out of your office chair and do more with your life. His endless fascination with people and the world in general has led him to many adventures and interesting personalities all across the world (including the Daila Lama, but we’ll get to that). All in all, more than enough reason to tell you a little bit more about the story of Uchujin.
..making documentary films and taking photos helps me to understand the world and myself.
We’ve came to know Adrian as a photographer. His eclectic photography series ranging from the Kiberian olympic boxing team to a behind the scenes series on Sundays in a Japanese pole-dancing club, aptly named ‘On the 7th day’. Little did we know he’s also a talented film-maker with short documentary’s, music video’s and short films on his name.
Adrian: “I started out as a still photographer. My dad gave me my first camera (a 110) when I was maybe 12 years old. My father is an artist and despite a brief inevitable period during puberty where hormonal rebellion took over, has been an inspiration to me my whole life.”
“It was just a hobby for a long time and I shot film until a motorcycle accident in Laos destroyed my Canon film SLR (and left me a little bruised and bloody too:). I switched to digital at that point when the cameras where not really up to scratch but even then the workflow was so much more immediate that I was prepared to put up with the shortcomings. I started to take photography seriously after meeting the French fashion photographer Sebran D’Argent in a hotel in Dehli around the year 2000. He saw some of my photos and told me they were good, it gave me the push I needed to take it more seriously.”
“Ever since that first 110 camera I have been interested in telling stories, I love the power that a single image can have but a set of linked images or a well edited documentary film can convey subtleties and context that is difficult to include in a single image.”
“The progression into film making seemed like a logical and inevitable one. I had a 5D MII and the DSLR film making revolution was happening and I just decided one day to start playing around with the video function. It was a steep but amazingly interesting learning curve to become proficient with the technologies and once I had the possibilities seemed endless. I feel like all that time shooting stills helped enormously with certain aspects of my film making and indeed continues to inform my sense of framing and narrative progression.”
“I keep doing it because despite what I regard as a healthy misanthropy, a deeply seated belief borrowed from Jean Paul Satre that “hell is other people” I am endlessly fascinated by the weird and wonderful lives that people live. I hate not understanding something, making documentary films and taking photos helps me to understand the world and myself. Every work we produce is a self portrait.”
As Adrian’s about page on his website states: “Ranging from fashion modelling to a stint as a sound engineer for the Dali Lama” we had to know more about the latter, of course.
That meeting led to a 5 year involvement with Tibetan Buddhism that took me on some of the most incredible journeys of my life.
Adrian: “The Dali Lama story is a convoluted series of incredible synchronicities that happened before and during my first trip to India in 1999. To cut a long story short, I had been working as a sound engineer and musician in England but my muse had deserted me, so I quit my job and decided to go looking for her in “Mother” India. On my second day there I was introduced to a guy on a hotel roof (who would turn out to be one of the greatest and most inspiring friends I’ve ever had) who was freaking out because he was leaving Dehli after 2 days to be the sound engineer for the Dali Lama’s millennium teachings in Bodh Gaya and his second engineer had just dropped out due to illness. “Where” he asked “am I going to find a sound engineer at such short notice?”. That meeting led to a 5 year involvement with Tibetan Buddhism that took me on some of the most incredible journeys of my life. In fact just typing that has made me go all goose bumpy.”
It seems to me after spending extended time periods in a variety of places that people are people where ever they are from…
From previous interviews with Europeans and North-Americans that moved to Japan, we gathered that getting into Japanese society isn’t easy. Adrian moved to Japan 9 years ago.
“Before Japan I’d lived in Thailand (1 1/2 years) and India (~2 years) and spent the rest of the time “finding myself” (only 1/2 joking) wandering around in Asia – Pakistan, China, Tibet, Nepal, Laos & Cambodia. I’d been interested in Japan for sometime, it seemed so inpeneratrable a society looking from outside and that piqued my interest- bound to be some good stories! In all honesty it was just a geographical accident really, I was in Thailand and it just seemed the next logical step in my journey East. Of course the fact that I’d met my wife to be and she was Japanese may have influenced the move too.” Adrian explains.
“‘Uchujin’ means Alien in Japanese, initially the result of a mispronunciation of my name (Adrian=Alien) it resonated with me for a number of reasons. I’d been living in places where six foot tall white guys with long hair, tattoos and piercings tend to stand out so I’d been feeling “other” for sometime. One of my favourite books is “Stranger in a strange land” by Robert Heinlein which tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians, I guess I identify with Valentine. On a more practical level I wanted a “brand” I could use to work under. It seems to work, many people here call me Uchujin (my wife actually calls me Alien) and I think most of them don’t even remember my actual name, but they never forget the Alien :)”
“As to how it is living in Japan, that is a question I always baulk at being asked. It’s very difficult for me to answer as I’m quite conflicted about it. On the one hand living here has given me the opportunity to go deeply into my work in a safe, efficient and yet hugely varied and interesting city. I’ve met some amazing people here and formed relationships that have enriched me immeasurably both artistically and personally. On the other hand my personal experience is that it’s not the nicest place to be long term, there is a thin but incredibly tough veneer of hello kitty politeness which obscures a widely held set of racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes made all the worse by the denial of those things existing. It has taught me a valuable lesson about my own (and the society I come from’s) prejudices to live as a white middle class male in a place where the discrimination is aimed at me. It seems to me after spending extended time periods in a variety of places that people are people where ever they are from, there are nice people and not so nice people and some real arseholes. That doesn’t seem to be country specific.”
As mentioned before, one of the things that makes Adrian’s work so endlessly fascinating is his unrestrained interest in to his peers. This makes discovering his photo’s and video’s like the Droste effect (or as Xzibit would say: “Yo dawg, I heard you’re interested in artists so I’ve got an artist with interest in artists so you can satisfy your interest into artists while being interested into an artist”). The video’s and series he produces varies from his own father who is a freelance illustrator to his peer photographer Charlie Kirk, whom we featured earlier on cfye.com.
Adrian: “As Bob Dylan once intoned “If my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine”. I struggle with the fact that I don’t consider myself to be a very nice person. I look around at all the amazing work being done by my peers who all seem to be such lovely people and I want to understand them. Artists of every genre put so much of themselves into their work, stuff they probably don’t tell their closest confidants even if they could put it into words. That fascinates me. I want to peer into their “thought dreams” to find how they are different to mine and most importantly what if any similarities there are. Understanding oneself through the other.”
Though not explicitly mentioned, adventure just oozes out of Adrian his work. His 2014 recap makes you wonder how much more places he went and interesting people he met that aren’t shared on his site. Asking for a specific adventure proves to be difficult.
Adrian: “If I take a moment to think about it I realise that I have been places, done things and lived a life that seems inconceivable to me from this nice comfy chair in Tokyo. 15 years ago, When I first returned from India to the UK to visit friends and family I quickly became embarrassed at the sound of my own voice, I had so many stories to tell, so many adventures to relate that it seemed a ridiculous imposition to think that people would care. A few years ago I gave a speech at my 40th birthday party – I was freaking out a bit about being 40. I said (amongst other things):”
“I’ve been so high and danced for so long that I literally became one with the Gaian mind, I’ve cried like a baby at 5,850m as I left items from friends old and new at Drolma La, the highest pass of the Mt Kailash Kora in Tibet, thereby removing all the negative karma accrued in this life, I’ve backed away smiling with calm detachment as the Taliban fighter pointed his AK47 at me and shouted in Pashtun in a gun and hash market in Peshawar Pakistan, I’ve had a tiny glimpse of what the Tibetans call emptiness after 5 hour meditation sessions in a monastery overlooking the Kathmandu valley in which I could no longer feel my legs, I’ve crossed moral boundaries in Bangkok that would cause the Marquis de Sade to give me a high-five and I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion………ok not that last one.”
“I could go on, I mean I haven’t even mentioned wrestling with a lion in Pakistan, hanging out with the Dali Lama or hurtling helmet less on a motorbike on a road with no safety barriers in the Himalayas and being so close to death from the oncoming insane truck driver that I could literally see the dirt under his finger nails.”
“Sometimes I forget just how lucky I have been in my experiences.
I do generally prefer to relate my adventures to people in person so I can check for that glazing over in the eyes of the other person that occurs when I’ve talked too much.”
Adrian’s story makes it clear that he isn’t done with going new places and meeting new people. So what more can we expect from Uchujin in the future?
Adrian: “Well I guess I’m too old to be a rock star now right? Joking aside (though thats not really a joke) I have very itchy feet at the moment. I feel the need to throw myself on the mercy of the universe and go somewhere crazy, not war zone crazy, I’m definitely too old for that! But there’s so much of the world I haven’t seen. I went to the USA for the first time last year, after never really wanting to go, and it was amazing. I drove through Death Valley with a good friend of mine and I really thought “Wow” this is just a tiny little fragment of North America, I wonder what the rest has to offer. I definitely see relocating and more travel in the near future. I’m about 6 months in to making my first feature documentary with another film maker friend here in Tokyo which is proving very interesting, I’m planning a little fiction short as I’ve never really done any fiction work and I’d really like to do more music videos. I really enjoy getting hired to do things I’d never have thought of, learning about things I’d never even considered (potential clients please take note:). I am constantly trying to learn something, it makes me a little crazy if I don’t. I hope that drive never leaves me as it drives me forward in my work, I am always searching for the next weird and wonderful thing to sink my teeth into.”