Tokyo 2014. Light jet print. October 2013 - March 2014.
Sohei Nishino has been turning his ground-level photography of major cities into colossally scoped dioramas for more than a decade. But even though his aesthetic approach hasn’t changed much in that period, each new project demonstrates how his skill sharpens with age. His newest diorama map, Tokyo 2014, which he finished this March, is a significant step-up from his 2004 iteration of the same city. The districts and buildings stand out from the metropolitan clutter with pinpoint clarity; the hundreds of individual pictures press and blend into each other so fluidly that a quick glance tricks the eye into thinking it’s all a single image.
Tokyo 2014 was first featured on April 19 at the Kyotographie International Photography Festival in Kyoto, Japan where it will be on display until May 11th. In light of its debut, we got in touch with the award-winning photographer to talk about his creative process, how he’s grown as an artist since the first Tokyo, and which cities he’ll be documenting next.
The Creators Project: Describe the creative process behind your diorama maps—how are they made from beginning to end?
Sohei Nishino: I start my process by walking around each city I visit. The first thing I normally do when I arrive to the city is visit its highest point to see the whole view. Then I start shooting. During my stay, I start to learn about the city by communicating with local people. It depends on the city, but I normally take pictures from 60-100 different locations. Then I go back to Tokyo to do film processing, which means making the prints in a dark room and cutting out the contact sheets by hand. After drawing a rough draft on white canvas, I then make a collage. Finally, I re-shoot the collage in a studio to make a print from the data.
Does each map require you to live in the cities you’re documenting?
Basically, I stay in an apartment for about one or one and a half months for the shooting and then I go back to Tokyo.
How long did it take for you to complete your most recent collage, Tokyo 2014?
It was the longest ever. It took 6 months to complete it.
Which city was the most difficult to document, and why?
That would be Delhi in India. I walked around with an assistant to make appointments for shooting various buildings, but of these appointments more than half were canceled because the people in charge of the buildings forgot about the appointment or came too late. These kinds of things happened almost everyday. Besides, I got food poisoning twice during my stay and lost about 7.5 kilograms within one and half months. The fact that temperatures were around 40 degrees Celsius also made it difficult to walk around outside. But in spite of these things, it was a very exciting time.
Little has changed, aesthetically, about your diorama maps since 2003's Osaka. You still rely on black and white, and each photograph works together in the same jagged continuity as papier-mache. What is it about this style that keeps your attention?
I originally started taking photographs after my experience walking a pilgrimage route called "OHENRO" in Shikoku, Japan. During this pilgrimage I shot various landscapes and eventually displayed the finished product as a grid. The Diorama Map series is more or less the same concept, in that I combine almost all of the photographs I shoot in a city to create a giant composite. For me, it is more like a self portrait in that all the photographs reflect my foot path and how I communicated with a certain location. I feel like walking around these cities is very close to the act of the pilgrimage itself. My interest is to discover the world through my movements and walks, which is why I keep creating in this style.
One outlier to that concept is Delhi. Why did you decide to use colored portraits in that piece?
Actually, I used color film for the Bern map of Switzerland too. This is because I encountered festivals in both cities. In Bern, when I passed through the dancers dressed in colorful clothes and saw the carnival’s marching band, I instantly put the color film into my camera. It was an impulse that demonstrated how I react to the subjects in front of me. It might also be because when I shot the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, I shot these very colorful parades in black and white, which now I regret a little. I want to keep every city in neutral colors as much as possible, as this reflects my memory of each location, so that's why I normally use black and white. However, precisely speaking, when I make a print, I use color paper and all the cities are printed in different colors, if you look carefully. They’re not entirely black and white.
Bern. Light jet print. 1947 x 1800 mm. February - July 2012.
You made a diorama map of Tokyo in 2004, which strongly emphasized the city's roads and transportation infrastructure. The 2014 edition defines Tokyo's landmark buildings and city districts much more clearly. Why the change in focus?
One reason is the change the city underwent within the past 10 years. The other part—the biggest change—is myself. When I made the first Tokyo map, I was a student, and I often went to the tops of highrise buildings just to escape and watch the city below. At that time, I wasn’t sure how well I communicated with society and with people. However, as I continued the series, I started to have more communications with people, which made me realize that city is almost like a complex, living creature.
Around the time I made the Hong Kong map, I started to photograph people which was a big change for me as I didn't try to include people within the maps before. This time, when I made the newest Tokyo map, I was more focused on finding shooting points through the network of people rather than just visiting public towers or viewpoints where tourists normally access. By going inside the community and local area, I wanted to capture the living Tokyo from our eye level, and not just from birds eye view.
What city do you plan on documenting next?
I’m visiting Amsterdam in the middle of May. I also plan to visit Venice, Mexico City, and Johannesburg.
Keep up to date with Sohei Nishino over at his website.
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