Memory City

“One also wonders what Sontag, or indeed Baudelaire, would have made of Sohei Nishino, a young Japanese photographer whose work goes on show for the first time in Britain at the Michael Hoppen gallery next week. Like Winogrand, Nishino is an obsessive, one who relentlessly pounds the streets with a camera. Yet unlike Winogrand, and every other photographer mentioned above, Nishino does not go in search of the city’s dark seamy corners or neglected populations. What he does is photograph the city in detail, and then construct a composite map from the thousands of detailed images he has amassed on his wanderings. Thus far, he has recreated 10 cities, including Tokyo, Paris, Istanbul and New York. The end results, which he calls “diorama maps”, are both breathtaking in their ambition and disorienting in their oddness.

“Last year, Nishino spent a month walking the streets of London – which, come to think of it, does not seem that long a time for the task in hand. He took over 10,000 photographs, which, on his return to Tokyo, he edited down to 4,000. Then the real work began. Having hand-printed the photographs in his own darkroom, Nishino then set about cutting them up and piecing them together – slowly and meticulously – into a giant composite photographic map of the city of London. It measures 7.5ft x 4ft, and will be shown at Michael Hoppen alongside his other diorama maps.

“In the meticulous assembling of these photomaps, Nishino creates epic artworks that, despite depicting many familiar icons of modernity and post-modernity – the Empire State building, the Gherkin, the Pompidou Centre – look oddly old-fashioned. He creates what look like medieval or renaissance maps of modern cities. In them, everything is familiar yet oddly disjointed, nothing seems quite in scale and, here and there, whole areas are missing or seem crushed or out-of-proportion. Some of his photographs are taken from above, some from far below. Buildings loom and tilt, as does the terrain, and sometimes a segment of put-together sky appears.

“For Nishino, it would seem, the process is the thing. He has paid homage to the great 18th-century Japanese cartographer, Ino Tadataka, who spent 17 years surveying and mapping the coastline of Japan. (The mammoth project was completed by his surveying team after his death.) But Nishino’s obsessive cartography is of a different order: fantastical rather than scientific; imaginative rather than literal. “His images are true to form in a sense, and yet incorrect”, notes Seiji Komatsu, director of the Emon Photography gallery in Tokyo. “In other words, he is trying to depict an image that comes from within the memory.”

Unreal cities: Sohei Nishino’s magical photographic maps of London, Tokyo and utopia, The Guardian, February 24, 2011.

Image: Diorama Map Night (2009-10) … Nishino’s cities are ‘familiar yet oddly disjointed’. Photograph: Sohei Nishino/Michael Hoppen Contemporary/Emon Photo Gallery

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