Monday, 28 February 2011

Mapping a city

I went to a superb exhibition over the weekend. Sohei Nishino makes collages combining thousands of small photos into a "map" of a city. Last year he made one diorama of London (and a couple from his imagination of an island and city at night). The huge undertaking makes a kind of single "snapshot" out of thousands, making the city the star and the photographs simple reactions to being there. The finished prints are like some sort of little ocular history. From a distance the "map"-ness prevails – in the sense that London is suggested by the familiar curve of the Thames and hills to the north, Hiroshima by its three rivers, Tokyo by the Yamanote line etc – close up, little details emerge – part tourist, part personal, part city-portrait.

There's something obsessive about them – in both the taking and the making. (Apparently he narrowed down the shots for the London picture to 4,000.) And this makes them all the more fun. London, the most recent, is also the most confident, doubling in scale from previous assemblages. The first, in 2003, is of Osaka, and doesn't have so much of a focus, but Hong Kong, also last year, is a wonderful portrait with the sea between island and mainland dramatically taking up half the picture. Meanwhile, Kyoto has its surrounding green and temples, but is rightly dominated by city, and Istanbul has an unexpected stream of passers-by, making it suddenly a more peopled city.

Viewing this doesn't work well on the internet (which could be taken as a plus) – the originals are full of tiny photos but each is between 1.3 and 1.7 metres square, and the London one is 2.3 metres long. Nishino is only 28 and has been doing this for about 8 years, covering 10 cities in Japan and the rest of the world. Fascinating and excellent.
Details of the London diorama above from the website of the gallery he's exhibiting in at the moment, the Emon Gallery in Tokyo.

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