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unreal cities

February 25, 2011

[Guardian] “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker,” wrote Susan Sontag in On Photography, “reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.” Sontag’s “voyeuristic strollers” included Atget, Brassai and WeeGee, all of whom were “not attracted to the city’s official realities but to its dark seamy corners, its neglected populations”. She could also have mentioned Bill Brandt, an often-solitary wanderer on the night-time streets of wartime London, or Cartier-Bresson, forever in search of the decisive moment, as well as all manner of street photographers, from the frantically obsessive Gary Winogrand to the gently observant Helen Levitt.

Interestingly, Sontag also saw the photographer as a kind of flaneur. “Adept at the joys of watching,” she wrote, “connoisseur or empathy, the flaneur finds the world ‘picturesque'”. The term “flaneur”, which originally meant “stroller”, “saunterer” and, interestingly, “loafer”, was appropriated by the poet Charles Baudelaire, to describe “a person who walks the street in order to experience it”. That is certainly what street photographers do, though one wonders if the act of taking a photograph, as well as the photographer’s need to be constantly on the look-out for a subject, might come between the walking and the experiencing; might, in fact, run contrary to the meandering spirit of flaneurism (flaneurie?).

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. (read)

Sohei Nishino artist’s website

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One Comment leave one →
  1. roxana permalink
    February 28, 2011 3:50 pm

    well, that’s the perfect method to hide that every one of those 4000 pics used here is actually banal. you may call me old-fashioned (which for sure i am :-), but i will take every time a single Bresson photo over these huge maps.
    (and i know what you will say, that i am judging them with the wrong standards, that this shouldn’t be judged as ‘photography’ but something else, beyond that etc.etc. – still, not convinced)

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