Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Do you know this guy’s work: Sohei Nishino?  I didn’t till recently.  He walks around cities taking photographs.  Well, many do, of course, but after he’s walked his chosen city for a few weeks and shot literally thousands of photographs, he assembles the results into a kind of collage, something he calls a Diorama Map.  So far the cities he’s covered include Rio, New York, Berlin, and London. Thus:

The works are huge, this one is 2300 by 1283 mm.  He says he had a particularly hard time walking in London because of the cold, and says the original idea came about when he went on “Ohenro”, a walking pilgrimage that involved him visiting 88 temples, though he says he walked not so much for spiritual enlightenment as for the sake of the journey, which in itself is a spiritual proposition, of course.  He took photographs as he went, as a way of recording the route.  Then he started taking pictures of cities.

“I try not to think about, or research a city before visiting,” he said in an interview with the website The New Wolf. “I want to capture an impression of each city only when I’m there. What I don’t want is to be prejudiced towards it beforehand, to be forced into thinking from someone else’s point of view.
 Normally, when I get to a city I begin by walking around it, spending time familiarising myself with its size. The way I walk depends on where I am, it’s as if I’m absorbing the energy of each individual city.”

He also says in an interview with Foam,My passions are walking, meeting people, and discovering myself through the act of walking.”  Naturally he’s also walked and mapped some Japanese cities, including Tokyo, thus:

Tokyo is one of those places I’ve always said I want to visit, and it's true, but I’m daunted by it.  I’ve bought a few maps and guides, including this one, which despite the title is actually a book, an architectural guide to the city. 

Of course I didn’t expect to be able to understand the language but I wondered whether I’d even be able to make any sense of the maps.  The answer, as you see, yes and no:

I’ve thought that one way to tackle Tokyo would be simply to book into some hotel, then in the morning get up and start walking, more or less randomly for a good few hours, and do that every day, and sooner or later I’d start to feel at home.  Or perhaps I wouldn’t.

Obviously I have no idea what the experience would actually be like, but one of my points of reference is the cityscape photography of Nobuyoshi Araki.  Along with his many photographs of women in bondage, his wife, his cat, his toy dinosaurs, he also photographs streets scenes.  I love those chaotic images, all that clutter and unmatching buildings, the alleyways, the hanging cables ...

Clearly he must have done some walking in order to take those pictures, and I just discovered a book of his titled Tokyo Aruki (since his bibliography runs to several hundred volumes it’s easy to miss one), which translates as Tokyo Walks.  I assume there’s some pun in there on Aruki and Araki, but I don’t know if Japanese puns operate the way English ones do.

I just ordered a copy of the book and I’m told it’s on its way, but for now most of what I know about it comes from a website titled japanexposures on which John Sypal writes about it, and reveals that in the back there are maps showing the routes Araki took when photographing, thereby allowing the reader to follow in his footsteps, and take your own version of his pictures if you like.  I can’t decide whether this a fun idea or just very reductive, I suppose it depends on the spirit in which it’s done.

No doubt you could do something similar with Sohei Nishino’s work, though I suppose in his case the map would have to be as big as the dioramas he makes.  Ultimately of course, in the style of Borges and Lewis Carroll, you might have to make a map that was as big as the city itself.

And incidentally I did just find this quotation from Araki: "Photographing a city that is now my own is bothersome.  To be honest, I don't have any interest in any city besides Tokyo."

Here are the websites referred to above:

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