Tokyo, Ja­pan

Newsweek - - NEWS - BRYAN WALSH

TOKYO IS A CITY to drive a car­tog­ra­pher mad. Each of its 23 wards is a city unto it­self, and they all have their own may­ors and coun­cils. Only the most ma­jor streets ac­tu­ally bear names, and the postal ad­dress sys­tem is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble even to many lo­cals. When I lived in Tokyo in 2006 and 2007, I de­pended on a men­tal map that bore no re­la­tion to the city as it was—only how I lived it. So I rec­og­nize So­hei Nishino’s Dio­rama Map Tokyo, as one might rec­og­nize a shared dream. The work is part of Nishino’s “Dio­rama Map” project, a se­ries of pho­to­graphic por­traits of cap­i­tal cities that will be shown as part of this year’s Prix Pictet pho­tog­ra­phy-award ex­hi­bi­tion, be­gin­ning in May. Once at his des­ti­na­tion—am­s­ter­dam or London or Tokyo—nishino walks the streets, tak­ing pho­to­graph af­ter pho­to­graph. Later, in rec­ol­lec­tion, he as­sem­bles a map of the city that cor­re­sponds not to ge­og­ra­phy but to his mem­ory. “I felt that by look­ing through the lens, I could truly mea­sure and cap­ture the size of the city and the dis­tance be­tween the ob­ject and me,” he tells me.

Nishino’s Tokyo is ar­ranged around the Su­mida River, a body of wa­ter that was cen­tral to the city dur­ing the Edo pe­riod, be­tween the 17th and 19th cen­turies. He found him­self fo­cus­ing on the river­side and took snap­shots from a ca­noe. His Tokyo is not mine—i had to look up the Su­mida to re­mem­ber where it was, and I wouldn’t have dared to take a ca­noe in Tokyo if the thought had ever oc­curred to me, which it most cer­tainly didn’t.

And that is what makes Nishino’s work so valu­able. The birth of the iphone—which ar­rived just af­ter I left Tokyo—gave us ge­o­graph­i­cally per­fect maps at the touch of a screen. But if we al­ways know where we are, we’ve lost the abil­ity to make maps of our own. “I think we need to have our own scale to mea­sure the size of the world, and it is much more ac­cu­rate and more real,” Nishino says. I’ll carry my Tokyo with me wher­ever I go, as Nishino will his—as you or any trav­eler could, should you open your eyes.

“Prix Pictet: Space,” Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, London, May 6-28, then tour­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally; PRIXPICTET.COM

TAK­ING A DIF­FER­ENT VIEW: So­hei Noshino’s com­pos­ite Dio­rama Map Tokyo goes on dis­play shortly as part of this year’s Prix Pictet pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion.

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