Border town:
 Go Itami’s Tokyo

“For me, Tokyo is a photographic subject and a place of residence”.

Any city other than Tokyo would trigger images we recognise. The familiar presence of coffee chains would pull you back into the safety and comfort of recognisable territory. Imagine that comfort zone also bore the heavy burden of recent catastrophe and the vague surrounding presence it now has and you would be close to appreciating the quiet and discrete skill of Go Itami, born in Tokushima-city, Shikoku and now living in Tokyo.

Itami’s skill, his attention to detail, is the clue to how he sees his adoptive city, now mentioned not only in terms of global importance but also being only several hundred kilometres from the site of the Fukushima Daichi power station nuclear meltdown in 2011 and the subsequent exclusion zone that catastrophe created.

“The distance from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is about 220 km. I don’t forget this. It is the reality of our life.”

Though relatively far from the centre of Tokyo, this incident created a boundary both mental as much as physical. Tokyo’s close proximity to Fukushima prefecture now offers an uncertain perspective which, over time, is gaining strange significance. What happened then in Eastern Japan is a hard thing to summarise, not least in simple photographic terms. Itami faces the challenge of tackling these boundaries and borders to create an image that stands in the face of such overbearing events.

Focusing not on alienation, his attention has shifted to the urban climb looking for subtle changes constantly taking place amidst urban and technological change. He’s doing this as a young father, with a young family so juggling these disparate concerns is an interesting challenge in itself. The difference is Itami places emphasis on how his images are seen, their orientation and reproduction, not through the camera as a way to be judgemental. Again, photography is just a means to an end. Images give way to empty fields of colour, discarded objects carefully arranged against the curve of a leg, in use and in action. In this respect, the actual photograph is secondary. His images are caught between the product of distant observation and the outcome of their design process and final presentation.

His recent photo book Study, designed by The Simple Society and published by Rondade perforated binding turns each page into a potential poster. An interest in early Modernists like Swiss typographer Emil Ruder, points toward this interest in functional elegance. His typesetting, grids and page structures partly inform Itami’s image arrangement and composition. Street markings, brickwork interrupted by cracking masonry, and empty pedestrian crossings are follow by images that act like the grammar of a visual pause or comma.

In conversation with graphic designer Hirokazu Matsuda, Itami describes this photographic approach to ‘drawing’, as being ‘in between’, drawing forth, drawing on, demarcating and quoting from. The drawn line encircles both form and meaning. “A new level, which we could call ‘principles of drawing’ seems to unfold before our eyes”.

Taking his images at face value you see a place thats bright and optimistic. Without any asian reference they could be of almost anywhere. This is where strange tension exists. Coffee cans submerged in ink and water look like aerial maps. Heels look like elbows and images from street level look as if they’re studio photography.

“I think theres a beauty here resembling order in chaos, desire, excess and the inhuman. Their complex connection reveal beauty in unexpected forms every day.”

Caught between the natural environment and a place of prefabrication, his images don’t represent the kind of phantom ‘Zone’ reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, where leaving the black and white of industry switches to the colour and phenomena of wildlife. Instead, Itami represents Tokyo as an urban zone thats equally as potent. The ambiguous proximity between places, objects and the merest hint of people make an ideal place to test, explore and encapsulate this city’s shifting boundaries and visual borders.

“Black and white, left and right; the border where both sides overlap, a place where neither belong. Photography for me is the act of creating and visualising that border.”
Study (2013) Rondade, Tokyo —

An abridged version features in Elephant Magazine #20