Last week we introduced the Berlin-based photographer Andreas Meichsner with his long-term documentation of a building site of the German government in Berlin. This week we complete our portrait with one of his personal projects called “32,000,000” in which he approached the urban agglomeration of Tokyo during his one-year-stay at Hiroshima University.
When we discussed which of your projects you would like to show on uncube, you suggested to take two in order to combine a commissioned with a non-commissioned work. Also on your website, you differentiate between “personal projects” and “commissions”. What is the main difference?
The main difference is the amount of time that you have for the project. Within my personal projects I try to pay equal attention to content, societal relevance and photographic style; which is of course difficult to balance, and sometimes needs years to reach a certain maturity before publishing it or turning it into an exhibition. So I think that my personal projects help me to develop my societal and personal stance as well as my style as a photographer. A commission mostly means that there is a tight deadline, so it seems necessary to already have a style and a stance and to know how to include or apply it.
“32,000,000” refers to the population size of the Tokyo region, why did you choose to show it here?
I chose this work, because it was the first project where I combined ideals from both a content-oriented documentary approach with that of a more formal composition-oriented architectural approach. When I changed from studying architecture to photography, my first years at university were focused on reportages and documentary photography. It was mostly about content and taking images of the “right moment”.
However, my personal approach to photography was originally just as much about composition and framing, which I was missing in the main focus of my education. In the “32,000,000” I combined the ideals from documentary photography with my aesthetical interests in space and composition. Up to now, I consider this series as representative of my work as a photographer. Visually, all my later series build on this combination of different approaches.
So what were you looking for in this series? What do we see?
When I came to Japan in 2002, I was shocked by the narrowness and the endlessness of the built space. My first train ride from Osaka airport to Hiroshima went through an endless sea of houses without any noticeable interruption between the cities. This made a lasting impression on me, and when I later got hold of the book Made in Tokyo by Atelier Bow-Wow it became apparent that I needed to address these spaces since they are representative not only of this kind of agglomeration, but also for the worldwide process of urbanisation.
How did you find and select your subjects? Did you wander randomly through the cities, or did you go looking for very specific places and situations?
It was definitely a mixture of both. Atelier Bow-Wow’s book was very helpful for finding the spaces I was looking for, places that showed that tightness and the consequences for the humans living there. I visited some of the places from the book, then I met with Yoshiharu Tsukamoto of Bow-Wow and also the Japanese photographer Naoya Hatakeyama who both gave me additional location advice. Apart from these tips, travelling through the city by train and marking all the promising-looking areas on a map was my way of making a plan and deciding where to shoot. Subsequently, I spent many days exploring and photographing spontaneous situations as well as taking planned images with a tripod where I would wait for exactly the right moment to shoot. After two months of doing this, I knew Tokyo so well that I could travel anywhere and find my way back by foot.
Have you any comparable project coming up?
I have had an architectural project in my mind for a few years, that I have been taking sketches for every now and then. I can’t share any details yet, except to say that it will deal with the topic of safety in public space. I will be travelling throughout the country looking for the type of situations that provide the right atmosphere and visual aspects I am looking for. This is definitely one of the things that I really enjoy about being a photographer; I never need to drown my curiosity in professional serenity just to appear knowledgeable – I actually have to do the opposite: to maintain or even cultivate a certain naive curiosity in order to stay awake and open to new impressions and my ability to notice and approach them.
– Andreas Meichsner is a photographer based in Berlin.