Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2001

Think you know Tokyo? Web artist Chigono will either confirm your familiarity or challenge it.

by Andrew Pothecary

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Whatever Web artist Chigono's feeling toward his subject, if you think you know Tokyo, his photos will either confirm your familiarity or challenge it. To most, the familiar is so, well, familiar that even if we notice it, we just walk by. Chigono stops and photographs it. It's a rare talent -- the ability to see art in the everyday, beauty in the beauty-less. (While recently successful Japanese photographers like Hiromix have made snapshots of their own everyday life their ouevre, Chigono bypasses the happy energy of those collections for a darker, more introspective simplicity -- more like snapshot versions of Thomas Struth's large format photos of the unexceptional.)

The constraints of Tokyo -- its damaged concrete, its ludicrous lines of communication (crisscrossing railways, walkways, telephone lines), its closed-in apartments -- are all captured with an uncommon stillness: and an all-too-common alienation. The night, with its peculiarly Japanese streetlight and shadow, is especially represented in his 400-plus Tokyo images, along with Tokyo's swathes of delineating concrete.

Chigono has no illusions about any beauty in his subject (though he finds it nevertheless), no desire to show Japan in a pretty way, and no misguided cause for celebration. Yet, there is a warmth in the work. It's as if nihilism with warmth was possible.

On his Web site ( you also get the documented thoughts of Bob (the plant), a different character sketch on the home page each time you log on or hit the back button, and more. But it's the photographs that will keep me coming back. Sometimes given simple treatment (made negative or color-enhanced), they are mostly straight shots taken by Chigono on his digital camera. They show a Tokyo I'm familiar with. If you think you know Japan, spend some time here.

-- Andrew Pothecary

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