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Sohei Nishino's Diorama Maps

Published on by Robin Métral

I can't begin to express how much I love photographer Sohei Nishino's Diorama Maps project1.

Here's Berlin, from 2011 (full size on Sohei's website):

Sohei Nishino's Berlin Diorama Map

You can't see much in this size2, but the work is essentially made of thousands of photos taken on Berlin streets, and later carefully assembled into a map-shaped collage.

With a camera in hand, I walk through specific cities to take photographs [...]

I put together on various canvases all the "fragments" that I have captured, so as to reconstruct my memories [...] This is my attempt to express the appearance of the cities by integrating my personal experiences and memories. What results is not at all a map to convey precise information, but the record of how I, as a human being, have walked through their streets and how I looked at those streets.

I won't quote any more of the project's intro and will instead invite you to read it here, but it combines a lot of ideas that I liked:

  • Cities are in constant movement, and the map is a snapshot, a picture
  • Photos on a map put the emphasis on the organic, living parts of a city (in contrast to e.g. lines for streets and squares for buildings)
  • Making a map from memory creates a personal, subjective view of the city, it tells the story of visiting and experiencing it
  • Sohei: "photographs are not completed at the moment they are taken, but are completed in the process of recollecting the memories by confronting them again"

I'd love to try to do something similar! Maybe starting with my neighborhood? Maybe with a focus on places I regularly visit (as a local) rather than sights?


Before I wrap this up, here's a few more interesting, related thoughts that I couldn't fit elsewhere:

  • I found the delightfully blurry making-of video for the Berlin Diorama Map (from 2011!). There are also more recent ones (Beppu, 2020).
  • More cities: London, Paris, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and more
  • A few years ago Sohei walked the famous Tōkaidō (from Tokyo to Kyoto) and made a 40m-long collage. Watch the video.

    The process of printing and cutting 30,000 to 40,000 photos, and then laminating them one by one, made me feel as if I was walking from the starting point of Nihonbashi again. I felt as if I was walking along the Tokaido Highway twice3

  • Japan, photography/video, walking, Tōkaidō... Craig Mod. There, I've made the obvious connection.

Footnotes

  1. HT to Austin Kleon who shared some of Sohei's works in his newsletter!

  2. I'm not actually sure I'm allowed to use this image here, so I didn't want to make it too prominent. You should definitely open it on Sohei's website, it's bigger and there are also details! (Oh hi Sohei, if you'd like me to remove it, get in touch)

  3. Machine translation, here's the source. (Japanese)


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