Tokyo twilight zone

Sato Shintaro

I photograph Tokyo from fire escapes .The view from a fire escape is different from either the kind of view afforded by observation decks constructed at sightseeing spots or the vertical perspective of satellite images that are readily available to anyone with a computer .It's a very personal perspective that I obtain only at the expense of a good deal of physical exercise walking all over town to find just the right place .From heights around the 10th floor -certainly not low but not very high either-it's more like looking out horizontally to confront the city, rather than looking down on it .And it's interesting that at this height signs of daily life, like laundry hung out to dry, appear in the photographs.

Most fire escapes look on back streets, so the hidden face of Tokyo becomes visible .These behind-the-scenes views of Tokyo from forgotten stairways where no one comes are erotic and always excite me every time I photograph them .I am also made aware that the Tokyo cityscape I see every day and thought I knew well, I don't really know at all.

I shoot my photographs in the hours from dusk until dark when manmade and natural light commingle. For me, this time when the new creeps in and the old fades away in a simultaneous slow dance is when the ever-ambiguous city is at its most beautiful. The transitional time when dusk fades into night, and vantage points that reveal commercial areas intermingled with residential areas where people go about the business of living. This midway time and space I call the twilight zone spreads out quietly before me. In order to precisely catch the colors and light play of the twilight in detail, I usually shoot with a large-format camera in mid-winter when the air is crystal clear and make prints from the negative film myself. The printing process involves reconstructing colors and light that are different than what is seen by the naked eye, so it often takes several days to finish one photograph.

I search for shooting locations during the daytime. It's tiring to wander around a district I don't know, constantly referring to a map even though it's not a tourist area; but my excitement is that much greater when I find an interesting spot. I always look for views which are densely populated with buildings. Many places in Tokyo are packed with buildings-some I find interesting and some I don't. In those that interest me, I can perceive a certain rhythm and order within the jumble. Viewed from a little above, these city streets and structures built out of necessity and not for aesthetic appeal sometimes create strongly beautiful configurations that aren’t noticeable from ground level. I am moved by this unconscious power-the raw power that issues from a city built by human hands. And in the twilight hours before night falls, this power becomes a subtle transition of light, revealing its shape even more clearly.