Photoessay: Urban vignettes, Osaka

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Today’s photoessay is a short series of vignettes from Osaka. I found it a strange place because the visually appealing bits – photographed here – were pretty empty most of the time; the not so nice bits, not photographed, were buzzing wit activity. A strange paradox and one I couldn’t really reconcile with the city’s place as an industrial hub and one of the largest cities in Japan. One thing that didn’t appeal so much was the omnipresent overhead highways; not so much the fact that they were used (understandably, to preserve real estate yet create efficient arteries directly through the heart of the city) – but the fact that they blocked out so much natural light at street level, leaving the place feeling somewhat post-apocalyptic-Blade-Runner-esque even during bright sunshine. Further adding to the challenge is the layout of the city itself: a grid without much light at ground level is really not very conducive to photography, hence the relatively low yield (which dropped off even further after the last few months of maturation time). MT

These images were shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120/4 VR and Canon G1X Mark III, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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  1. Mark Schwettmann says:

    i’ve always found it an interesting paradox that the japanese, so protective of their culture and traditions, and with such extraordinary artistic precedents in design and craft, are so incredibly unsentimental about their cities. need a freeway? stick on here. elevated rail line? k. wider road? tear down buildings.

    that plus the devastation of the war can sometimes makes japan fascinating despite it’s cityscapes rather than because of them.

    these shots illustrate that in an intriguing way.

    • I think Osaka seems to suffer from this a bit more than Kyoto and Tokyo; whether it’s because it was heavily rebuilt for efficiency or something else, I can’t say.

  2. Frederick Saunders says:

    The trees holding out in the dense urban environment are a wonder of nature, I recall you focussed on this in an Istanbul series. Perhaps the opposite of where I live, in Australia, where buildings rise despite the natural environment.

  3. What struck me most is that, despite your description and ignoring the Japanese characters, these photo could have been taken in just about any city of any moderate size anywhere is the world. I’m not referring to the quality of the images, just commenting on global homogenization.

    • Edit: “in the world”.

    • Fully agree with you – the more I travel, the more I feel places are getting to be much the same!

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        I agree with your agreement, Ming. Unfortunately, this diminishes my interest, because of the unavoidable kind of deja-vu effect. Nevertheless, the pictures can still be smart, beautiful, well balanced… but it’s just more difficult to add the “compelling” factor.
        This one of the matters that I most reflect on, because I like to shoot in the streets. And I always come back to the same “way out”. There is no city or town, no street, no building, if it isn’t for and by the people, living in it. That’s why I most of the time think about the necessity to take the people as premier subject. And I find it very fortunate that I can see an interminate variation of expressions in people’s face, body language, etc. Unfortunately, integrating peopling raises the question of privacy: when and how can we integrate people in our picture on public places. That’s to me one of the most important questions for today’s photographers, althoug a totally different matter…

        • Agreed on all points – and I’d also add that the interaction (or frequently, lack of) between subjects and their environment is also interesting…once again, as homogeneity increases, there seems to be far less connection in that area. Photography as psychological observation – who’d have thought! 😂

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            Well, Ming, “Photography as psychological observation”, that’s exactly put in the right words, IMO. I believe that many good peaces of art (in all disciplines) are exactly that: pshychological observation of mankind! Most works of art (literature, music, paintings, sculpture, film…), in all art history, are about people’s behavior. And then so many amongst those artworks are about that particular special human behavior that we call love (and its antipole: hate). I think that photography does well, when taking that same never ending, always varying and always evolving road, which is human behavior. It’s thé subject par excellence for all human communication and thus for art. It’s simply what fascinates us the most. It’s that one road that we can follow for ever, without missing that “compelling” factor, that one road where we can always avoid the deja-vue effect. However, this doesn’t mean of course, that this originallity and compelling content will come naturally, without inspiration nor without a good performance.

            • Isn’t everything fundamentally psychology driven? 🙂

              Art = psychology is definitely true, though – insomuch as it’s about conscious observations of ourselves as the creators…

  4. great captures of urban life –

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