Tokyo Ga

The Psychology of a Metropolis

Andreas Seibert lived in Tokyo for 16 years. During this time he intensely observed the life and the people in the Japanese metropolis. A feeling didn't leave him: people in Tokyo are sad. Seibert's picture essay "Tokyo Ga" reflects this atmosphere.

Countless pictures of Tokyo already exist, and countlessly more are being taken every day. But which of these images give an adequate picture of this metropolis? What kind of images can convey the atmosphere and the people who inhabit it?

Of all the cities in the world Tokyo has maybe the highest concentration of sad people. This observation (to understand the reasons for this and to decide if this observation is right or wrong would be worth a social-psychological study) served the artist as a working hypothesis for his photographic work entitled "Tokyo Ga".

How to photographically capture sadness, loneliness? How to photograph a mood that seems to exist only subliminally? Sadness has no facticity, knows no places such as joy at a party. One has to feel sadness or melancholy in order to see them.

Between 2009 and 2013 Seibert made countless photographic rambles through Tokyo. He wanted to know how the atmosphere he was interested in would look like.

Andreas Seibert's picture essay "Tokyo Ga" - the title simply means "Images of Tokyo", a title Wim Wenders used for his movie about Tokyo and the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu - is composed of slow, quiet photographs which do not immediately reveal themselves to the viewer.

The artist deliberately chose color photography for this picture essay because many nuances, such as a red, frayed carpet in a brothel would be lost in black and white photography.

The red carpet on the stairs, a lonely, small bowl with salt - in Japan, salt is ritually used for inner cleansing - and a man cleaning the carpet turning his back towards the camera. This is enough to feel the atmosphere the artist is interested in.

Often small details start to talk. Such as a flowerpot, which stands lonely in front of a wall. The sun shines bright, shadows of a crippled tree can be seen. A window is hidden behind futons exposed to the sun. One might almost think of a place of rest, nothing happens, nothing dramatic is to see. But people are absent, they probably would have rapidly gone inside, would they have noticed that their insignificant, unimportant house is photographed. The sadness radiates more and more from the lonely flowerpot over the whole, almost geometrically composed image. Because the flowerpot tells of the almost touching effort of the residents to create some kind of homeliness.

Andreas Seibert works with an aesthetic that might be described as an aesthetic of the banal. This aesthetic covers - in almost Japanese style - the seemingly insignificant, the unobtrusive, the meaningless. It is not the big moment the artist is interested in, but the little and silent one, the non-action and even the standstill.

Seibert often uses an indirect view. The places - even a railway station - can not exactly be situated, they are non-places as mentioned by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. Often the artist's view is through windows and the subject therefore can't be clearly seen but only guessed. Andreas Seibert's photography refuses clear statements and denies an open narrative. In a convincing dialectic movement distance becomes nearness.

(Based on the text "Die Psychologie einer Metropole. Tokio - die Stadt der traurigen Menschen" by Konrad Tobler.)