My new photo book ‘Situation Normal‘ collects pictures of real life dinosaur attacks, homoerotic totalitarian statuary, replicas and simulacra, giant teddy bears, strange signs, swordfighting pedestrians, kimokawaii street clutter and incomprehensible buildings photographed on my travels through Europe, China and Japan. In short, all the stuff I like. Buy it at http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2388612
These little freaks are in a place called Miraikan in Tokyo. They’re apparently intended as surrogates or avatars for teleconferencing or something. When you speak, the associated robot flaps its mouth and makes bizarre, jerking gestures that suggest some kind of medical distress rather than any means of establishing dialogue. They all stand around in a circle, staring at each other, wearing little grey windcheaters and headscarves, all of which gives them the air of some deranged fundamentalist Christian cult having a prayer meeting. Occasionally, when nobody was interacting with them, they’d shift and signal cryptically among themselves, sending them firmly and finally to somewhere on the slopes of the Uncanny Valley. The Japanese people around me seemed to find these things as baffling and awkward as I did.
Miraikan (AKA the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) is on the blandly futuristic Odaiba island in Tokyo Bay, and is actually worth visiting. They also have one of Honda’s considerably less disconcerting Asimo robots there, and it occasionally goes for a strictly chaperoned walk around.
[Below] Digital photographs made by a real multiple exposure (i.e. not Photoshop layered) process, with custom scripts loaded into firmware of a Canon Ixus. With one exception, the images currently shown on this page were gathered during various working trips or periods of residence in China, Japan and Europe over the past few years. All images © Alistair Gentry 2009-2013. Please contact me if you would like to reproduce them or buy/exhibit prints.
Serendipity in action. Not only was I unwittingly in Tokyo during the sumo season, but I also decided to go for a wander along the Sumida river on what turned out to be a match day, arriving at the Kokugikan (sumo stadium) in Ryogoku at the same time as some of the wrestlers. Obviously I’d avoid pointing this out to them directly, but they looked appealingly cute and reminiscent of Teletubbies as they rolled down the street in twos and threes, wearing incredibly vivid kimono, little handbags tucked under their gigantic arms. This multiple exposure shows: wrestlers arriving at the Kokugikan, with a typically ornamental Japanese security guard and the only two groupies in evidence + the sign for a chanko nabe “sumo” restaurant (chanko nabe is a huge hot—pot meal favoured by wrestlers) + the giant, ultrasaturated, calligraphied banners of all the competing wrestlers. I wish sports events in Britain were this aesthetically interesting.
EUR is a suburb of Rome that was begun as a pet project of Mussolini and the Fascists in 1939, consisting mainly of giant, alienating buildings. It was intended to house the Esposizione Universale di Roma (hence EUR, in English “Universal Exposition of Rome”). Development was retarded by WWII, and by Il Duce being one of the few dictators to ever be effectively sacked. EUR finally hosted the Olympic Games in 1960, but the whole place still has a distinct atmosphere of Fascist sterility and brutalism. It’s like Milton Keynes, but with more homoerotic statuary.
A display of shoddy Maomorabilia in a back street on the Mid Levels, Hong Kong island + a boy fends off an animatronic Tyrannosaurus with his best Kung Fu moves, on the Chinese mainland, Shenzhen + a fairly generic view of teeming pedestrians and trams, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Incidentally, apart from the similarly foreigner—orientated Da Fen “painting village” (sic) in Shenzhen, Hong Kong seems to be the only place in China where there’s any Mao—related stuff on sale. Obviously he’s the communist dictator of choice for Westerners who’d blush to have Stalin or Pol Pot sitting on the shelf.
No deep meaning or narrative here, just an appreciation of these striking magenta flowers against an off—white wall. Somewhere on the grounds of the immense school I was working at in Qingdao.
A middle—aged couple just married in Montmartre, Paris and now apparently ready to fling themselves off a precipice + a King Kong—themed fairground ride which I’m sure is nightmare fuel for sensitive children (in reality his head is nearly as big in relation to a human as it seems in this multiple exposure and you sit in one of his eight gigantic, whirling paws) + some Chinese tourists in another part of Paris, standing in the middle of an extremely busy road and apparently trusting that there’s safety in numbers. Even from a considerable distance one can tell that these are Chinese and not Japanese tourists by their jumble of randomly coloured Primarkesque clothes, despite these people being rich by anyone’s standards and particularly by the standards of most Chinese people. The red is also a giveaway. It seems too obvious to be true, but you really do frequently see people wearing communist scarlet in China. See below for some properly immaculate and coordinated Japanese tourists.
This elderly couple are in central Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace, admiring water with an impressive but somewhat excessive dedication. People like them could, however, be seen almost anywhere in the world and are immediately identifiable as Japanese tourists because they look like they’re in some kind of uniform even though they’re probably retired. This multiple exposure adds them to a magic hour shot of some buildings on a canal off the Sumida river (Just across the bridge, in fact, from Ryogoku) + two ridiculously glamourous labourers in Roppongi. Either that, or two lads deliberately costumed as ridiculously glamourous labourers. Or both; where young people in Tokyo are concerned it’s something of a false dichotomy to suggest that only one of these positions can be true simultaneously. Regardless of the facts, just look at the hair (wig?), hairband and silky blouse on that male builder. I love Japan.
There are hundreds of these statues in the grounds of Zojoji in central Tokyo, near to Tokyo Tower. They represent the Bodhisattva who particularly protects travellers and children. Each statue at Zojoji represents an actual dead child, and their parents or relatives can often be seen visiting them. The hats and capes are a form of spiritual service or homage. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that the windmills are a Buddhist thing with a similar rationale to Tibetan prayer flags. Even in the sunshine it’s eerie when an imperceptible breeze catches all the little windmills and they start to turn. The furry caterpillar crawling down from the hat (top right) is another one of those serendipitous things.
Note that this man is following the dress code for elderly Japanese tourists, including virtually the same hat as the couple further up this page. The Jizo statues all wear little red caps, the old men who visit to take photos all wear white fishing hats; there’s a certain pleasing conceptual symmetry in it. The face of the man in this picture even has the same kind of plump jollity as a jizo.
Two shots of the legally and religiously inviolate deer who roam freely in the grounds of the temple at Nara, Japan (also featured in my video Stag Film) + pieces of their less fortunate relatives at a shop selling deer products in Hong Kong. It may be hard to believe, but bits of deer (mostly their antlers and penises) are among the least strange and unpleasant ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine. There’s an entire street of deer shops in Hong Kong, albeit a small one. An entire street of Ginseng traders is adjacent.