Issue #180  3/14/2011
Emily Allchurch's 'Tokyo Story' Opens At Diemar/Noble Photography, London

In homage to Hiroshige's last great work, 'One Hundred Famous Views of Edo' (1856-58), Emily Allchurch's 'Tokyo Story' re-creates ten of these impressive works through contemporary photographic tools. Meticulously blending digital software to embrace the spirit of Hiroshige's imagery, Allchurch intricately reconstructs each picture through impeccable seamless composites using photography, Photoshop and watercolor skies painted, then photographed to form a fitting backdrop--bridging the gap of time and place--to great effect.

These 10 digital collages bring to life the two dimensional nature of woodblock printing into the real world through the imaginary world reconstructed by assembling countless objects and details to replicate and accentuate each image to its optimum level. By enhancing the images through photography, the contemporary social narrative of Tokyo today is revealed in a visually recognizable and palpable form. This constructed 'reality' is assumed by the viewer instantly to be a real time and place despite many clues to the contrary. With or without knowledge of Hiroshige's original prints, Tokyo Story can be taken at face value, slowly revealing its stories within stories upon closer inspection. Using many cultural and symbolic references Allchurch imbues her photographs with many facets beyond the aesthetic beauty she creates.

Hiroshige's work is poised at a time of great upheaval, as traditional Japan was under the threat of Western Imperialism. The momentous changes of the time are transpired through Allchurch's photographs as contemporary photographs of Tokyo reveal the inverse, as the past still permeates the present.

Just as in Hiroshige's prints, Allchurch has also represented images from each season. In one case the winter scene, 99. Kinry_zan Temple, Asakusa (Asakusa Kinryuzan) (7th Month, 1856) is replicated in summertime, allowing for the architecture masked by the snow in the original to be exposed and with it a roller-coaster can be seen in the background. This roller-coaster may seem like a frivolous addition of architectural construction, yet it brings up to date the entertainment now available to the public in Tokyo. The temple depicted however, was also a major entertainment center in its day and remains a popular destination still. Allchurch bridges the gap between old and new forms of leisure with greater emphasis upon the temple in keeping with her respectful approach to the original work.

Architecture features heavily in all of Allchurch's work, and Tokyo Story is no exception.

With the growth of the city comes change and this change is ever-present as historical structures combine with high-rises. Contrary cultural objects and signs are fused within each composition, such as graffiti, a vending machine, logo's, calligraphy, a basketball, beer cans and catfish. Each of these having its own place in the development of Japanese culture which embraces many western influences, whilst retaining its own distinct character

Tokyo Story celebrates Hiroshige's great work that is admired for its mastery of bokashi; luminous cross-fading effects created through the graduated wiping of the ink on the printing blocks. This vibrant visual standard guided Allchurch's approach to her photography, which updates the series for a contemporary audience.

Acting as a visual record of Allchurch's journey, Tokyo Story opens up the multitude of possibilities that history can offer, resulting in a gentle social narrative of Tokyo today.

Many contemporary concerns are subtlety conveyed from the aging population, homelessness, environmental issues and the breakdown of social structure with unemployment rising as jobs for life cease to be. A homeless man can be glimpsed pulling a cart of belongings, whilst beer cans float in polluted rivers as the banners of commercialism punctuate the growing skyline.

Transposing these distinctive techniques of abstraction, vivid coloring and composition into photography, Allchurch captures Tokyo for future generations.

Emily Allchurch is a British artist, living and working in London.

The exhibition runs from March 17-May 7 at Diemar/Noble Photography, which is located at: 66/67 Wells Street, London W1P 3PY, UK; phone: +44 (0)207 636 5375. Gallery hours are 11 am-6 pm, Tuesday-Saturday. A Private View is on March 16 at 6:30 pm. Call for details.