Satoshi Hirano – Reconstruction. Shibuya, 2014 – 2018

Review by Rudy Vega

Satoshi Hirano’s Reconstruction documents the large-scale redevelopment of Tokyo’s Shibuya station. Reconstruction is the culmination of a photography project Hirano pursued from 2014 to 2018. Portraying a nocturnal view, Hirano provides an insider’s look to the ongoing expansion of the station, offering the viewer access that would otherwise be difficult if not impossible to obtain. The photographs are not pretty by any traditional metric but that is not to say they lack merit from an aesthetic point of view. Instead, they achieve the visual equivalent of a cacophonous recording, and while that recording might be harsh and discordant, Hirano’s visuals tame those features to such a degree as to provide palatability which I would suggest is no small feat. 

Hirano’s images are printed full bleed and in doing so challenges the viewer’s ability to assume a static viewpoint. One’s eye dances throughout a given image trying to gain a foothold and assume a position where symmetry or visual harmony can emerge. Therein lies the charm of Hirano’s photographs in so far as they present this seeming chaos and disorder in a manner that speaks to the process given the ambitions of the actual physical project and its inherent challenges of reconstructing/expanding one of the most traveled train stations in all of Japan. 

Reconstruction is not a neat and tidy chronology documenting a start to finish visual narrative. There is no before/after pictorial summation. It does not present itself as a glossy coffee table book. What it does present is a fascinating look at the nighttime visuals of an all-encompassing construction site replete with the messiness of cranes, scaffolding, barriers, and all manner of heavy equipment necessary to carry out the objectives of such an ambitious project. At 52 images Hirano makes maximum use by varying his vantage point – high up looking down, or street level views emphasizing the activity in a more visceral manner – utilizing full bleed double spreads on occasion and even using 1½ spread as well. These arrangements enable Hirano to establish a nice visual rhythm throughout the book. 

Unlike his countryman Shintaro Sato who’s Risen in the East (Publisher: Seigensha , 2011) documented another ambitious project, the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree in rich full color all the while emphasizing the quality of light, Reconstruction is presented as contrasty black and white images, printed on paper which can be best described as having the feel of construction paper. The presentation of Reconstruction is modest in direct opposition to the actual project. Reconstruction is spiral-bound with a cardboard slipcover and temporary tags affixed to the cover as if to signal the temporaneous nature of the project. By citing the relative modesty of the presentation of the book I by no means suggest the book is lacking quality instead I read the presentation as a complement to the activity being recorded as well as a clever use of materials to provide a referential relationship.

Each page invites multiple viewings as there is so much going on in these highly dense environments that one can make new discoveries upon each re-viewing. I have taken multiple views of Hirano’s book and I can report that the previous missing harmony begins to emerge and an appreciation for the complexity of Hirano’s images become evident. While the images maintain the aforementioned disorder and chaos an almost quiet, orderly visual arrangement sneaks up on me thereby affirming Hirano’s photographic acumen. It’s a pleasant discovery to witness images that parlay difficult content into images that portray process and then manifest themselves as compelling photography. 

There are a couple of scenes in particular that speak to the nature of the coexistence of a pedestrian environment and the construction site given that Tokyo doesn’t just go to sleep while construction ensues. Shibuya is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting Tokyo as well as for the locals, especially targeting the Tokyo youths as a major shopping destination. One scene depicts what looks to be a Halloween evening near the Shibuya Crossing, always a popular destination, and one can see the cranes, scaffolding and such in the same immediate environment. While the people recognize the inconvenience of detours that are in place life still has to proceed, in other words there’s no stopping Tokyoites. 

Having visited Tokyo and Shibuya in particular during the time of the expansion of the train station I can attest to the awe I felt in witnessing the actual construction and marveling at how massive the undertaking was. In looking at Hirano’s Reconstruction, I recognize his book as adding another deeper layer of appreciation for that project. Photography has always had a role to play with respect to documenting time and place and here with Reconstruction, Hirano has added to the tradition in an engaging and compelling manner. It is time well spent to consider and reflect upon the images of Satoshi Hirano’s Reconstruction

Note: this is a Steidl Book Award – Japan.

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Reconstruction. Shibuya, 2014 – 2018, Satoshi Hirano

Photographer: Satoshi Hirano, resides in Tokyo, Japan

Publisher: Steidl, Germany, copyright 2019

Stiff covers, spiral bound in die-cut slipcase, 80 pages, 52 images, 14.37″ x 9.45″ (36.5 x 24 cm), printed and bound in Germany

Language: English

Photo Book design: Satoshi Hirano and Holger Feroudj

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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