Cities are a favorite subject for photographers, filled as they are with visual stimuli and primed for artistic criticism. A new series of images by Nurri Kim takes as its target the city of Tokyo, zooming in on one specific—and often overlooked—aspect of the cityscape: tarps. Kim's project, entitled Tokyo Blues, features black and white photos spiked with the bright blue hue of plastic tarps, draped over buildings, under roadways, and across plazas.
Tokyo Blues is the debut work of Do projects, a collaboration between Kim and writer/design director Adam Greenfield. The collection includes an essay by Greenfield that breaks down the many roles of the ubiquitous tarp in Tokyo. Probably the most obvious use that comes to mind is the tarp as a shelter, as is often seen in homeless encampments. But Greenfield points out that the blue sheeting can act simultaneously to draw attention and to deflect it. There is "that which is meant to be seen, either as caution, as promotion, or as a sideways admission of the problems it may cause for others," he says, and "that which is meant not to be seen; camouflage, the disruption of contours, misdirection and distraction." And beyond that, there is the use of the tarp to establish an unspoken, mutually understood denial of a place altogether.
Greenfield's words add a welcome analysis of this complex, inanimate urban character, but the photos are also fascinating to flip through on their own. They are labeled simply with the location and use of a particular tarp, and each provides beautiful context and a haphazard tour of some of Tokyo's interstitial spaces.
Tokyo Blues can be purchased as a bound book from the Do projects website and can also be downloaded as a free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF. Greenfield is also at work on the second project from the young collective—a book called The City Is Here For You To Use, which explores future scenarios for cities in which ubiquitous computing and smart, networked technologies will be an inherent part of the urban experience.