A enormous underground tunnel that runs through 40metres under the Hibiya Junction Tokyo or an underground dome that lies 500metres below deep in the mountains of Gunma…? In Japan unimaginably large spaces underneath our ground level lives exist. Even beyond the high walls of nuclear power stations, incineration plants or energy research organizations futuristic cities that we thought only to exist in science fiction movies unfold – not far from your neighbourhood. I talked to Joe Nishizawa who photographed such hyper-surreal dimensions in Japan and just published a book Deep Inside.
Written by Kaori Nishida
All images © JOE NISHIZAWA
Nishizawa-san, flipping through the pages of your book “Deep Inside” one gets sucked into this technical-magic-wonderland. I can’t believe that those places actually look like that – better than any CG setting I have ever seen. Bladerunner would simply be jeallous! Even the lighting is perfect in pink and green!
Oh no, absolutely no computer graphics involved in these photos. That’s essentially what those places look like – for example one right below Hibiya Junction.
Lightings and everything is just captured as it was there – I didn’t even use a flash light! It’s magic: you first hear the car noises on the ground level and as you descend slowly, suddenly, this vast and silent space unfolds in front of you.
I was involved with an open-public event called TOKYO GEO-SITE PROJECT. They opened the construction sites of the Hibiya Joint Utility Tunnel for several days to public. It is placed in the middle of just an ordinary park-like field, but opening a thin door, you get to experience a totally different futuristic world. Strongly attached to such extraordinary spaces in these no-go areas, the book “Deep Inside” evolved and compiles such photographs of different dimensions in Japan.
Still lively under construction 30metres below the Yamate Street in Tokyo, a project called TOKYO TUNNELIX opens the Central Circular Shinjuku Route construction site to the public. You joined the TOKYO TUNNELIX as an official cameraman – what was it like?
Well, I have been photographing the construction process officially for a while. Some of those photos – such as the Yoyogi Shield – are included in the book, too. Along with that, I have done other projects as well, like photographing at the “Chitei Fashion Show”, a fashion show by Bernhard Willhelm which was held inside the underground tunnel back in October 2005. The German designer created a fashion line inspired by the [Japanese construction workers fashion](http://www.pingmag.jp/2006/01/18/construction-worker-fashion/. The models who did the catwalk were the real construction workers who worked at that site.
In the book, there are also some photos of nuclear power stations!!? What security provisions did you have to make?
In order to shoot this place, I wore three-layer protective and the camera was wrapped around with plastic and tapes. Also I was told that “this power station has to stop for a full month” – in case I accidentally dropped camera. This totally freaked me out, so I had to put an extra camera strap around my neck, attach the camera firmly to the tripod leaning extra cautiously over the fence with the PR personnel from the power station holding my legs tight… Also for security reasons, there were many parts and bits that could not be photographed. I had to ask the PR personnel to check my photos from every new angle.
Another place that I could imaging quite challenging to take photos at was inside a garbage incineration plant!? Did you really go in?
Yes, I did. I was literally the first person and camera to ever enter such place for a photography shoot. They told me I had to take a thorough bathing after the shoot, before exiting the plant in order to completely rub off the smell. So I packed an extra set of clothes, took a very nice bath with other workers after the shoot, put my fresh clothes on – but just outside I realized that I forgot to change the camera strap! That was stinking badly on the way back in the train…
Just published: Joe Nishizawa’s book ‘Deep Inside’
Joe Nishizawa and his Canon 35mm film camera, which was used for most of the photos
I think that many people are fascinated by a certain “beauty in function”. Is that also something you were keen to express through your photography?
Shapes, colours, lights – not a single element you see in the photos was designed for the sake of beauty. They were totally designed for ultimate functionality. Yet, I do found such an extraordinary futuristic beauty in such places and I wish people can also find that in my photos.
I also want people to know that such a superb top-of-the world technology exists in Japan. These enormous objects and constructions are almost sealed, locked up as a restricted area which ordinary people like us have no access to. Chances to ever get a glimpse of it are so rare, that I almost consider it as my duty to make full use of photography as a medium to visually introduce the country’s pride in technologies to people – not only internationally, but simply to Japanese citizens, who have no idea of what lies beneath their feet.
Nishizawa-san, thank you so much for the interesting episodes and stunning photos! I look forward to seeing more extraordinary beauties from the restricted areas underground!
NOTE: I highly recommend to look at Joe Nishizawa’s book! Those images just can’t be big enough!