A concatenation of their family names, WassinkLundgren is the pseudonym chosen by artistic duo Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren. WassinkLundgren erupted on the photography scene in 2007 when its Empty Bottles won the Best Contemporary Photobook of the Year award in Arles. At the time, the WassinkLundgren components were 24 and 26. Empty Bottles, shot in Beijing, showcased Chinese people gathering empty bottles (planted by the photographers) in the street. Far from simply recording reality, the photographic practice of WassinkLundgren, with its nudging intervention, is more akin to performance with a slightly surrealist twist. Tokyo Tokyo, their eleventh book to date, proves that their performance/photo approach is still alive and well…and heading in new directions.
We all share the feeling of “knowing” cities like Paris, New York or Tokyo, without actually having been there. Born of this sensation, Tokyo Tokyo confronts WassinkLundgren’s mental image of the city with its reality, which led to a neighborhood-by-neighborhood exploration of the megalopolis. In the book, different urban zones sprawl out over successive chapters, with cream-colored rectangles signaling the passage from one to the next. Almost like placeholders for absent photos, these rectangular “blanks,” according to Thijs groot Wassink, “are like the path of a metro that brings us from one point of town to another.”
Tokyo Tokyo allows artists Wassink and Lundgren to delve into a reflection on their common photographic practice. Photography, they observe, is a largely solitary pursuit, yielding most often a single point of view on its subjects. Cinema, however, with basic grammatical trappings such as shot/reverse shot, is different. What would it look like, they wondered, if they photographed a single street scene, but together, from different angles? The result was Tokyo Tokyo.
Beyond this underlying thinking and despite the delight-inspiring images, Tokyo Tokyo never trivializes nor caricatures. No Provoke-era imagery, no hordes of commuters crammed into trains, not even dozing metro riders. The artists flatly refuse to take “good” photos, sidestepping the stereotypical imagery that generally trickles down to us. Ultimately, this refusal draws the curtain on a society very much like our own. In this teeming streetlife, everyone rubs shoulders: policemen, housewives, workers, executives, retirees, etc. WassinkLundgren’s street photography is peppered not only with nods to the history of the genre, but also with humor. If they spot a schoolgirl, she is merely an ersatz fantasy. If cherry blossoms flower, a telephone-wielding Japanese is standing by snapping photos. A conscious duality is at work on every page of Tokyo Tokyo, even in its title. As if that were not enough, the book boasts a double colophon – one on the cover page, the other on the final page – indicating the work can be read in the Western left-to-right, or inversely, as do the Japanese. Tokyo Tokyo is consistently, and coherently, double.
RC & MKB
English translation by Kevin Jones
WassinkLundgren, Tokyo Tokyo, Kodoji Press/Archive of Modern Conflict, softcover with dust jacket and bellyband, 192 pages, 1200 copies.