Tokyo at night can be a near-psychedelic experience in itself, and this is echoed in the warped images created by Swiss photographer Jean-Vincent Simonet who prints onto plastic paper then washes the photograph with chemicals, all part of his latest body of work entitled In Bloom.
After visiting Tokyo, Japan for the first time in 2016, Jean-Vincent Simonet quickly decided he would shoot at night. He says, “I love how the city is in perpetual metamorphosis. It’s always moving and glowing. Giving a liquid feeling to the photographs made sense to me. It reinforced the psychedelic experience of being in the city.”
A Living Entity in Constant Flux.
Because Tokyo is a city in constant flux, especially with the typhoons and earthquakes that regularly stir the capital, people in Japan describe Tokyo as a “living entity.” Stacked 10 stories high with shops, restaurants, and karaoke bars, the huge neon streets sprawl out like tributaries into pedestrianised roads, down which streams of cars and people are rushing at all hours of the night and day. Most other capital cities are dwarfed by the elaborate train networks, colossal highways which connect to darker inner-city suburban street out of which emerges the vibrant city centres.
“There is something about the lighting in the city at night that is quite psychedelic,” says the 27 year-old image-maker. “It’s like you’re in a boat, always rocking and moving.” Using a medium format camera, shooting on a tripod, Simonet was able to capture detailed images of the city that were sharp and clear, along with photographs of people at night which were more distorted and blurred; these were the results from his first trip to Japan in 2016.
“I wanted to chronicle my own intimate journey in Japan,” he says – a project that would be shown to be experiential, a feature that was the most important reasons for Simonet to be photographing the city. He began to experiment with the images when he found that the landscapes and portraits didn’t gel, an aspect he noticed when he started to sequence the images.
Famous Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota similarly uses unorthodox methods to destroy physical photographs and Simoney cites him as a main influence. “He uses it in a sensitive, dark, and poetic way,” Simonet explains. “The idea of using photography as a primary but not finished material is something I try to push in my own work.”
The Desired Effect.
His process is entirely physical. Making sure the ink never quite dries, Simonet prints the photographs onto plastic paper first of all. Certain colours are either enhanced or dissolved as the paper is immersed into a mixture of chemicals and water, some images left in the mixture for up to a week depending on the desired effect.
“It’s exciting for me that it’s different every time. Each time I can improve the technique, which makes me want to do it more. If you work enough, at some point the right results will come,” he says. As an offer to purchase one-off prints Simonet will be demonstrating this unique process on smaller images at the opening of his exhibition at the Webber Gallery in London.
Alongside commissioned photography and editorials Simonet juggles these personal projects due to the experimental process of the work in which it is necessary to make mistakes and as a technique requires the dedication of a large proportion of his time. Simonet has since gained more freedom as his work has become more recognised as initially he merely tended to follow client’s briefs. “I always try to add something special in the shooting or in post production,” he says, “but when you shoot for a magazine and they want it a week after, it’s hard to go deep into the experiments. You need time to make mistakes, to think about the technique.”
With a clearer idea of what he wanted to photograph, Simonet returned to Japan in 2017 since his discovery of this method of printing. The title for the project, In Bloom, emerged out of this idea of Tokyo as a growing, blooming city, but it also references the striking floral arrangements that Simonet found and photographed around the country. To be displayed on the premises, clients and friends will send huge bouquets of flowers whenever a new shop or business is launched in Japan.
Lurking in the back of Simonet’s mind when trying to think of a title was that Japan is a culture where nature is respected at a godly status, and the arrival of cherry blossoms are a source of great national pride. However, funnily enough, on a night out in a karaoke booth during a rendition of Nirvana’s 1991 track, In Bloom, the very words themselves came as inspiration.
This is the first time that the photographs will be exhibited in an exhibition and the images have also been already published in book form. Simonet is pleased to be able to show his process at the opening too, because the dissolving colours in liquid are just as visually interesting as the final image. He hopes to make a video out of it later this year.
All images © Jean-Vincent Simonet.
Words by Elijah (Content Marketer).