MIKIYA TAKIMOTO

Sightseeing 

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text by: Antonino Barbaro

Sightseeing is considered the lifework of Japanese artist Mikiya Takimoto, for which he travelled across all seven continents focusing on the main touristic attractions, people’s behaviour and their interaction with them.

Takimoto is best known in the photographic industry for titles like “Bauhaus Dessau”, “Land Space”, “Umimachi Diary”; but also he’s extensively worked in the film industry by curating the image of some great pieces of Japanese cinema such as “The Third Murder”, “Like Father, Like Son” and “Little sister”. He’s a versatile artist who’s started his career relatively young at the age of sixteen and opened his studio soon after.

Straight from the cover of the book (1), we get right to the point. The Pyramids, probably one of the highest achievement of civilisation, holding their ground for countless centuries till now, here is nothing more than a pretty background to this lovely little girl’s summer holiday.

Page after page the message is clear and presented in a way that feels as much cynical as sympathetic it can be. Globalization and improved technology have made traveling around the world accessible and easy like never before. Tourism, therefore, has increased so much in the last years it became a problematic phenomenon to look at.

The book investigates this phenomenon through a very accurate and visually captivating approach. Protagonists here are not the marvellous locations or monuments, but the infinite stream of people crowding these places nonstop and almost completely depriving (or we could better say defacing) their beauty, fascination and meaning. This so-called “Tourism Pollution” finds us guilty of a crime we all committed and we will ever do, because of our being as humans, our need to take on adventure and discover the world around us.

The author knows that, and through a very good dose of irony as well as understanding and judgment tailors his approach in a way that by the end of the book he will have all of us acquainted – him included. This approach is also interesting because of the way it very well blends two different styles of photography, documentary photography with the “less noble” travel photography. The mix of different styles allows him to create this peculiar atmosphere that makes us familiar with the pictures, and quite often feel like we could have taken those pictures ourselves; and by doing so, digging deeper into that nostalgia feeling of family memories we have all experienced. Moreover, this strategy allows him to take a more authoritarian position and finally make us understand what is really wrong here.

Soon after the great excitement of the view and the desire to take that exact picture, we hear the voice of the truth that suddenly enlighten us on the big contradiction and ugliness of this behaviour. Most of the time there is no real interest in the places we visit, and all that matter is the picture that will provide us with a proof that we too have been there. Look, I was there too!

As Susan Sontag says in some of her famous writings on photography, family moments and tourism are so deeply entangled with the history and art of photography that, despite all the embarrassment that this could generate, it is impossible to ignore.

In this book, the contradictions of tourism such as heavy crowds, ignorance and superficiality as well as the inexplicable need of photographing these places we don’t really care about – and most important photographing us visiting them – are very well exposed and pointed out to us, the same people who have been countless times guilty of this behaviour. We must create a proof we have been there. But why?

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This is Waikiki Beach, Hawaii (2). Arguably one of the most desired places among famous tourist destinations. Besides the beautiful colours, the out-of-place outfit of this elderly couple and the before-the-sunset atmosphere, what fascinates here is the composure and attitude of this man. The couple clearly does not want to blend with the bathing crowd. Nonetheless, they still did come down to the beach to check out the place everybody is been talking about. What is he thinking? Was it worth it? He might as well be one of the very few people who’re actually appreciating this moment and the place in its fullest.

One of the key pictures of this body of work is this other one, taken on Easter Island among the famous Moai Heads (3). It very well succeeds in depicting how the greatness and magic of such a place, as well as its inexplicable historical value, can be easily trivialised by such simple and distracting behaviour. Among a couple of photographers here and there, and a guy picnicking on the grass, this woman is peacefully enjoying her reading using an Ancestor’s head as shelter from the sun.

The irony of this picture is so subtle that works both ways. From one side it upsets us and we get the lack of respect in her behaviour. But on the other side, it also makes us think about the concept of value. Value is a quality that does not belong to something, instead, it is an attribute we give to it. As a consequence of that, the value of a place, like in this case, changes according to the people that are interacting with it. Even though centuries ago those heads were sacred icons for some people, they now are nothing more than pretty looking stones somebody sculptured ages ago for whatever reason they did, and under which she’s now going to shed from the sun and peacefully read her magazine. And there is nothing wrong about it, or is there?

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Analysing this picture (4) through the arches’ pattern, here we have three very different ways of experiencing sightseeing. Under the first arch to the left, two men are resting after a walk, eating some food and probably catching up on each other’s life. In the middle, more commonly, father and sister are taking this girl’s picture, whilst the mum’s looking at her from the side. Memory has been made, she’s been there and she can now prove it.

Finally, on the opposite side, another memory is about to be made. Grandmother and son are posing for the parents. It could be assumed they don’t see each other that often, they maybe live in different cities. But today they are finally together on a family trip to The Great Wall. This memory is a little different from the previous one. It is not a proof of achievement, but more possibly an occasion of bond and a chance for the grandmother to have something she will later be able to look at, once the day will be gone and she’ll be far away from her family.

Finally, here we are in Times Square, New York (5). Among the madness of the city, at the centre-left of the image, this family of mother, father and three children is gathered uptight, holding each other’s hand in a state of ecstasy and confusion. They finally made it and visited one of the most famous squares in the world. The feeling of achievement and delight emanates clearly from the father’s face. And he’s filming it! He’s making proof of this memorable family moment. But the excitement gradually goes down and turns into confusion and little worry once we go from the oldest son’s face to the youngest.

Sightseeing is a book of universal power and relevance. One of its strongest points, besides the beautiful design and structure, is the ability to shift the audience’s attention back and forth from the individual POV of the tourist to the universal one of the critic. What makes sense to us as tourists, if looked from the outside perspective of a viewer clearly shows up the nonsense of our behaviour and the ugliness of the situation.

What makes this a great book, put aside the love for the images and the nostalgic analogue colours, is the immense value this body of work holds as an anthropological study of the human need of travelling the world in other to participate to this citizen-of-the-world shared memory that makes us all feel a little less isolated then we actually are. Or more simply, to be able to say we too have been around a little and at the end of the day, nothing is better than the place we live in.

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