Two Cities: Tokyo & Chicago, Luke Hayes

“Tokyo and Chicago, vast cities on opposite sides of the globe. These photographs are my first impressions of each, taken on assignments in 2009 and 2010. Despite being 10,000 kilometres apart, there were similarities. The images attempt to capture some of these parallels, the views that the people living there have stopped seeing – the back of the familiar cityscape, under the railway bridge or over the car park.”

Luke Hayes
Two Cities: Tokyo & Chicago, Luke Hayes

Two Cities is a series of photographs by Luke Hayes. He introduces Chicago and Tokyo from high above: the Burnham Plan laid out beneath Sears Tower and the view east from Roppongi Hills. Looking down, life in Chicago is reduced to a band of light that moves along horizontals and verticals and stops to sleep and work in the grey spaces between. The grid gives everything the appearance of order: walking north-south down State Street, moving up and down tall buildings. Life is lived within the limits of a bigger plan, set against glimpses of the free, open expanse of Lake Michigan.

Each set of photographs is a story of a different type of containment: the physical boundaries set by the city, or a way of life maintained within it. Tokyo sprawls to embrace suburbs, towns, villages and the eastern edge of Honshu. Where wilderness is found, the landscape is interrupted by concrete slabs and abandoned building projects. Its urban plan, fragmented by the Great Kanto earthquake and Second World War, has its share of highways and grand boulevards, but the streets are more intimate, smaller in scale than Chicago, and more dense. Every space is used: concrete factory, vending machine and advertising hoarding all coexist on the same tiny patch between office blocks. There’s an order to the way people move around and inhabit Tokyo, but it is self-imposed and internal, created by a particularly Japanese way of life rather than the city itself.

A Tokyo corner. Photograph © Luke Hayes

Taking the Loop around Chicago and Tokyo’s orbital Yamanote line, Luke sought out the factories, the typical houses and evidence of each city’s relationship with the water. That the resulting sets of images are so closely matched says more about his style and the places he is drawn to than any deliberate attempt to impose a theme. He avoids inferring meaning unless it’s explicit, he believes architectural photography should tell the story of a city or a building as it is: “Something is interesting or not, a photograph works or it doesn’t. The reasons why are instinctive and visual, rather than conceptual.”

Some of the pairings are purely visual: the cylinders of a factory echoed in the curve of an exterior stair, or the block pattern on the chimney of a cold store, re-interpreted as the tessellated façade of a designer boutique. Others highlight more direct parallels: the twin towers of Chicago’s honeycomb car parks alongside Tokyo’s vehicular tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright. There are curiosities, such as the T.A. Holm storefront, with its sign spelling out ‘compact discs’ as it might have once ‘phonograph records’ – an unintended comment on how quaint and outmoded the format has since become.

The use of a warm filter gives Chicago the tone of a 1970s film. In some photographs, characters and an underlying narrative are implied. As a longhaired woman walks towards Dunkin’ Donuts, trousers slightly flared, a classic diner scene is about to unfold. Glimpsed under the highline, Leon’s hints darkly at being more than a sausage factory. Photographs of snow on an anonymous neighbourhood, or on a line of milk vans waiting at the depot, tap into the same myth of big-city American culture as the films of Wim Wenders – like his work, the images here share some of that alienated fascination of a European looking through a lens into a very different, yet strangely familiar, urban landscape.

Sarah Simpkin

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