Photos & Projects

Naniwa; A City Without a Face – By Akiti Dezem

November 12, 2020

This five year analogue photo project started in late 2015. The Japanese name “Naniwa” (なに わ) refers to the old name of the city of Osaka (Japan), where the entire project was carried out. Initially, it was inspired by the words of the Italian writer Italo Calvino: “cities are like dreams, made of desires and fears” – with my eyes through the camera viewfinder, I tried to translate Calvino’s words into images.

Living in Japan since 2010, I felt that usually the physical space of a city that should have a certain “neutrality” to it, in fact ends up “shrinking” people who try to project their dreams, desires and fears in the urban space. This creates an urban “no man’s land” where faces and feelings disappear into the continuous flow of people the streets. The Japanese society does not always respect the differences in people – instead standardizing their behaviors and actions.

Often, the influence of a group of individuals on the environment (consciously and unconsciously) occurs through the strength of their desires, the belief in their hopes, the overcoming of their fears and the investment in their dreams and fantasies.

My goal here was to try to capture the process of loneliness, disenchantment and “shrinking of the individual” in the urban space of a transforming metropolis like Osaka in a “faceless urban space”.

During my researches for this project, I was impressed and enchanted by the black and white images of the city of Pittsburgh produced by Elliot Erwitt (1950) and W. Eugene Smith (1955) – I can definitely say that they were my main inspirations. Few months before I started the project I was really bored about the street photography that I saw on social media (“in your face” flash snapping, from the hip autofocus “believers”, “Daido Moriyama fever” etc. etc.) so I decided jump to the analogue world paying a homage to my beloved city Osaka.

In this project, I used around 12 different film cameras, the most used ones are Leica R6.2, Pentax SV, Canon P and 7 rangefinders. The majority for the lenses I short were from the decades of 1950-1960. My top 3 favorite lenses are Canon 28mm f / 2.8, (L39) Elmarit R 35mm f / 2.8 (2 CAM) and Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar T 40mm f / 4.5 (M42). The main reason being that this old glass has low contrast and are quite sharp.

I tried to produce an “old” grainy atmosphere using vintage glass plus Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford Pan 400. I make little use of 50mm and 85mm lenses or apertures smaller than 2.8.

One of best compliments I received about my project was five years ago, when an experienced Japanese photographer (74 years old), saw one of my pictures in an exhibition at city cultural center and said to me “Nice tones and mood! Natsukashi…Who took this picture? Your grandfather I suppose?” I was surprised and flattered at same time, because that is one of my main goals, trying to recreate this vintage atmosphere straight through the lens. It was a good start…





In the end after exploring the corners of Naniwa with my old but reliable analogue cameras carrying a small bag full of Ilford and Tri-X rolls, I saw the city changing. My viewfinder documented the indifference of the passersby in this silent and continuous process. Now, I notice that my gaze is no longer the same, that’s the price to be pay… A slow “death of indifference” in my spirit while the urban space in continuous disarray compresses our souls creating a city without a face.

For more “Naniwa” project (2016-2020) please have a look at this gallery on flickr




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  • Reply
    November 12, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    really great pictures. congrats !

  • Reply
    November 12, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Excellent work! Really like how you captured the scenes.

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    November 12, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Wonderful images, Akiti!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2020 at 12:01 am

    Some VERY interesting images – particularly the one of the girl walking on the pavement/sidewalk beside the lamp post. I am picturing this image encased in a simple black bordered frame with slightly off-white mounting board and printed to perfection on Ilford Gallerie (does this still exist?) – great image!

    • Reply
      Akiti Dezem
      November 13, 2020 at 2:33 am

      Uoou! I’m flattered:) About Ilford Gallery I really don’t know…😆Thanks!

  • Reply
    Scott Gitlin
    November 13, 2020 at 1:44 am

    I think your captures certainly supported your project and was respectful to the people at the same time. You captured atmosphere. So much “street photography” today is an affront to the subjects – putting them on “display” approaching sometimes ridicule.

    • Reply
      Akiti Dezem
      November 13, 2020 at 2:36 am

      Thanks! Yes! That’s one of may objectives, trying to be less intrusive but not so distant (i.e. “tiny people/distant people” images)

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