BLACHFORD

photo round-up, via Wired

TOKYO HAS AN uncanny ability to make its visitors feel like they’ve stepped into some version of the future—at least, that’s how Australian photographer Tom Blachford felt when he first traveled there from Melbourne five years ago. Everything—the lights, the architecture, the absurdly punctual trains—blew him away. “I think I walked around with my jaw open the entire trip,” he says.

Blachford replicates that feeling in Nihon Noir, a surreal series titled after the Kanji word for Japan and the film genre that inspired its aesthetic. Shot at night, the coldly lit buildings and street scenes look so futuristic they may leave you second-guessing the date. “You might know where they are, but you have no idea when they are,” Blachford says.

That’s partly due to the foreboding Metabolist structures Blachford mostly chose to highlight. Spawned in the mid-20th century, the architectural movement fused concrete brutalism with organic, interchangeable parts meant to grow with inhabitants. But the outcome sometimes fell short: The infamous Nagakin Tower Capsule, designed by Kisho Kurokawa and erected in 1972, is now mostly occupied by rust and mold. Even so, the buildings command attention. “I find them evocative, futuristic and epic in ways that more successful or subdued buildings of the era can’t match,” Blachford says.

He made them appear almost dystopian by shooting after dark—a trick he used for his previous project Midnight Modern, which imbued ordinarily cheerful, Palm Springs ranch homes with dramatic tension and mystery. Over five nights in May 2017, Blachford wandered Tokyo from dusk to dawn—”the classic nine-to-five grind flipped upside down,” he says—hunting buildings scoped out ahead online. Armed with his Nikon D810, he circled each building’s perimeter, moving further and further out each time to pinpoint the perfect angle and shot. Getting it occasionally required such feats as climbing a 14-story fire escape, convincing a construction crew to lend him a crane, and sneaking onto private property to unscrew a distracting light bulb.

Often, Blachford listened to the Blade Runner soundtrack through his earbuds, letting the 1982 sci-fi classic guide the project’s sensibilities. The gritty films of director Nicholas Winding-Refn also inspired the saturated palette, which Blachford tweaked with the help of retouching artist Bridget Allen. “I wanted the images to feel completely neon-stained,” he says, “for everything to be cool and fluorescent and a little unwelcoming.”

Unwelcoming as these eerie scenes might be, you can’t help wishing you could explore them. They transport you to another time and place—one you won’t exactly find on a map.