Philip-Lorca diCorcia: “Tokyo”
Published: April 6, 2011
The first time I saw this, the first time I saw his work in particular, I was just, “Damn you for thinking this first.” Because this is what I do in clubs. I throw up lights that aren’t supposed to be there, and I make it more dramatic than it’s supposed to be. And that’s what he does here. Here’s this beautiful streetscape, and you get to see something that’s really honest with nice lighting like what you could do in a studio.
One of the things about his work specifically that I like is that it’s very technical—not technical in the sense that his exposure is perfect. No, he has radio triggers, it’s relatively advanced for street photography, and I think because I taught myself—I read a lot of books, I tried a lot of things, made a lot of mistakes, and learned photography with a very trial-and-error approach—I have always gravitated toward the button-pressing part of it, where it’s very technological, where there’s science and math to it. And in this, deconstructing the light, you can see what’s not natural but he balances it very, very well that makes it seem natural to somebody not looking at it in the same way.
Look at the way this light cuts across here—it pulls these two women’s faces right out of the crowd in a way that only a really lucky burst of sunlight would get. He’s made his own sunlight. And by putting lights where they shouldn’t be, you get something that wouldn’t be there in nature. And that’s part of the illusion of photography—doing stuff like that enables a photographer to focus your eye on something you might not notice.
Because if you like street photography, it raises it to a different level, where you’ve got documentary street photography but you’ve recomposed it to your own liking. And in 1994 [the year the photo was taken], you don’t have the cush of digital. This is something he really had to think about, picking his marks and deciding where to put things. And that’s happened to every photographer a million times: You’re looking through the viewfinder and thinking, I just wish there was some light there. Well, bring some—because one of the really fun things about photography is controlling the light, and making things look the way you want to regardless of what nature says about it.
It’s just one of those instances where I think that the best photographers are the people willing to do what nobody else will do. You know, there’s a guy who climbs a mountain with a disposable camera and there’s another guy who lugs a large-format film camera up to the top of the mountain—one of them is going to make a nicer picture than the other.
> Email Frank Hamilton