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Tokyo-ga at La Maison des Arenes

A Closer Look
Written by
Roshan McArthur
November 14, 2019

We love the stories that houses tell when you dig a little beneath the surface. Take La Maison des Arenes, a converted 17th-century townhouse in Arles, France. When we asked owner Gaetan Le Penhuel about the row of photographs behind the master bed, he told us that they are the work of his partner, Italian photographer Gianluca Gamberini, and were taken on the other side of the world.


“A great photo is the one that makes you doubt, that generates questions,” says Gamberini, who draws inspiration from travel and reading. While in Tokyo as an artist in residence, he photographed the facades of different houses. The resulting series, entitled Tokyo-ga (with a nod to the 1985 Wim Wenders documentary of the same name), was exhibited during Paris Photo 2013 at Galerie du Jour Agnès b. It focuses on the ‘order’ of the Japanese capital, the streets of the city, the fronts of the houses, and the spaces in between them. Gamberini’s background is in film, so the series is like a urban tracking shot, a cinematic technique where a camera is mounted on a dolly and placed on rails.

Tokyo streets are made up of tightly-packed houses that don’t quite touch, leaving small gaps that act as spaces for air and buffers for earthquakes. Today, they are often filled with vents and cables. The images are both anonymous and intimate, attempting to get between the public and private faces of Japanese life.


“Ma is the ‘in-between’ space,” architect Xavier Gonzalez writes in his commentary on the series, “an idea of the interstice between nothing and everything, between nothingness and that which is. Ma designates the interval, the space that joins. It covers the idea of keeping a certain distance between bodies, the right distance for example in martial arts or in the ritual greeting. It represents the distance necessary for two bodies to operate in space. It symbolizes the two matching qualities of union and harmony.”

Steve Bisson, founding editor of Urbanautica, adds: “The set gradually starts to reveal, even through the smallest details and imperfections, the social peculiarities of the place, the life of its inhabitants. Gianluca Gamberini depicts it in an almost ritual way, with the help of a large format camera, always keeping a strict eye on distance and scale. In his search for elegance, compositional order and a principle of balance amid constructive chaos, he discreetly avoids focusing on people. His search seems to stem precisely from a feeling of respect for what is being observed – i.e. Japan.”

To see the work of Gianluca Gamberini up close, click here.

Photographs by Gianluca Gamberini


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