A guide to the New East

Alone together

Searching for human connection on the streets of Tokyo

There is perhaps no better image to conjure up loneliness than one of a businessman riding a swan-shaped pedalo alone in the centre of Tokyo.

It was an image Aija Bley had imagined back home in Latvia, from everything she’d known about Japan prior to her visit, and was finally able to capture it in 2014.

Not knowing anyone in Tokyo, she stopped and talked to strangers on the street. Each chance encounter would lead to Bley taking their photo.

Without being fluent in Japanese, she had to communicate with the people she wanted to photograph by writing notes. Other moments she captured completely spontaneously.

The photographs are fragmentary — like the notes, the series is made up of fleeting moments and brief connections. It mixes together impressions of Japan that are at times real, fabricated or psychological.

This was Bley’s first experiment in shooting an entire project on an analogue camera, so the photographer wanted the focus of the work to be on each frame. “The camera no longer allows me to sharpen the image, but I continue to draw more closely without clicking the shutter,” she writes in one of the captions.

The closer she tries to get to her subject matter, the less recognisable it is. Entitled Love Stories but entirely lacking in love, the series is just as much about the photographer’s desire to connect to her surroundings as it is about the need for human intimacy.

Image: Aija Bley
Text: Liza Premiyak

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