Drifting Under the Neon Lights.
By Craig Atkinson.
It’s late on a cold winter’s night in Tokyo.
I’m waiting at a franchise coffee shop in Shibuya to interview photographer Cody Ellingham.
I’m surrounded by a sea of people plugged into the digital world on their own electronic devices when I receive a text from Cody on mine in an unusual font. He’s informing me that he’s waiting outside but I wonder what he texted me from. Was it from an old device? Or from something that has yet to be released?
We leave, heading to a place only a few minutes away, which is smaller, darker, smokier, and far less known.
Cody is a 25-year-old New Zealander living in Tokyo, whose current project is called DERIVE. DERIVE is all about exploring the world’s first cyberpunk city, Tokyo, through Cody’s own unique perspective.
Cyberpunk is a subculture that merges low culture, high technology, and snippets of science fiction, is set in dystopian futures, and features hackers, A.I and rogue technologists as thematic elements.
DERIVE, is Cody’s take on modern-day cyberpunk.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film, Blade Runner, and is being celebrated with a new film, Blade Runner 2049, set to be released in October, which makes DERIVE all the more fitting.
I sat down with Cody to find out more about the story behind his images.
Me: What sparked you to create images like these?
Cody: In the beginning, it was the influences of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell (a Japanese anime), William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and the ‘80's. I have been fascinated with the imagery of these for years. However, now, it’s the philosophy behind the imagery that has driven me to create DERIVE. The fact that we all live in this dense metropolis, are all connected in various ways, and, yet, are still so disconnected from one another is reminiscent of such imagery. In addition, I thoroughly enjoy taking photos of the city at night.
I feel that what sets DERIVE apart is it’s literary background, stemming from authors such as William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, and Katsuhiro Otomo, just to name a few. However, films such as The Terminator and Aliens, as well as the work of director Ridley Scott have also played their roles.
Me: How did DERIVE begin?
Cody: I started drawing pictures, using a cell phone camera and writing short stories. I’ve always had this idea of capturing “a Tokyo moment” long before I even lived here. Now that I do, I am finally able to produce the images that I want.
Me: When did you start taking photos? And what did you use?
Cody: I didn’t start until I first came to Japan in 2012. My first camera was a Fujifilm X100, which I still have, and use occasionally for street photography. My go-to camera is a Canon 6D, however.
Me: What is it about Tokyo that inspires you so much?
Cody: Tokyo is not just a postmodern city. It has layers of history, dating back hundreds of years, which overlap and overwrite each other in a way that hasn’t been seen in anywhere else.
Me: Do you have a favorite spot?
Cody: Aside from Shinjuku, which is the heart of cyberpunk. I like to shoot in Shimbashi. The alleys and arches around the station have a mix of the old and the new, creating some beautiful imagery. In addition, there’s a building called the Nakagin Capsule Tower. It was built in the 70’s in a style called Metabolism, which is truly amazing. Metabolites strived to design buildings in a modular form, in order to change how people thought cities should be organized. This, in turn, transformed Tokyo into the cyberpunk city that it is today.
Me: What are your future plans with DERIVE? And what is your final vision?
Cody: On March 13th I’m having an exhibition in Shibuya ( https://www.facebook.com/derive.tokyo ), with prints available. There are going to be images that haven’t been seen before. Then, the next step is to explore the world of DERIVE using motion and interactive mediums.
You can find Cody and his work on Twitter and Instagram @cbje_tokyo.