Photographer Cody Ellingham on Building Community Around His Work

The creator behind ‘Danchi Dreams’ shares the genesis of his career-launching photobook and his advice for first-time creators.

Sep 4 · 6 min read


Tokyo-based photographer Cody Ellingham always dreamed of traveling through various cities around the world and photographing the buildings and places he saw along the way. In 2018, he decided to make his dream a reality by launching a Kickstarter project for his work called Danchi Dreams, a photobook capturing the history and current state of Japan’s public housing buildings originally built in the 1960s and ’70s.

His community rallied around the idea, and 177 backers pledged ¥1,802,947 to bring Danchi Dreams to life. Here, Ellingham shares the story behind the project, how he got the word out, and his advice for first-time creators in Japan looking to build community around their creative work.

What brought you to Kickstarter?

Why was this project important to you?

I was inspired by the ways that the original dream was encoded into the architecture and design of the buildings. The title of the project “Danchi Dreams” has a double meaning — the dreams of the people there at nighttime when I took the photos, but also the dreams of the generation who grew up in post-war Japan.

How did you build a community for your project?

I was able to get access to an old factory in Tokyo that my friends and I painted the inside to look like a danchi apartment. I printed out large versions of my danchi photographs and had some 1960s furniture for a real retro vibe. On the opening night of the exhibition, we had over 200 people turn up and swamp the place. There were so many people that it spilled out onto the street outside!

That night, I announced the Kickstarter campaign to everyone. This gave the project a big boost from the very beginning, and for the following week it meant that I could talk to people who came through to see the exhibition and individually show them the campaign and mockups of the book.

How else did you spread the word once it was live?

What was your approach to fulfillment?

I stayed in Taiwan while the book was being printed and made sure to visit the factory and follow the production process closely. My friends at Flaneur Culture Lab, who helped me produced the book, were able to find me some excellent deals on shipping. We worked together to package up and send the photo books out over a couple of days.

Other fulfillment tips I picked up: Look for good shipping deals. Sometimes you can use different shipping options (SAL, EMS, etc.) to nearby countries, which are cheaper than sending standard packages to everyone. Also, tracking codes are extremely useful, I made sure all my photo books had tracking codes and I personally messaged the backers so they could follow the status of their delivery.

Any tips on communicating with your backers?

As we got closer to shipping and my deadline, I wanted to make people feel at ease about the status of the project. I also took the time to make sure everyone was messaged with a thank-you and the tracking number for their order. This took a little bit of time on my end, but it gave me peace of mind that everyone was able to track the status of their order (some orders traveling as far as Mexico and Sweden).

What was one of the biggest challenges during your campaign and how did you overcome it?

Do you have any other tips you’d share for first-time creators, specifically those in Japan?

Cody Ellingham’s next photobook, Bangkok Phosphors, is live on Kickstarter through September 29, 2019.

Discover more projects by creators in Japan.

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Kickstarter Magazine

Stories about how independent creators bring their projects to life.

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