How would you greet a Frenchman?
Minutes before my interview with Tokyo-based, French photographer, Samuel Cockedey, I sat anxiously at the outdoor corner table at Starbucks in Harajuku waiting for the guy who has become somewhat of an Internet legend for producing some of most amazing time-lapses of Tokyo. My mind was racing; I was imagining how our first encounter would play out. Questions were popping through my mind. How do I introduce myself? Would it be tacky if I said “bonjour?” How will he introduce himself? Should I sit on the opposite side of the table and give him the shade from the sunlight? Is he going to get pissed off because we’re conducting the interview in English? Shit. Here he comes….
Sam: Hi. Sam.
Paul: Paul. Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming out.
Note: for those not familiar with time-lapses, they are essentially hundreds or even thousands of still photos put in a sequence together to create an animation.
If you’re a YouTube junkie or one of those high-end-video / Vimeo-only type people, then you must have seen at least one of Sam’s time-lapses of Tokyo. If you haven’t, then you’re not one of the millions that have viewed his videos. In fact, Google “Tokyo Time Lapse” right now. The last time I checked, Sam’s time-lapses were at the top of the search results. This is quite impressive considering that Sam’s interest in photography was more of a hobby. His time lapses have really influenced other people (myself included), and he has carved a name for himself as a creative (though he doesn’t consider himself one).
Having lived in Japan for thirteen years, Sam knows Tokyo. He knows its pulse. He knows the best locations, roof tops, balconies, and vantage points to set up his tripod and camera to capture that sprawl of Tokyo which people expect and want to see. You know that post-Apocalyptic / cyber punk image of Tokyo if you’ve seen Blade Runner or if you’re familiar with Shiro Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell; it’s the contrast of temples, kimonos, and fucken Hello Kitty.
Sam’s Remanence shows us Tokyo as a sleeping giant; it’s big, organic, and monstrous, but it also has a calming side. Shot from a far distance, Remanence shows us Shinjuku’s skyline with looming clouds, sunsets, a falling moon combined with Cliff Martinez’s Is That What Everybody Wants audio track. The Remanence is solemn; it’s that moment when the intensity of Tokyo’s speed settles down.
You know that feeling of having the Internet connected directly to your brain with an ethernet cable? I personally don’t know what that feels like, however, Sam’s other time-lapse, Interstates, is probably the closest we can get to actually experiencing the World Wide Web connected via the base of our skull; the ultimate in Net connectivity.
Interstates was built around Paul Frankland’s (AKA Woob) Paradigm Flux, which is fast, quirky beat; perhaps this is what R2D2 would sound like if it took a dose of speed.
Aside from the opening clip of the high-angle view of Tokyo, most of the clips are shot from closer, tighter range using a wide-angle lens. Shibuya, Ichigaya, Shinjuku, and the Rainbow Bridge are locations for Interstates; the shots are well composed with night scenes of busy Tokyo. Night trains speeding through the lit stations; the combination of the visuals and the music literally feels like an electric pulse running through the nodes and synapses in your brain. It’s solid, sleek, and inhuman (in a good sense).
I DREAM IN ISO 1600
When I go to sleep, I’m convinced that when I dream, the world I see through my sleep-mode viewfinder is in ISO 1600; monochrome, grainy, blurred with lots of nice imperfections. Sam’s recent series of still photos, “Ghosts in Tokyo,” reminds me of my REM states. This series is a departure from time-lapses that Sam is renowned for, and he does an interesting job of extracting curiosity and creativity out of dull cityscapes that I often see these days on Instagram. The moment I first saw the photos on his website, I said to myself, “what the…Oh..okay. Nice…” This is cool. Very off; fresh; playful. In fact, that’s what Mr. Cockedey elaborated about the series – super sharp, clear photos of reality are sometimes boring. “Why do I want to shoot what I already see? I’d like to see a zebra grazing over there (pointing towards an area of the outdoor Starbucks); that would be interesting,” Sam explained in a sincere tone. “Cool. Very vogue,” I thought. One point for the Frenchman.
Hammerhead sharks lurking in the Tokyo skies above seen through a window of a high-rise building. A manta ray cruising on its way to Narita Airport, perhaps. The “out of place” objects look “correctly placed” in angle, size and distance from the buildings. It looks as if some weird shit actually happened in the universe. Or perhaps cable-channel Animal Planet paid some big bucks for a kick-ass advertising campaign.
Sam said that it took him a lot of time to pick the right images of sharks, etc., to match with the overall balance and composition of the photos, and make something unreal real. He didn’t want it to look like a simple cut-and-paste job, and he suceded in a way. Initially, I thought that the images were due to some mechanical function of an old film camera and his Ricoh was possessed and had hidden Sixth Sense-style secrets to expose. The truth is that Mr. Cockedey’s imagination was at work putting all those creatures above Shinjuku.
When Ghosts Disappear
I asked Samuel what’s in store for his future in photography. As the Ghosts series exemplifies, the sky is the limit at this point for Sam. He says openly that he hasn’t done a lot of serious shooting recently with his Canons (the ones he used for his time lapses). Instead, his iPhone + Hipstamatic have been his eye to the world. As for bigger projects, Sam’s says that he’s open to dialogue with other photographers in Tokyo, and perhaps collaborate on a visual project that will challenge his skills and interest. He wants to see other people’s work, be inspired, and in exchange create even more exciting stuff. Another time lapse? That’s something he does very well, but I think he wants to explore other possibilities with the camera. I’ve always known Sam for his time lapses, but after talking with him about Ghosts in Tokyo, I think we can expect some juicy stuff from Monsieur Cockedey in the future.
Sam on YouTube
Sam on Vimeo
Interview by Paul del Rosario
Follow Paul on Twitter: @boykun