back to Bedtown Series

Cozy, sleepy and quiet are the attributes of the many so called bedtowns on the peripheries of Japan’s largest cities. Early in the morning when most people in Tokyo still sleep, the first bedtowners embark on the commuter train – a ride that could very well take longer than two hours each way. The rhythm of leaving early in the morning and arriving late at night has the effect that most bedtowns are virtually deserted during the day. The bedtown syndrome is suggesting a type of daily escapism whereas the direction of the escape is open to discussion.

The images in the Bedtown Series are an attempt to capture this phenomenon from the perspective of a fellow commuter. Ironically, the impersonal and purely functional space of the train sometimes allowed for very intimate portrayals of strangers. Above all, in a nation that suffers a chronic lack of sleep, it was sleeping passengers that I found to be most intriguing. In a space where direct eye contact and a minimum of human exchange is usually avoided, the trains and stations where also stages for great emotions. Sunday evenings tended to be the peak of this routine, when couples said goodbye for the week as their bedtowns are on opposite ends of the city.

With the commencement of this project in mid 2003, Japanese cell phones were the first in the world to have integrated digital cameras. The early model’s image quality was low which would also explain oddities in colour and exposure. Nevertheless, it is exactly this low quality that allows some images in the Bedtown Series to look like romanticized realities even paintings. The beauty of quite meaningless scenes in a train was often surpassed by the beauty of a digital capture of that scene.

The small handheld device of a digital camera proved to be ideal for the narrow space of the train. The candid nature of the camera gave access to a world that one couldn’t enter with larger equipment except one photographs hidden such as Walker Evans or more recently Luc Delahaye. Never trying to disguise the camera itself, I still consider Bedtown to be a product of a hidden camera as its actual use is another in most people’s eyes. This however, raises critical questions about the voyeuristic nature of cell phone cameras and indeed photography itself.

With or without the camera, the interior of a train remains a space where one might be observed and watched. To sleep is one way to escape that world, as life in bedtown is one way to escape from the city and vice versa. The constant movement of bedtowners suggests that there is a destination. And with movement being repeated every day for sometimes a whole lifetime I found it was hard to realize that this movement in a way is indeed the destination – not only of a train but of life itself.

Bedtown is symbolic for an overly functional society that struggles to put economic demands and individual development into relation. As a part - or onlooker - of that society one cant help but to view the millions of people streaming in and out of the city as mass rather than individuals with their own story and their own reasons to portray themselves we see them.
Marco Bohr, 2005
back to Bedtown Series