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Every year Ellen and I go to the AIPAD photo fair in NYC. We each have a different way and pace of going through all of the gallery booths and we usually split up and reconvene at the end of the day to compare our favorites. It is still surprising to me how often we not only discover the same photographer but often the same image. At the 2015 fair Ellen was very excited about a young Japanese artist at the Michael Hoppen Gallery named Sohei Nishino that I had totally missed and I couldn't quite figure out what she was talking about until I saw it with my own eyes. We were intrigued and decided to invite him to the residency. He came in April of 2016 and was our first artist from Asia and one of the youngest artists we had ever hosted.
Sohei makes these gigantic "diorama" city maps comprised of thousands of tiny 35mm contact prints, all shot with a conventional film camera and developed and printed in the darkroom, that he has meticulously collaged together to form a geographically stylized but very representational map of major cites of the world. We learned that he had just recently had been commissioned by SFMOMA to do a map of San Francisco for the reopening of the museum in 2016 which was a huge deal. In June we made a trip to San Francisco and Sohei arranged a fabulous tour of the new museum with Corey Keller, the chief photography curator.
This recent video from SFMOMA covers the history of the diorama project pretty well and the video below showing the time lapse production of the complete map of Amsterdam is fascinating.
We always try to encourage our artists to do ambitious new projects when they come and tell them we can connect them with scholars and resources that will help them stretch. Be careful what you wish for! Sohei said he had worked exclusively in urban environments and since he was coming to a forested location he said he wanted to do something with nature. He said he had researched Duke Forest and that he wanted to do macro photographs of yellow slime mold!
I was so not ready for that and was bracing myself for a week of Googling slime mold and trying to find someone who knew something about it. I swear I am not making this up--THAT EVENING I went to an opening at the Nasher Museum at Duke University and ran into my freshman biology teacher from 1976, Dr. David McClay. Dave had been to a few Cassilhaus events and knew about the residency program and I said, "I had the craziest request from a visiting artist-he wants to shoot macro photographs of yellow slime mold." Without missing a beat Dave said "we have one of the top yellow slime mold experts in the world working in our lab AND we work with another scholar who is an expert in photographing slime mold." Who knew???? I was so happy we were able to connect Sohei to these experts before he arrived.
When Sohei got here he almost immediately started taking trips into the forest-with some trepidation at first. He is a city boy. I was a bit bummed that he never mentioned anything about yellow slime mold but was photographing for hours every day. About a week in he asked me if I had a very large piece of paper. Not thinking much about it I gave him some black craft paper that I used for picture framing. Two pieces about 3'x7'. Before I knew it he had tacked the paper to the wall in the studio and had started mounting small contact prints. HE WAS MAKING A MAP OF DUKE FOREST!
Click to enlarge any of the photographs
It was so exciting that he was starting a whole new kind of map here during his residency. Even he didn't expect to make something like this as he was using non archival paper and Elmer's glue. He said he was just experimenting and before he knew it he had a completed piece called New Hope Creek which is the name of the creek below the house. He asked if we could photograph it so we mounted it to a sheet of luan plywood and took it out on the deck to shoot.
We borrowed a 4x5 film camera so he could get a high resolution shot.
Believe it or not Sohei had it shipped back to Tokyo. We were so honored that it is its own Work category on his website.
PS. 2016 was a big year for Sohei. After Cassilhaus and the SFMOMA commission he tied the knot with his lovely bride Miho.