09 Jul 2020

INSIDE THE STUDIO with Alicja Dobrucka: Nico

Zoë Foster

INSIDE THE STUDIO with Alicja Dobrucka: Nico

An exclusive look at Alicja Dobrucka’s ‘Nico’, a new body of work capturing Tokyo by night.

Tokyo

During her time in Tokyo, Alicja Dobrucka photographed the neighbourhoods of Sumida-Ku and Koto-Ku. The areas appeared like an average nondescript accumulation of houses close to Ryogoku, famous both for its Sumo wrestling centre as well as the Hokusai Museum. Nico, the artist’s favourite bar, was also in this area. Alicja Dobrucka embarked on a series of photography portraits in low light of the people she met there, alongside pictures of the surrounding vernacular architecture.  The works celebrate the beauty of Tokyo at night.

Listen to Alicja discuss this series in her ‘INSIDE THE STUDIO‘. 

Untitled #2, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #2, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

Untitled #3, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #3, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

56 x 46 cm

Alicja finds that the night transformed this mundane city scape into a stage where something is always about to happen. The night light illuminating the streets brings out eery colours and unexpected shadows. After that, it made her realise that the surfaces of these buildings were portraits in their own right. 

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki – ‘In Praise of Shadows’

Similarly,  when making this series of work, Alicia was influenced by the writings of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. ‘In Praise of Shadows’, his essay on aesthetics, would come to her mind. Tanizaki declared that there is ‘no beauty without shadows’. Above all, in her photographs of these Tokyo nights, Alicja creates a visual treatise demonstrating this. 

Untitled #4, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #4, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

The streets are inhabited by shadows and darkness that reminded Alicja of Tanizaki’s meditation of the enigmatic and sensual power of the light at night. He was not a fan of electricity and was known to ask for lightbulbs to be changed to candles, an effect that she replicated with the portraits.

Tanizaki also famously declared that there is ‘no beauty without darkness and shadow’. The ‘Nico series’ captures the spirit of this statement.

Untitled #5, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #5, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

Untitled #6, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #6, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

For Alicja, these exterior portraits of buildings and of surfaces transformed by the night light echo the portraits inside the bar. Equally, she also comments on the special quality of the light at night. It transforms the streets into a stage where something is about to happen. In summary, there is an underlying sense of anticipation in all of the works.

The process

Importantly, all of the images are taken with a large format camera. The slow, analogue process creates considered images, with the camera capturing and framing people and buildings in this eery, magical light. The process with the camera allows for the considered images of eery streets alive with ethereality and mystery, and portraits alive with possibility. It also allows the night light to become like candle light, illuminating the subjects and bringing them out of the shadows of the night.

Untitled #7, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #7, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

Therefore, these portraits of surfaces transformed by the night light echo the portraits inside the bar. In other words, the inside fuses with the outside. We are invited to share these intimate images of a vibrant city at night.

Untitled #8, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #8, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

56 x 46 cm

Untitled #9, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #9, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

Similarly, as with all photographs in the ‘Nico‘ series, the sense of shadow is crucially important within the work. She utilises light and highlight. The night light illuminating the streets brings heightened colours and brings out unexpected shadows. Then the surfaces of these buildings transform into portraits in their own right. They become the perfect counterparts to the more traditional portraits within the series.

Untitled #10, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #10, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

Hokusai and Japanese culture

Alicja also references Japanese culture within the series. She both celebrates it and transforms it into a contemporary subject. The neighbourhood houses the Hokusai Museum. Details such as the tree within this work references those within work by the Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, as well as other Japanese artists and screen painters. Similarly, the colours of the wall and barrier echo his palette. Therefore through careful framing of her lens, Dobrucka is able to reference these scenes and the culture with her contemporary eye.

Untitled #11, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #11, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

41 x 51 cm

The portraits of the people that Alicja meets inside the bar are all framed by the light and the darkness. Therefore, the effect that she creates is similar to that of the sense of candle light. Furthermore, Alicja heightens the shadows and the darkness and illuminates some details. A hand or face which emerge from the shadow.

Untitled #12, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #12, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

56 x 46 cm

Untitled #13, Nico series

Alicja Dobrucka

Untitled #13, Nico series

C-print, 2016/2020

56 x 46 cm

London-based Polish artist Alicja Dobrucka’s interest focuses upon topics concerning cultural identity and cultural transfer. She is intrigued by the point where cultures meet and merge. Alicja’s artistic practice explores the new possibilities that come out of such encounters.

About the artist

Alicja Dobrucka is the recipient of many prestigeous prizes and awards with her photography, including Wienerberger Comission, Vienna; Plat(t)form, Winterthur Fotomuseum, Switzerland; Deutsche Bank Fine Art Photography Award and Grant, London.

Her extensive international exhibitions includes Mulhouse Biennale of Photography, Hombourg, France; Chennai Photo Biennale, India; LOOK International Photography Festival, Tate Liverpool; Creative Cities Collection, The Barbican, London; Kunst Raum Riehen, Switzerland; New Contemporaries, ICA, London and Photographers’ Gallery, London.

Her work is in collections internationally including Krakow Museum of Photography, Poland; Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, K*MoPA, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; Wienerberger Collection, Vienna, Austria; Space 118 Collection, Mumbai, India and Paul Smith Collection, London.