Photographer Captures The Grey Area Between Sci-Fi & Reality in Neon-Colored Tokyo

We spoke to  Cody Ellingham, the photographer and creator of Derive - a cinematic photo and digital experience exploring the cyber metropolis that is Tokyo, Japan. 

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So, Cody - who are you?

I am Cody Ellingham. I am an art director and photographer based in Tokyo. 

I am the creator of DERIVE, an exploration of Tokyo – the world's first cyberpunk metropolis. 

Hailing from New Zealand, what drew you to Tokyo? What is it about the city that keeps you there?

I grew up in a small town on the East Coast of New Zealand surrounded by rivers and mountains. 

Back then, Tokyo seemed like a distant dream, a fantasyland of potential beyond reach.

I started studying Japanese literature and learning the language and first came in 2012. 

Since then I have established myself here and see it as the true beginning of my creative career.

Your latest project, Derive, focuses on Tokyo as the world's first cyberpunk city? What exactly is a cyberpunk, and what story are you telling with your photos in this series?

Cyberpunk is a sci-fi literary genre. Common motifs include 

A.I., dystopian cities, mega corporations and hackers, but more importantly it is a cultural manifestation of what an uncertain, postmodern future looks like.

Aesthetically, Tokyo had an archetypal role to play in the visual development of cyberpunk in the early days. It was a city born from the ruins of war, but that still held onto pockets of the old city unchanged. There was an ubiquitous embrace of technology and a silent domination by mega-corporations that contrasted with monolithic public housing and biker gangs on the fringes of society.

We are no longer building cyberpunk worlds in fiction like this, they are real. 

DERIVE means to wander, to explore the city without a map. 

I pick up the pieces of the cyberpunk aesthetic with my visual explorations, to understand what this place was, and what it could have been. 

I use reflection, geometry, light and shape to evoke this.

Who and what are some of your main influences (movies, music, people, photographers, etc.) What specifically about that work inspires your own photography?

I am interested in two things: the past, and what the future could have been. 

I am drawn to the old, the forgotten, the real. Kawabata Yasunari's stories of the slums of Old Tokyo before the war, the glistening spires of glass in the dark world of Akira, Vergil's dreams of Arcadia... 

I am drawn to the profound colors of Terayama Shuji's plays and films and the blue tint of an expired roll of Fujifilm Velvia. 

I see all of these as markers on the road to creating.

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As a professional photographer and creative, what do you think about instagram as a medium? Good? Bad? Both? Why?

Instagram is an excellent way for people to engage with your work and to discover other like-minded creatives, it is your portfolio in a sense. 

However it is not with out its caveats. I feel like there is a very alluring tendency to 'chase the likes' more than developing a style. 

I always shoot my photographs with the implicit understanding that they will be hung on a wall and looked at closely. 

I sometimes wonder what Howard Roark would think of hashtags.

What personally fulfills or motivates you as a creative?

I always work by myself, it is my medicine and meditation.

There is a mountain somewhere that I used to climb when I was younger. When you are up there, you are the only person, there is no world, no mirror looking back at you judging your work, only the awe of being. 

I try to return to that mountain when I create my work. I carry on my back the technical and artistic considerations of what others before me have done, but when I am up there it is only me.

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"We are no longer building cyberpunk worlds in fiction like this, they are real."

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"I sometimes wonder what Howard Roark would think of hashtags."

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Thanks to Cody --  be sure to check out the Derive experience on Derive.Tokyo, and definitely follow him on instagram.


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