TONY CARO (photography) is a Sydney architect and principal of Tony Caro Architecture. He has travelled to Japan many times and has made nine visits to its northernmost island, Hokkaido, the subject of his work here.


Most architects are inveterate visual documenters of their travels.  It is interesting to reflect on this – moving through myriad and diverse places, apprehending fleeting moments in time.  They may be typical or atypical moments: it is simply, randomly what it was like when you happened to be there.  Roman Holiday or Don’t Look Now.

A consequence of returning to the one place again and again is that the archetypal travelogue glimpse can expand into a space of greater insight, nuance and reflection: after all, the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi spent an entire career painting still-life in just one room.

In 2006 we travelled to Japan and an old volcanic potato-farming region in the south-west coastal mountains of Hokkaido that just happens to have the lightest, driest, most consistent snowfall on the planet.  Hokkaido is Japan’s Tasmania – different, sparse, remote, rural, fresh and clean: fecund in summer, monochromatically and forbiddingly Fargo-esque in winter.  Siberia is just over the horizon.  The winter monsoon opens a freezer door to the vast, frigid landmass of Eurasia and the default weather regime is relentless snowfall.

My work is a visual memoir of this metaphysical “space/place” across a decade of time.  It is also subliminal – its collective meaning revealing itself only as it was being made.  Hopefully the whole is greater then the sum of the parts, enriched by the juxtaposition of experiential depth and spontaneity.

I have always been happy to take pictures with whatever device is at hand: in this instance variously a 35mm SLR, a compact camera or an iPhone.  As far as influences go I am drawn to the compositional strength and subjective focus of photographers such as Bill Henson.  The camera is reduced to an oculus flitting between mind and subject.  Technology is servant.  Manipulation of the image is then a matter of intensely personal artistic ethics.

I have become entranced with this remote, strange region and in doing so, all things Japanese.  Having returned every year, we are witnessing the transformation of a mono-cultural agrarian society into a globally connected multi-cultural lifestyle destination.  In some ways this has been an invasion: an unwitting, stealthy coup that will inevitably extinguish a remote, fragile cultural milieu in the pursuit of contemporary forms of pleasure.

In a wider context it may be said that aside from the emblematic Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in places such as Kyoto, it seems that built heritage is of less inherent interest when compared to Japan’s deeply revered and extraordinary natural landscapes.  A building is mostly little more than a container for life.  It is what happens inside – family, friends, food, objects, technology – that is of inestimably higher intrinsic value to the citizens of this unique, seductive country.

Tony Caro April 2015