Roadside Lights I & II © Eiji Ohashi
Vending Machines by Eiji Ohashi (大橋英児)
Listening time ⏰ 5 minutes 27
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Welcome to Instant POD, Charlène's minute podcast for Sugoi Photo devoted to Japanese photographic news. Instant POD is a keyword, an artist or a photo related to this news to discover more about contemporary Japanese photography.
Today we take a look at the vending machines by photographer Eiji Ohashi.
More than 14 years ago, Eiji Ohashi began a strange series devoted to a no less strange object: the vending machine, or jidohanbaiki in Japanese, commonly abbreviated as jihanki.
Awarded several international prizes, such as the Moscow International Foto Awards (2016), the Photo-eye Best Books (2017) or the Special Photographer Award at the 34th Higashikawa Awards (2018), Eiji Ohashi has published 3 books over the years entirely devoted to vending machines: Roadside Lights (published by Zen photo gallery in 2017), Being There (in 2017, at Case publishing), and finally Roadside lights Seasons: Winter(at Case publishing, in 2020).
Le jidohanbaiki is an everyday object for the Japanese, first appearing in the Archipelago in 1888, but developed en masse from the 1960s. On urban avenues (especially in Tokyo), there are a plethora of these distributors mainly offering vacuum-packed food, cigarette packets or drinks in cans or bottles. The latter alone represent more than half of the number of jidohanbaikiin Japan, more than 4 million machines in total. Not to mention the distributors of more “confidential” goods, such as new or used panties, live lobsters or even raclette cheese!
However, in competition with convenience stores conbini open 24 hours a day, 24 days a week, the number of ATMs has been steadily decreasing in urban centers since the early 7s. However, in the most remote places or those less accessible to people – or to convenience stores! –, like the mountains of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, where the photographer Eiji Ohashi was born, lives and works, the jidohanbaiki remains a safe, long-lasting and reassuring value.
"Reassuring" is not an empty word in the case of Eiji Ohashi, who has made the vending machine his totem. Indeed, he affirms that the presence of these machines in the most isolated corners, stripped of all human presence, has something of the order of the reassuring: the electric light that they emit continuously gives them an almost warm air, like the saving glow of a lighthouse lost in the immensity, which tells you that you are not alone in the world.
More than documentary or anecdotal photography, these are real photo portraits of these machines that Eiji Ohashi has been producing since 2008. The photographer sees in them a similarity with human beings. Like us, the jidohanbaiki are exposed to loneliness, especially in the vast spaces of Hokkaido; like us, they must be attractive or they will disappear, work tirelessly to sell better. For the photographer, there is definitely something human in these servile machines, slaves to our well-being, which we no longer even notice, but which the artist seeks to reveal through his photographs. In other words, capturing the invisible of our daily life and revealing it in a new light through his photos.
Eiji Ohashi has photographed vending machines from all angles, in all seasons, in color and black and white, day and night. Mainly at dusk or just before dawn, in the heart of the snowy winter, for the photos that appeared in his latest publication Roadside lights Seasons: Winter. A single constant in all these photographs: the landscapes depict the distributors of Hokkaido encountered during the wanderings of the photographer, who likes to look for new jidohanbaiki, as one would seek to meet new friends.
Art historian. Doctor in Contemporary Japanese Photography
- Eiji Ohashi's website: https://eijiohashi.com/en/works
- Publications by Eiji Ohashi: https://eijiohashi.com/en/publishing
- Article “Vending Machines in Trouble Against Japanese Convenience Stores”, Nippon.com, 2018:https://www.nippon.com/fr/features/h00258/
- Exhibition: At Akio Nagasawa Gallery Aoyama https://www.akionagasawa.com/jp/exhibition/roadside-lights/
podcast © Charlène Veillon & sugoi.photo, image © Eiji Ohashi