Last week, we introduced you to Riccardo Parenti's beautiful film photographs around Nichitsu, a popular ghost town around three hours away from Tokyo. We got in touch with Parenti soon after and asked him to tell us more about his ongoing project and experiences in the famous haikyo ("abandoned place").
The mere mention of ghost towns and abandoned buildings instantly bring visions of terror to mind, but the film snaps taken by Tokyo-based Italian art director and photographer Riccardo Parenti around Nichitsu also tell tales apart from the horror stories usually associated with the famous ghost town.
With much of the previous residents’ personal belongings still intact inside the buildings and apartments, Parenti decided to let the ruins and disarray tell the stories left behind in the once bustling mining town. This and much more, we learned from the photographer himself when we asked about his first impressions and experiences around Nichitsu, as well as his motivations for keeping a photography project on the abandoned Japanese town.
1. Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
Hi! I’m an Italian Art Director and Photographer based in Tokyo since 2010. I love to explore ruins and abandoned locations and shooting with medium format film cameras.
2. How long have you been taking photos around Tokyo?
I started taking pictures around Tokyo since my first trip in 2008. In that occasion, I decided to consider the idea of living in the city. Last year, I started exploring ruins and doing Urban Exploration (UrbEx).
3. How did you find out about the ghost town of Nichitsu? What made you decide to go there and take photos?
I don’t want to say that there is a community or UrbEx groups in Japan, like in Europe. But, I can say there were people who went there before me and gave me coordinates to get there. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a car, its basically impossible to go there.
I primarily wanted to go there because it’s a pretty popular site, but at the same time, I felt that maybe I’d be able to get something different from the typical photos I saw on internet. Let me explain: People usually want to shoot almost the same kind of photos, in the style of “old and creepy Japanese rooms” (like the “decapitated doll’s room” or the hospital). I focused my lens on the relatively intact rooms that were full of furniture and objects that belonged to the previous residents.
I’m very interested to photograph the rooms in a “voyeuristic” angle. I started a series entitled Camere con Vista (“Rooms with View”) since then, and it’s still an ongoing project.
4. Can you tell us about the first time you visited Nichitsu? What were your first thoughts? What did it feel like to be in such an interesting place?
The first time I visited Nichitsu, I figured out that it was a very big complex of old buildings, way bigger than what I thought from the pictures I saw on the Internet. The impact is amazing — the clinic, the school, the theater… You can easily see how each building belongs to a different era. Some dormitories look very antiquated, but very old style Japanese tatami rooms gradually evolved into a modern Japanese style during the 1990s.
Being in a such silent and creepy place, and you can’t help but think if there’s somebody looking at you, staying hidden behind some window…
5. We’re really fascinated with your photos of the ghost town. Why did you choose to take photos around Nichitsu in film?
I usually take pictures on film because I love the emotions that it brings. I believe that by using films, I have been able to catch Nichitsu’s atmosphere: the faded green tones of the clinic rooms, the yellow of the tatami floors, and the warm tones of the wooden interiors.
Kodak Ektar is an amazing color negative film if used on high contrast scenes. it can look like a reversal film depending on the situations. Honestly, I believe that the dynamic range of this film belongs to the 6×7 format cameras.
6. As with any abandoned building or so-called ghost town, Nichitsu has an eerie feel to it; was this the “feel” or “vibe” of the abandoned town that you wanted to capture in your photographs?
What I wanted to capture is the “vibe" of past life, especially inside the dormitories. You will see that all the things that belonged to the previous residents are still in the same position, covered with decades of dust. Everything seems dead but at the same time so full of life.
7. We’re really curious: Did anything spooky or creepy happen to you while you were shooting around Nichitsu?
Well, sometimes the silence is broken by some noise. It’s a town of creaky, crumbling wooden buildings, in the middle of a mountain forest. Sometimes, you figure that the rooms are full of personal items left by previous residents. There are even keys, documents, ID cards… It seems like the owners didn’t have the time to take anything because they were rushing to leave. Also, the place is full of rats and…ticks!
8. Of all the spots and buildings in Nichitsu that you’ve visited, which of them made an impression on you? Have you taken a photo of that spot/building?
Probably the theater and the dormitories. You can’t help but think about who possibly lived there, what they usually did inside their rooms (some were full of old manga, adult magazines, video games). I believe a lot of the owners were people around my age, and maybe some of them had the same interest as me.
9. You said that you experienced so many difficulties while photographing Nichitsu. Can you tell us about them?
I experienced difficulties not only in Nichitsu but all the haikyos (ruins) as well. Most of the time, you need to get there before sunrise to avoid the police. You’ll need to climb some windows. Also, the coordinates aren’t available to the public for all the places. Nichitsu is pretty famous but to get to other places, you need to ask about them from people who went before you.
10. Finally, can you give us some tips for those who would like to try documenting the interesting abandoned buildings and ghost towns in their area using film?
With film you are never 100% of the shots so take more than one photo/angle for the same room. Use a tripod and a flexible cable release because in many places, light isn’t enough, so you probably need to shoot long exposures. Bring with you enough films; sometimes, it’s not possible to visit the same place again because it may collapse. Be careful (don’t put your life in danger, please), be respectful (vandalism is a shame), don’t bring back souvenirs — even if it’s a rare or artistic item. I found some places that are full of very cool stuff, thanks to the people who went there before me and left things as they found it. The most important things: wear long trousers and use insect repellent spray.
Thank you so much, Ric, for taking the time to share with us your interesting story and fascinating film photos of Nichitsu!