Sohei Nishino: Diorama Maps

by nathandowningsolent

The astounding and bizarre imagery of Sohei Nishino is one of cartographic and artistic mastery. His photomontages depict a whimsical topography of a variety of major cities, filled with recognisable landmarks, rivers, bridges and details you would usually find on any decent map. But this astounding artwork is more of a caricature tourist map and its accuracy is certainly far from Ordinance Survey. But which one is more aesthetically pleasing? Which map would you prefer hanging on your wall? The detail seen throughout the picture is visually overwhelming and huge in size, but has a deep, complex and intertwining allure to it, more like a cartographical “Wheres Wally” than something easily decoded; the images certainly takes time to digest on first look.

Created in the early 21st century and appropriately naming the body of work “Diorama Maps”, Nishino reveals a quirky but artistic finesse through the complicated yet creative way in which he works. Taking all the photos himself, Sohei Nishino spends a month on location prior to producing the large-scale artwork, scouting his location. Then, picture by picture, as he wonders the streets,  he starts to builds an obscure and reflective diorama of the city. Part-interpretive to his experience and part-relative to the schematics of his setting, he is then able to reproduce a mass of astonishing detail collectively connected, as if a a giant puzzle, to depict the warped structuring of a beautiful city. The baffling part for me, was the notion of remembering and sorting each photo relative to where its place on the map, the physical assembling of the finished piece, gargantuan in size, must take days of painstakingly tedious cutting, placing, arranging and pasting.

Amsterdam, 2014, Sohei Nishino

Amsterdam, 2014, Sohei Nishino

Crop, Amsterdam, 2014, Sohei Nishino

Crop, Amsterdam, 2014, Sohei Nishino

Sohei Nishino takes a huge inspiration from the 18th century Japanese cartographer Inõ Tadataka. This incredible man spent 16 years walking around Japan mapping the surroundings. Starting at the age of 55, he started crafting the first topographical representation to accurately document Japan. Unfortunately Tadataka died before he could complete such a mammoth task. The project wasn’t left to deteriorate however, and was thankfully completed by others three years after his death. This effort and determination is utterly admirable, Sohei Nishino said this “In this age we can know the world just by staying at home, we really need a passion like this” (Shore, R, Post-Photography, 2014)

In a similar style to Tadataka, using his feet as a means of documentation and discovery, he creates intricate cartography that is his own characterised version, dissimilar to the actual likeness of the city. This is exaggerated more in some parts and adequately less in others. The notion of a personal experience being reflected in these dioramas is important to Sohei Nishino and he undertakes every part of the work process himself. This way, he allows his memories and sensibility to direct the final production of the map, all so relative to the time he spent there.

The colours, density, and complexity are also reflective of his personal interaction with a city and are certainly something he concentrates on perfecting. A perfection however, that he does not feel is achievable when using the contemporary powerhouse that is photoshop, making sure he sticks and glues everything by hand. He attempted this photographic wizardry in photoshop but later stopped due to unforeseen and unfavourable outcomes; did not reflect the playful intricacy seen in his other dioramas. Personally, I strive to gain the same level of determination as the 33 year old Sohei Nishino and hope to be able to push myself, to create artwork on the same technical level. The time required to create such work is a projection of self-satisfactory bliss and something I hope to envelop as I progress within my photographic endeavours.


Nishino, S, “Sohei Nishino – Jerusalem”,Michael Hoppen Contemporary, Youtube, 2013 [Viewed 28 Feb 2015] Available at:

Nishino, S, “Biography”, Sohei Nishino Online, 2014 [Viewed 28 Feb 2015]]

Available at:

Shore, R, “Post Photography: The Artist with a Camera”, 2014, Laurence King Publishing