One photographer’s paean to Tokyo’s parrot population
Parrots aren’t something you usually associate with Tokyo. They weren’t exactly what Japanese photographer Yoshinori Mizutani was accustomed to seeing either; when he first experienced a flock of green parakeets flying overhead in the city, he felt like he stumbled into Alfred Hitchock’s horror-thriller The Birds. After the initial shock wore off, Yoshinori set out to find and capture them in his series Tokyo Parrots.
Having moved from the countryside to the city, Yoshinori often finds himself walking through the busy streets to feed his visual curiosity. “Tokyo has been one of my main subjects,” he says. “I capture things that I find interesting in daily life, things you might not usually pay attention to,” he says.
We see examples of that in Colors, in which he reflects on the mundane of the everyday, transforming it, giving us a glimpse of his relationship with the surfaces, tones and textures that surround him.
Yet due to his rural upbringing, he often finds himself on a quest for nature in the urban context. “Nature in the city provides me both with a sense of comfort and an inspiration for my work.”
In YUSURIKA, for example, he turns nature seen in the city into a magical realm. The series features a tiny insect, the buzzer midge (or ‘yusurika’). When reflected in the camera flash, they appear as white specks of light, “like fairies in the natural world.”
And so, it comes as no surprise that the unusual population of lime green parakeets in Tokyo caught Yoshinori’s attention. “I thought it was fascinating to encounter parrots that are not supposed to be living in Tokyo; the fact that a foreign species like this has been growing in number in a megacity is very interesting.”
The rose-ringed parakeet (or if you’d prefer the scientific name, Psittacula krameri manillens) was brought to Japan in the 1960s as part of the so-called ‘pet boom’ but many were later released as they were considered hard to tame and so didn’t actually make for great pets. “Although there are about thousand of them in Tokyo today, not many people are aware of them.”
By using flash, Tokyo Parrots captures the uncanny feeling created by the birds’ presence. This makes the parrots look both magical yet alarming at the same time. On occasion he’s even been able to capture a momentary shadow in the flapping wings, which has an extra unsettling, eerie effect.
“I often use strong flash when I create an image in order to capture the color I like and put more emphasis on shapes of the subject,” he says. “Artificial light enables us to create colors that differ from reality, which is why I find it fascinating.”
The colors are definitely striking; the lime green bodies of the parrots illuminated against the faded pink and blue hues of the Tokyo sky.