HomeArticleIn Search of Shape and Color: A New Kind of Journey through the Sky

2022.06.15 UP

In Search of Shape and Color: A New Kind of Journey through the Sky

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Have you ever wanted to experience Japan’s major tourist destinations and scenic spots from an aerial view? Helicopter sightseeing flights make it possible for the general public to enjoy this kind of air travel. From the sky, we see countless picturesque scenes as part of an ever-changing visual gradation of the city and natural landscapes. What if a photographer could capture this thrilling, universal beauty? We took to the sky together with up-and-coming photographer Rumi Ando on a journey in search of new shapes and colors.

Photograph_Rumi Ando
Text / Edit_Shota Kato

Air mobility unlocks a thrilling new future

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We live in an era in which drones and even space travel are becoming more and more commonplace. Research on flying cars is garnering attention, with development and practical use a possibility for the near future. There is growing anticipation for how new conceptions of air mobility might change our use of the skies and make flight a convenient, accessible mode of transportation. Yet, for most people, flying is still a special, meaningful experience.

Helicopter sightseeing flights are providing new ways to enjoy Japan’s major tourist destinations and scenic spots from the sky. Sojitz has invested in AirX, which stands at the cutting edge of the industry among a number of companies providing helicopter sightseeing services. AirX offers a platform that allows people to easily reserve sightseeing flight packages featuring destinations across Japan.

Future air mobility will be characterized by reduced travel times. While people will be able to arrive at their destinations more quickly through revolutionary transportation methods, travelers still want to fully enjoy the sights while in transit. In the air, you might be mesmerized by the beauty of the city and nature endlessly interweaving below you, but if you take a moment to focus in on the details, you’ll be surprised to discover a new and captivating power. We set out on a journey through the skies with photographer Rumi Ando in order to capture the new perspectives and hidden world awaiting us high above.

Constructing a fictional Tokyo through photographs

14_img03.jpgSelection from “TOKYO NUDE” (2020)

Even in their purest, unadulterated forms, the cityscapes and natural landscapes that surround us have a certain magnetism that strikes a chord. If an artist could see this universal beauty from the sky and capture it in a photograph through their unique perspective, how might the city and nature transform before our eyes?

 Rumi Ando is an up-and-coming photographer who garnered attention for her 2020 photography series, “TOKYO NUDE.” With the series, Ando’s aim was to create a fictional geometry of Tokyo through photographs. She used photo retouching technology to modify the composition, removing the “noise” of the city and transforming Tokyo into a pare-downed form. The photos are simultaneously peaceful yet slightly disconcerting, giving viewers the feeling of having wandered into a parallel dimension.

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Ando sought to erase sensory information like windows, billboards, and outdoor AC units—the noise of human life that decorates our surroundings. Using color editing, Ando blends buildings into sky and clouds, creating a fictional cityscape. While this was Ando’s approach for TOKYO NUDE, for the helicopter trip, she ventured to cultivate a new form of photo expression while retaining the viewpoint expressed through her previous works.

Anonymous landscapes: Blending color and geometry in city and nature

The concept for this shoot was discovering the hidden shapes and colors in the urban and natural worlds. The true appeal of a bird’s eye view is the sense of the extraordinary that it evokes in us. We may find ourselves letting out a sigh of awe as we watch the scenery stretching out before us. However, when we focus in on one piece of the puzzle, the details that we never previously noticed are brought into stark relief. These elements are the new shapes and colors that we sought to capture through this shoot.

 We set out with Ando on a trip from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji, flying over Kanagawa Prefecture—a route ideal for enjoying the gradation of the city slowing giving way to nature.

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Notice the graphic, straight lines of the city buildings and interweaving highways, the colorful roof patterns of the tightly packed suburban apartment complexes, and the organic grids formed by the fields below. In manufacturing districts, there is an industrial feel from the countless rows of gas tanks and heavy machinery. By taking these images and effectively trimming and retouching them, Ando depicts a place that is Japan, but also could be anywhere. This intermingled peaceful yet unsettling tone is truly a hallmark of Ando’s art. A sense of the familiar coincides with an unsettling alternate dimension to distinguish Ando’s photos from the stock of aerial photography found online.

 Ando commented on a selection of photos from the shoot:

Wide-angle shots are the standard for most aerial photography. But I tried to use a more focused perspective—honing in on specific places, people, and communities. When I first peered through my lens from the helicopter, I felt a strong sense of connection with the people I spotted, whether they were taking a walk or surfing in the ocean. It was a calming experience for me.

 TOKYO NUDE is a series that deals with the feeling of discord, but I felt like erasing billboards and other details wouldn’t be an effective direction for this photo series. Also, since we were shooting from so high in the sky, the colors of the scenery became more subdued. I chose not to change the color schemes of the buildings and nature, and instead enhanced the existing contrast and hues. I wanted to make the city look like a toy box that had been dumped over, with toys spilling out across the landscape, and that was my intention as I selected photos for the series.

This series is full of landscapes that feel nameless—places you’d come upon completely by chance—and that made me want to give each a photo an abstract title. I think that abstraction is the most meaningful, and it allows you to gain a real sense of joy, as if you are rediscovering the beauty and charm of the cities and nature depicted in the photos.

AirX is making air transport more accessible to the public

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While Japan boasts one of the highest number of helipads in the world, many are not in use due to flight regulations. However, restrictions are expected to be relaxed in preparation for future commercialization of eVTOL aircraft and other vehicles classified as “flying cars.” Demand for helicopter travel is also expected to grow as consumers become aware of its convenience and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence people to seek out travel methods that allow them to avoid mass transit.

 AirX is solving problems in the air mobility field, such as the high costs and lengthy flight reservation processes by utilizing idle aircraft equipment and developing a flight reservation platform. Many consumers are still unfamiliar with helicopter travel, and AirX is working to contribute to the normalization of helicopters as a transportation method. As a result of AirX’s efforts, the company now offers helicopter flights that are approximately a fourth of the time of car travel, for one-tenth the price of existing helicopter services.

 AirX offers more than ten different types of sightseeing packages on their website. In addition to routes in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the company sets itself apart by collaborating with hotels and shopping centers, and AirX has even built a helipad at the Gotemba Premium Outlets. Moving forward, AirX aims to utilize vacant lots to increase the number of helipads in rural areas in preparation for future implementation of eVTOL technology.

 After the shoot, the helicopter pilot commented, “I had never thought of the ground below as having such a variety of shapes and colors. I feel like I discovered a new way to enjoy sightseeing flights, and I hope to share this perspective with future clients.” Even for someone accustomed to flying, this shoot was an opportunity to see things from a fresh perspective. Air travel’s role in our lives will only continue to grow in the future, so why not seek out a unique sightseeing flight experience at this moment when a new mobility culture is being born to enjoy sights that you will remember for the rest of your life?

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