These films are staples of the science-fiction genre known for their heavy philosophical ideas, engaging and thrilling plot lines, fantastic soundtracks, and memorable characters. However, both of these films do something very unique compared to traditional sci-fi film.
Amid all the action and dialogue in Ghost in the Shell, there is a 3-minute plus scene featuring 34 stunning and highly detailed, atmospheric shots of a futuristic Japanese city modeled after the city of Hong Kong.
Each shot gives the viewer more insight into the world they are watching; a dynamic city where old and new come together in a not-so-distant future. If anything, these shots help establish the city itself as a living, breathing character.
This interlude of pure ambiance is called an aspect-to-aspect transition. Less common among Western media, these transitions essentially stop time to provide multiple viewpoints of the same scene in order to establish a specific mood, feeling or emotion.
Both of these films do this on some level, with major cult classics like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men also use this transition technique or "wandering eye" to establish an unshakeable and lasting atmosphere, activating the senses and your imagination. Why?
All these films use their settings to facilitate a specific purpose. The mixture of both the familiar and unfamiliar, the cybernetically enhanced and normal, paired with neon-lit roads, the conventional ramen shop, and unconventional architecture create a world both alluring and cold, subtly driven by people's relationship with technology. These worlds are not too far from you. In fact, we are probably living in that world now.
Robots and Ants
The couple anticipateants and geometrieva have spent years wondering through futuristic metropolitan hubs like Tokyo and Singapore to create stunning shots that are reminiscent of the world's mentioned in the films above.
Their photos create an atmospheric, almost meditative narrative in which cybernetic enhancements and good ramen are just right around the corner. In some ways, these photos embody those small but powerful aspect-to-aspect transitions found in popular cyberpunk films.
Their pictures capture everything from the brooding and sometimes cold architecture in these cities to the subtle moments shared across forgotten alleyways.
When did your photography journey begin?
anticipateants: I was a photographer on a cruise ship and I really disliked the soul-crushing photography I did there. Promised myself to never shoot people again and focused on architecture for a while. Architecture evoked stronger emotions in me, it didn't move much, wasn't fussy at all and I couldn't see the discomfort of the subject through the lens when shooting it. Much nicer than portraits I thought.
Then I met geometrieva, my wife. Got her into photography as well and she started learning a lot about equipment lenses, the basics. Both of us kind of evolved in our tastes together. geometrieva taught me to understand color. I literally disliked color before. Can't go back to that anymore.
She's been into color ever since I know her and it shows in her work as a designer at Google.
We really got into environments, places that reek with character. Then geometrieva wanted to have humans in those scenes which I heavily protested at first, but soon I realized that the brain uses the presence of people in shots as a kind of a third person game, to immerse themselves into the environment. I'm also a video game developer/gamer so this connection really sparked something inside.
geometrieva: Actually, I got interested in photography when I was 9 and my parents got me this cheap little camera. The first day out in the field I got super excited about shooting flowers, slipped and broke my elbow. Ouch. But 15 years later, anticipateants got me back into it :).
I absolutely love emphasizing the specific mood in each shot through post-processing, be it an architecture or a fashion shot. Big fan of pushing that limit of what's believable.
anticipateants: Oh yeah, that's how you got that awesome scar. Keep thinking it's some armed conflict or something :p.
Your photos are reminiscent of the settings from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira or even Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell? How much does Manga/Anime influence your work?
anticipateants: When I was like 7, my mom scarred me for life by showing me Akira. I've never seen such a terrifying thing in my life and that horrific experience reverberated within me to this day. I am very grateful to her for showing me Akira.
We watch a lot of Anime with geometrieva & we had a friend send us the Blame! Manga a few years ago. I feel infinitely indebted to him now. I constantly think of how I could get back at him.
geometrieva: With anticipateants we've been soaking up piles of influence throughout the years and chewing it all with our brains. On top of that, we've been having tons of daily discussions about all the little details we like about the reality around us, which essentially trains and sharpens our aesthetic taste. So, it's hard to say what influenced us and how much, but I'm sure anime has played a pretty big role in it.
What other films inspire your photos? What about the cyberpunk genre?
anticipateants: Blade Runner 1 was consistently genius in ambiance. Avalon is a less known but extremely interesting one. Maybe it appeals to my gamer sensibility, maybe I like that it has the post-apocalypse feel of eastern Europe and yet it's still done to Japanese standards.
There was a very influential piece on neo-futurism by the Verge. They didn't go too much into the roots of futurism back to the Italian Futurists but aesthetically the direction that neo-futurism took was quite impressive to me and probably a large influence.
geometrieva: My favorite parts in cyberpunk movies are those which show the mundane moments in an unimaginably different future world. That's when I feel like I'm there the most, that's when I can connect with that world.
For e.g. a cyborg calmly eating his noodles, spilling a bit on the mechanical arm and then wiping it off for like a minute because it went in between the metal plates. Most of these moments are usually cut out from movies, unfortunately.
Is there one singular narrative that drives the photos that you take? What is the overarching story?
anticipateants: I want them to reek with ambiance and presence. I want to do with photography that which I want out of video games. Immersion. I want to be able to live in these little worlds that I capture.
geometrieva: I started getting a lot into fashion photography recently, but even in those shots I want the mood to be thick and palpable.
What aspects of modern technology inspire you? Or even frighten you? What about modern architecture?
anticipateants: I actively seek stuff in tech that frightens me. I don't care about existential dread, but say cosmic horror but from technology. Think of a gray goo apocalyptic scenario, where a nano-material spread throughout the earth, created initially in some lab as an experiment, eating through all matter and turning it into more of itself.
Dread and awe. Really great combination.
For modern architecture, I've fallen deeply in love with the Singaporean take on biophilic architecture. They combine very strong futurism with grand displays of lush greenery.
geometreiva: I'm a huge techno-optimist and my favorite part of humanity today is the mindblowing tech we create. Such an amazing time to be alive. I constantly daydream about having body augmentations, being able to jump super high, climb up on skyscrapers and whip up extra arms when needed. One day I'll be exactly that. In the meantime, I'll stick to post-processing photos :).
What equipment do you use to capture your shots?
anticipateants: Standard stuff everyone uses I guess. Sony A7, A6500, Sony lenses most of the time. We try to stay super light so we can move and explore more.
What locations across Asia do you find most inspiring?
anticipateants: With the guarantee that it will sound cliché, I have to start with Tokyo. The city is the most thorough example of attention to detail ever produced by humanity. From the streets to the people and interaction with them, to the back alleys and soda machines.
Then there's Singapore, following behind Tokyo in some regards, and surpassing it in others. Skyscrapers soar much higher and this amount of vertical density has never felt more comfortable. You never feel that you are living on an island with almost 6 million other people. Never feels overly crowded even though it most definitely is. Singapore is much greener than Tokyo. Every little nook and cranny has lush greenery exploding out of it.
geometrieva: Since anticipateants covered Tokyo, I'll mention Hong Kong. That magnificent density and grit, all those surreal rooftops and eventful corners. We're big fans of the Kowloon Walled City aesthetic and Hong Kong has a lot of that woven into other parts of itself.