Chaos in snapshots of bright city life: An interview with photographer Stephanie Jung

New York City. Image: Stephanie Jung.

Stephanie Jung’s hazy and experimental cityscapes keep the viewer as a static observer in the commotion of the city, conveying the intrusive bright lights and disorienting chaos of New York, Tokyo and Paris, among many others, giving a strong sense of the isolation that city life can bring.

Jung uses multiple exposure photography to generate her images. Based in Berlin, she has been travelling the world as a freelance photographer for the past five years, on what she describes on her website as a mission to capture to “vibrant and hectic” mood of a city, as she states.

CityMetric asked her some questions via email. 

How many cities have you photographed? 

Quite a few, I think around 12-15. Not all of them were big cities, I also like photographing small towns or villages. 

Berlin.

Which have been your favourites to take photos of? 

Not a city, but definitely a country: Japan. I cannot say there's a city I enjoyed the most. Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Tokyo, they are all absolutely beautiful and there's so much to discover! 

How do you choose which aspects of the cities to capture

It is mostly about everyday scenes from a city. I take the images during walks, while enjoying the atmosphere of a certain place. I do not plan to take images based on a special motive; it happens very spontaneously. I walk around and see scenery or a moment that I really like and then take a picture of it. 

Are there any interesting stories associated with specific pictures? 

Well, for the image ‘Oderbruch’, I went to this region, situated in eastern Germany, after flooding hit the area, together with a photographer friend of mine. The atmosphere was incredible. It was absolutely silent and there was a kind of apocalyptic mood. I fell in love with this tree, it seemed like it had been branded by the incident. 

For the image ‘Nikko’ in Japan, my friend and I were looking for a famous bridge in [the town of] Nikko, but somehow got lost. That’s how I discovered this beautiful view of the mountains. The weather was kind of dramatic, which is why the atmosphere is dark. 

Nikko.

How do you achieve such an ethereal quality?

The biggest part is the motif itself. I walk around a lot to find the perfect motif, but mostly it's very spontaneous. 

Then, of course, post processing is another step, but it requires less time than taking the photograph. People always think it's the other way round. I have a foible for colours and atmospheric light, so that part is very important to me. Every image conveys a special mood through its colours. 


What do you think your methods can reflect about the cities that might be lost using single exposure photography? 

I’m trying to visualise time and transience, which everyone is confronted with, but can’t be seen with our eyes. My work captures of moments from life. Often, photography is about capturing those special moments, so that you can always remember them when looking at the picture. But I want to show more of this moment, show that it’s fading.

In my images there is a central moment in focus, but at the same time it seems to fade, which is what happens in real life.  Another point is the business of big cities, this really fascinates me. Through this technique I’d like to heighten that feeling in the viewer.

What reaction do you tend to get to your pictures from the inhabitants of cities that you photograph? 

Interestingly, there have only been a few reactions from inhabitants of the cities I visited, but when it was the case, people were surprised how I saw their city. 

This one's called “Maigo Deso IV”, the fourth in a series called “I'm lost” in Japanese. 

I got some positive reactions from Japanese people, as they think my pictures show the different aspects of their country, such as the hustle and bustle in cities like Tokyo, but also the [comparative] calm in quieter places. 

Which of your images do you believe is the best, and why? 

My favorite image is ‘Another view of Paris’, but more because of personal reasons. My mentor and good friend, the photographer Sabine Wenzel, loved the image – a print of it was hanging on her wall. Unfortunately, she passed away shortly after that, so this image always reminds me of her. 

All images courtesy of Stephanie Jung.

 
 
 
 

What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.


“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.