Tony Burns

Electric Dreams

Tokyo is a place like no other. A city from the future, bathed in neon and awash with cartoon-like symbols of all things ‘kawaii’. Fascinating, beautiful, sometimes strange. To wander Shinjuku at night, with its futuristic sounds and childish electronica filling the air is pretty mind blowing and presumably what an acid-trip feels like. Its also a little at odds with how Japan is often seen; a conformist, inhibited society that works hard and keeps itself in check. Kabukicho – Shinjuku’s red light district – feels like the antidote to that, where the paradox shines brightest. For the hedonistic, the thrillseekers, the lonely or the bored. An edgy, seductive, cartoon-like fantasy world loaded with possibilities. A lot is said about Japan’s population crisis and its ever increasing numbers of singles. Often avoiding relationships, marriage and kids, for a life less compromised. For some it makes this a lonely city, and much is made of that. Maybe others thrive on it. But in that context, somewhere like Kabukicho prospers. In a lot of ways, its business is to sell dreams, and then keep those dreams alive. Keep them coming back. For women as well as men, a chance to escape the mundane and peer down the rabbit hole. See what or who else is out there and make life interesting. As I photographed the city over several months, I was drawn to two sides of Tokyo; everyday life in the real world – the monotony but also beauty of it. And then that other side, the side that sells dreams. It was shot part documentary, part fiction, the everyday and the fantasy world.




I’m a photographer from the UK, currently living in Australia after a pretty nomadic few years. I shoot both editorial and commercially, and over the last few years my personal work has focused on long term stories in Rio, Tokyo, Shanghai and Burma. For those stories I tend to start shooting what I find most visually striking about a place and obsessively fine tune the idea as I go along. That could be an aspect of the everyday which is deeply ingrained in a culture, like football in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Or some place within a place that just intrigues me, as was the case with Electric Dreams.

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Tony Burns

13 thoughts on “Tony Burns – Electric Dreams”

  1. Neon lit shadows
    Freed from the salary suit
    For a short respite

    Despite many of the Images giving me de ja vu, there is a feeling conveyed by the whole that, I think, gels with the authors intent and the stated aim of the essay.

    You do realise that one can download full res files from this essay,which can be printed quite large?

  2. So great to see you here, Tony! I have been a fan for a long time, but it’s great to see your essay all together. I love the layers, color, nuance, stolen moments etc. Some wonderful work! Congrats!

  3. Horrifying and enticing, all at once.

    I doubt I will ever get to Tokyo and if I do it will likely be with too little money to do much of anything that requires money, but if by chance I do go and I have all the money I need, I will wish I were forty years younger. I will be thrilled for a couple of days and after five or six days, will begin to want to leave and go somewhere I can stretch out and breathe. If I’m there for ten days to two weeks, I’ll be pushing past the edges of insanity.

    This already happens to me in New York City.

    Still, after looking at this essay, I would like to go, just for a little while, and with lots of money.

    Well done, Tony Burns.

  4. Very nice essay, Tony Burns. Good eye, great color, nice compositions.

    The thing to keep in mind is that this is Shinjuku… just one cluster in the great spreading beehive maw of Tokyo, perhaps the single greatest totally human-created fabrication on the planet. There’s a lot more going on in the rest of the city, and beyond that lies the country of Japan, much of which is very different. There are plenty of places away from the lights and the buildings and the crowds where even Frosty would probably feel quite at home.

    The question one might ask is, does anyone appear happy in any of these scenes?

  5. Nice flavour.Maybe I would cut a couple of pictures to to give it a real blade runner feel, but maybe I wouldn’t.

  6. Yes, hharry, it does have a blade runner vibe. I like the essay; the colour and the atmosphere. I would love to visit Japan. One day, maybe.

    Congratulations on being published here Tony.


  7. Thanks to everyone who’s commented! I’m grateful people take time to look over the work and give their thoughts.

    Sidney Atkins, yes I agree that there’s a lot more going on in Tokyo than just Shinjuku and Kabukicho. And the rest of the city has a different look and atmosphere. Maybe that is the real Tokyo, and this part I’ve photographed is a sort of exception, which is why I was drawn to it really. Nobody looks especially happy in these shots but that’s down to what I chose to photograph and include really. It’s not say there isn’t happiness and fun in that district, I just felt that there was a certain feeling in the images and to put in shots that might be more happy or energetic seemed to upset the balance, or dilute the story. But its all subjective of course.

    John Gladdy, thanks. I can see what you mean about de ja vu. I’ve done a lot of editing and selecting along the way but sometimes have a tendency to return to the same sort of images, because I always feel I can get better. It’s been a real help in that editing process, firstly to see what David Alan Harvey liked or didn’t when I showed the work to him in Tokyo. Also to see how Francesca from Burn edited and sequenced on this occasion. And then to see the feedback in these comments. I’ll be returning to Tokyo next month and will be looking for other types of shots which fit and compliment the series but don’t repeat. Some of those are locations I’ve already been to but the sort of place you need to visit 20-30 times before the shot comes together, so hopefully a few of those will come off this time.

    Scott Bennett, thanks a lot for your comments and support, really appreciate it!

  8. Late to this, Tony, but wanted to say that I really like the work — very accomplished, well seen, compelling. thanks!

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