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Feature ArticlesFebruary2007
The World of Fotomo by Kimio Itozaki
The World of Fotomo The World of Fotomo
What you see above isn't a virtual-reality image created on a computer. It's a “Fotomo” — a three-dimensional object you can pick up and hold in your hand. Created from photo prints of real-world scenes, cut and assembled into 3D collages, Fotomo are the work of Kimio Itozaki, a photographer with a unique perspective on life and art.
A lthough photography is a medium that faithfully records reality, it only does so in two dimensions. Conventional 3D models, on the other hand, generally lack the realism and fine detail of photos. So as the name suggests, Fotomo is a technique that combines the realism of photography with the physical presence of a 3D model.
When I create a Fotomo, I first rough-out the three-dimensional form, and then use photographic images to show the fine details. But when you look at a Fotomo, something strange happens in your brain — the actual 3D reality of the model and the virtual 3D space of the photo merge to provide a unique 3D experience.
The perspective in the photographic images conveys a feeling of depth within a limited space, and because the Fotomo is a real three-dimensional object than you can view from various angles, it has a unique realism that gives the viewer a real sense of “being there.”
Fotomo as “Impersonal Art”
I always choose ordinary subjects for my Fotomo works — conventional street scenes, buildings, and everyday objects. Even when I travel abroad, I stick to this policy and avoid using famous buildings or other tourist attractions as my subject, because through Fotomo, I want to express the intrinsic aesthetic value of the everyday. That’s why I’m more interested in ordinary things that many people might find prosaic.
In my work, I’m guided by my own concept of “Impersonal Art.” What do I mean by this? For example, the Fotomo above shows a building with a greengrocer on the first floor and a karaoke bar (providing laser disc entertainment, according to the sign) on the second. Next door, there’s a temple where people can pray for the healthy upbringing of their children. Even for the Japanese, this is a pretty bizarre scene.
It’s this coming together of the incongruous that creates something that the noted surrealist Lautréamont described as being “as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” But this odd little street corner didn’t spring from the mind of a single creative genius. It is the unconscious result of the thoughts and actions of many people, like a work of art without a creator. By impersonal, I mean something not intentionally created whose subjectivity is impossible to pinpoint. Despite the fact that modern cities are a reflection of man’s rational nature, you can still find plenty of examples of the “impersonal” at work.
Impersonal art comes into existence when the observer discovers the artistic merit of something that was not initially created as a work of art. In other words, I don’t really create impersonal art, I simply take photographs. However, when I tried shoot with impersonal art in mind, all I ended up with was landscapes. That’s when I hit on the idea of Fotomo as a technique for expressing impersonal art as objets d’art. By miniaturizing streets and buildings, Fotomo strips them of their usefulness so that they become pure objects. From my viewpoint as an observer, this lets me represent the real world artistically as an unadulterated object. For me, Fotomo is quite simply a medium for expressing impersonal art.
Making a Fotomo

For this Fotomo I used 6 photos of the building and several photos of passerby (I also shot people other than those shown here). I varied the angle a little when shooting each of the building’s walls.

Arranging the photos gives me an idea of the overall image. Based on this, I then cut out parts of the prints and arrange them to create the three-dimensional Fotomo I have in mind. For this particular work I took the images with a digital camera and post-processed them on a PC, something I have only recently started doing after 10 years of working with 35mm film and prints. Since Fotoma itself is a new form of photographic expression, film and digital are both simply the means to an end.
Fotomo Papercraft
Looking at a photo of a Fotomo obviously doesn’t to justice to the reality of the experience, and exhibitions of the actual works only provide a limited amount of exposure. But I wanted to share the Fotomo experience with even more people. That was the inspiration for the development of Fotomo papercraft.
Simple assembly is all it takes for anyone to discover the reality of Fotomo, and I’ve published Fotomo papercraft books and magazine how-to articles to make it even more accessible. Although these publications are only available in Japan, anyone who is interested can download Fotomo papercraft project instructions from my website. To construct your own Fotomo, simply print the parts on A4 size cards and assemble according to papercraft theory.
Click the image to download the papercraft and construct your own Fotomo.
fotomo_papercraft.zip (3.4MB)
Fotomo Works
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