"Crosswalk, Ueno, Tokyo, Japan," (2009) included in "Kirk Pedersen: "Tradeoffs," 2009, the most recent of his photography projects documenting the urban dystopia/utopia of the Far East, is composed like the black and white stones that comprise the Chinese game of Go, a game with deceptively simple rules and brain-numbingly complex strategies. It depicts a street scene captured from a POV that features sardine-packed crowds of people lined up on crosswalks, intersections and kerbs. These banks of pedestrians form perfect rectilinear lines whose horizontal thrust combines with the vertical thrust of similarly crowded walls to create a space configured so that the people portrayed resemble not only the components of a board game but that the time-space frame of the game being played seems to take place in the third-dimension. In fact, each image creates multiple spatial containers - some large, some small, some box-like, some rectangular - that hover from block to block, building to building, to create an overall effect of watching one man (Pedersen) taking on all comers, in a winner-take-all tournament of three-dimensional Go from some omniscient viewpoint.
For all the seemingly frenetic energy being expended, the figures don’t seem to be moving. They are frozen in mid-stride. Confirming the game-like composition of the pieces is the neutral look on the faces of the figures. Though the streets are crowded, though you’d expect people to be jostling to elude a red light or a bus, to hail a passing taxi, there’s no effort evinced in either their body language or physiognomy. They’re as unstressed as can be and, oddly enough, as distinct and unrelated to each other as well. In this sense they’re like pieces on a board, momentary holders of a particular place, subject to whatever compositional strategy Pedersen, juggling multiple sessions of Go, decides to impart to each particular game.
It’s this sense of simultaneities – multiple serialized three-dimensional board games – that gives this particular image, as well as the project as a whole, its distilled sense of unwitting simplicity. Once the viewer acknowledges that Pedersen has imposed a sly sense of control over the seemingly random chaos that spills over and down crowded urban centers, it’s hard not to see the spirit of fun that infuses the piece. Conflating pedestrian – and very contemporary - gridlock with the elements of a 2,500+ year old game, Pedersen creates a visual scenario for a science fiction story in which people are unwitting stones in a sophisticated game of strategy, seemingly so intent on going about their business, whatever it is, and yet captured, simultaneously, in a game they don’t even realize is being played. This piece takes the obvious, the familiar, and recasts it with a gaming sensibility that pauses and starts, as each step is taken, as each move is calculated and made. Each person photographed remains unaware that, as they cross a street, the green light of a stop sign means Go in ways they would never imagine.