East meets Far East

Ian CollinsAn album of photos now opened at the Sainsbury Centre suggests that, whether snapped in Norfolk or Japan, life can look rather weird and luridly coloured way out east.Ian Collins

Picture two Norfolk-based photographers who, after a chance meeting at the Sainsbury Centre, discovered that their work had the weirdest links, even though it had been snapped on opposite sides of the planet.

Andi Sapey says: 'We were astounded that we had been exploring similar themes but in different countries - culture, colour, the quirkiness of a place's past and future. Our photographs could have been taken by the same person or in the same place, and yet they're wildly different.

While the Sapey inspiration came from the rush, roar and dazzle of today's Japan, the focus of kindred spirit Andy Crouch was very much on Norfolk - albeit at its edgiest, especially via stills from a road movie and the neon-lit wonderland of Yarmouth.

The result of the revelation of shared concerns is a joint Your East display now fittingly on show in the Link at the Sainsbury Centre.

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Andy Crouch explains: 'While at university I had a part-time job driving hire cars around East Anglia. We were told not to stop or go off route, but we did and stopped at roadside caf�s for a good English breakfast or two!

'It was while I was driving about that I had the idea of photographing some of these caf�s, their signage and other aspects of this great British tradition.

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'My project has expanded to encompass anything colourful and quirky in Norfolk that captures my attention. My images definitely do not give the more familiar, rose-tinted version of Norfolk, with its sweeping landscapes, windmills and rush cutters.'

As a lifelong fan of The Clash, Andi Sapey knew that, like his rock idols, he had to break free of home and explore the world. 'Travelling in Asia for two years I absorbed its culture, and fearing there was too much here to lose to fading memory I picked up a camera,' he says. 'And so began one of my consuming passions: photography.

'I visited Tokyo last year, absorbed its fluorescent and dizzy culture, and followed its eccentric youth tribes which ram raid the 20th century for inspiration. My project led me to discover so many of the contrasts of Japan - extremes of wealth and poverty, technology and tradition - sitting side by side.

'I was also struck by the importance of respect in the Japanese culture, which is nowadays streaked with a wicked sense of humour.'

A highly-coloured sense of comedy is what most unites the work of Andy and Andi - and if their wry vision is not rose-tinted it is bright pink, scarlet, purple and luridly green.

In Sapey scenes, wrapped and decorated human figures seem to imitate toy models, except when mannequins are mimicking human beings. In Crouch studies, people are less prominent in what appears to be a more peeling, cracked and faded environment.

It is interesting and instructive to contrast the distinctive look and feel of each country and then to find that we are far from being poles, or rather hemispheres, apart.

And the viewer may also gather how markedly the western world and the leaping tigers of Asia have been influenced by the mighty culture of post-war America, with the splurge of bright advertising and the glare and glitter of Coney Island-style amusements going global.

So much of modern popular culture is borrowed and then amended until each picture holds a bizarre world within itself. That's the ongoing surrealEast message.

And as Andi Sapey concludes: 'Each image entertains and intrigues and tells its own story - in vivid colour.'

t Your East runs in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, on the University of East Anglia campus, until January 28. Admission to this display, and to the permanent collection, is free. The centre's two galleries for temporary exhibitions are closed until a joint opening for the Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau and The Artist's Studio on February 9. SCVA is open from Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm and until 8pm on Wednesdays (01603 593199; www.scva.ac.uk).

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