Portraits Cut Into Layers Illustrate Time Passing

Over the course of just a few moments, Yoshihisa Tanaka and Ryuta Iida photograph their subjects thousands of times, refracting and distorting their expressions.

There’s certainly no lack of time lapse portraiture on the web these days, documenting everything from nine months of pregnancy to nine years of life, all condensed into a few seconds. But Misunderstanding Focus, a series of time-lapse portraits from Japanese duo Nerhol, focuses on just three minutes of a subject’s life, condensing thousands of individual portraits into a dense, layered portrait that’s half photograph and half three-dimensional sculpture.


Nerhol is the working handle of Yoshihisa Tanaka and Ryuta Iida, a noted paper artist whose work frequently deals with carving detailed sculptures into the pages of books. According to Colossal, the name Nerhol is actually a neologism, made up of the Japanese words nerhu (to plan ideas) and holu (to sculpt and carve)–an apt description of how the duo collaborate. For their first major gallery show, at Tokyo gallery limArt, they invited 27 people to sit still for three minutes while they photographed them thousands of times.

A simple enough directive, right? As it turns out, it’s incredibly difficult to sit truly still for longer than a few seconds. Nerhol reveals each moment, printing thousands of unique images and stacking them in chronological order–almost like a flip-book. Then, Iida slices through the stacks with surgical precision, cutting away swatches of images to create a kind of time-based topography, that distorts and shifts with each passing second.

At limArt, the portraits are stacked on flat wooden tables, revealing the elevation of each landscape as well as the face of the subject. The distortion differs on every subject–some are just a little wonky, others are jagged and deformed. The images ask us to question our traditional understanding of portraiture–the idea that a person can be distilled into a single image. Instead, Nerhol invites us to see ourselves as we are: uncertain, fragile, and perpetually in motion.

[H/t Colossal; All images (c) Nerhol]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.