Thursday, 14 March 2013

Naoya Hatakeyama: A Short Summary

Born in 1958, Naoya Hatakeyama is one of a relatively small number of Japanese photographers to make a significant impact in the West. Sample biographies, such as the one associated with the Prix Pictet, suggest that he made his mark in Europe before making much impression in the US.

In common with the other photographers on my short-list for Assignment 4 Hatakeyama has a clear interest in the interaction between humanity and its environment. Unlike Godwin/Misrach this does not seem to be based in environmental protest, although I do see some similarities with the approach of Adams – who turned a landscape tradition on its head. Some commentators have suggested that Japan does not have a tradition of the sublime – much of Hatakeyama on the other hand clearly invokes exactly that.

His early works concentrate on the extraction of limestone from quarries all over Japan – initially the excavations themselves, and subsequently the factories as well. Lime Works – published in 1996 - brings together these two strands into a single work which, without the inclusion of a single human figure manages to convey the sheer scale of the operations. Blast – close-up shots of quarrying detonations continue the invocation of the sublime.

His work divides into a number of series which, seen together as in the LA Galerie website, clearly interweave in their ideas.  In the foreword to Lime Works Hatakeyama talks of the idea of the quarries being in some senses a negative of the cities built from the excavated material, so his progression to detailed images of cities seems almost inevitable. His Ciel Tombe series, and similar shots taken in underground locations can be seen as an extension of his interest in Limestone quarrying – and excavations in general – while his Rivers series focuses on the idea of taming nature with the use of concrete. The bleak formality of this series, with its vertical panorama format and central horizon line, emphasises  the idea of nature under control. In nature limestone formations are frequently shaped and moulded by water – I’m not clear if Hatakeyama intended this but there is a strong sense of irony in the idea that we have dug the limestone out and used it to shape and mould rivers.

Assessing his legacy is more difficult. He is certainly at the forefront of Japanese photographers in terms of recognition, but in a market/art that seems to be dominated by western imagery his place is uncertain. As far as I can tell he was adopted by European galleries significantly before his first shows in America. Part of the issue, I believe is that his photography, like so much Japanese photography appears to be about “understanding” rather than “campaigning”. His works does not have the obvious eco-political leanings of Misrach and Godwin, nor the myth-debunking status of Adams. For me this is a major attraction – but for the western art world as a whole I’m not sure that’s true.


LA Galerie: accessed 14 March 2013

Art IT Asia: accessed 14 March 2013

Lisa Sutcliffe on Naoya Hatakeyama: accessed 14 March 2013

Lime Works: Naoya Hatakeyama: Amus Arts Press, 2002

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