Sunday, 28 April 2013

Assignment 4 feedback – Influence?

As well as the expected feedback on the content of my essay, Simon has raised the point that I have not fully addressed anywhere whether Hatakeyama actually meets the criteria for “influential”. I have had a good chat with Simon and exchanged a couple of e-mails. Thankfully, he is not saying that Hatakeyama doesn’t meet the criteria, just that I have not – yet - explained why I think he does. The following is a synthesis of the additional research I have carried out since I received my feedback, addressing both Simon’s point and the points raised by Eileen in her comment and is a significant re-edit of my original post.
A first question ought perhaps to be “What do we mean by influential?” Simon suggested: “Something or someone that has an effect on the character, behaviour and or development of something or someone.” and this feels about right to me, although at least some dictionaries would insert the word ‘great’ before effect. Not sure I agree with that as it is possible, as I understand it, to have degrees of influence, so I’m sticking with my tutors proposed definition for the moment.
At a very shallow level it could simply mean “producing lots of imitators” – if lots of people on Flickr, in magazines or at camera club exhibitions produce shots in an artists style. This seems wrong on a number of levels. For starters I think it would exclude Fay Godwin, and it would almost certainly rank the influence of say Robert Adams below landscapers such as Cornish or Waite who have a rather more popular style. At the risk of appearing rather judgemental I would suggest that “popular” and “influential” are not the same in this context – a photographer does not need to be popular to be influential. Hatakeyama clearly has a particular challenge in the sense that Japanese photographers have a relatively low profile in the West, however, in this context I have identified a number of photographers and photography students who claimed to be inspired or influenced by aspects of Hatakeyama’s work: for example Olaf Otto Becker, Thom HudsonEmilia Scmidt, Ieva Gelezinyte and Rosie Squires. He is also described as “..the inspiration of a kindred spirit..” by Heidi Straube who describes herself as a photographer (she appears to have some reputation) and contemplative psychotherapist.
I would expect this to become more obvious as time progresses as I have found a number of examples of tertiary education resources which reference his works: e.g. this course from the UCA, or his participation in the visiting artists programme at California College of the Arts – which in their words provides “ invaluable personal contact with some of the most talented and influential artists currently working in the medium.” His name also crops up in material for the 17-18 age range in e.g. this Canadian grade 9-12 material (pdf) or this UK AS level photography curriculum (.doc file)
This leads to a second measure of influence - effectively an appeal to authority – do established experts and critics value aspects of the artists work? For Hatakeyama this is a resounding yes. In the catalogue of An Incomplete World, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2007 he is described as having achieved “…international acclaim as one of several influential contemporary Japanese photographers whose work — particularly over the past decade — has redefined a style of documentary narrative, and revealed aspects of everyday experience to be simultaneously mundane and extra-ordinary, culturally specific yet able to strike a universal chord.”
He is clearly considered significant in art photography circles – appearing in collections and exhibiting across the world – including the V&A in London. He has been identified by the Art Museum of Tokyo as one of 38 photographers chosen to represent Japanese photography in their collection; he has been included in exhibitions of “influential” Japanese photography at, for example Studio Equis, which has an aim to bring Japanese photography to the attention of the west; and, he has been accorded a retrospective at SFMoMA – no mean feat in itself. He is also referenced in a number of books and academic texts on photography, appears in debates and discussions with luminaries such as Charlotte Cotton and Chris Wainwright, has won a number of prestigious photography prizes in his native Japan, and has been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet. Finally in this context he is frequently referred to as a leader among contemporary Japanese photographers.
The final strand of my ‘argument’ is about who is influenced. I know this is a photography degree but to restrict influence – whatever it means – simply to a measure of impact on other photographers seems very narrow. Ansel Adams was hugely influential for his technical approach to photography, but his influence extended to the field of conservation as well. In a similar vein I would suggest that being chosen as a representative of an organisation or a country is a sign of influence as well – because to achieve that you have to influence politicians or heads of organisations to see you as a role model or an exemplar. You might also influence other artists – whether photographic or in some other medium altogether.
Hatakeyama has been chosen to represent Japan at exhibitions in Paris and Vienna, and as an example of his broader influence, he was part of an award winning team lead by architect Toyo Ito designing houses to replace those lost in the Tohoku tsunami. In the linked article Ito specifically states “…it was his (Hatakeyama’s) photographs of the city taken immediately after the quake and tsunami that inspired and led us to build the Rikuzentakata "Home-for-All".” His work has also been cited as impacting the way we view cities and architecture
Other creatives also claim Hatakeyama as a favourite photographer e.g. Yuichiro Tamura or describe his work as inspirational e.g. Witold Riedel and this writer who blogs under the pseudonym Peter Proffit. The writer of EyeCurious also describes himself as a fan.
Few photographers are afforded the status of Adams (either) or Weston, but their are many somewhat less influential photographers who make a significant contribution to the development of photography. I believe that Hatakeyama falls into that category as a result of his existing, and growing, international standing, his status as a representative of the best of Japanese photography and his increasingly regular inclusion in major exhibitions, academic works and critical interviews and reviews. Early signs of his direct influence can be found in the work of a number of young photographers and other creatives. On this basis I feel that the final criteria for his inclusion as a suitable subject for Assignment 4 has been fully met.
And finally finally – for those who are not yet familiar with his work – here’s a short video produced around the time of his show at SF MoMA.


  1. I've been reflecting on this a bit with a view to my essay (assignment after next) and will reflect further in light of this post.

    I do agree with you that influence on others photographers alone may be too narrow a test. That said, I think it is pretty important and I am rather aware that in this post you haven't mentioned any photographers whose work may have been said to have been influenced directly or indirectly by Hatakeyama. I imagine there will have been some, though his is not a name I am familiar with.

    1. It's a reasonable challenge Eileen, and this is something I have wrestled with. It goes to the heart of the meaning of influence in this context, and the only firm guidelines we have are encapsulated in the choices in the suggested list.

      My ability to name a photographer influenced by someone on that list seems to be a poor choice of criteria. I certainly couldn't name a photographer influenced directly by Godwin or Rowell (I did try). My reaction to the inclusion of the latter was "Galen who?" and I'm not sure I understand his inclusion on the list.

      Godwin is slightly more problematic as she is clearly and justifiably regarded as important, but it appears to me that her inclusion on the list is more as a result of her use of photography as a campaigning tool - in other words her impact beyond photography. That is certainly the angle I would have concentrated on if I had chosen her as my subject.

      Another issue, which I should perhaps articulate in the post, is that I feel that I would not have this dilemma if I had chosen say Burtinsky or Misrach - largely because they are well-known in the west. And yet, I would suggest that their case for influence in a photographic sense is not dis-similar to Hatakeyama's i.e. they are well regarded in academic and critical circles.

      My knowledge of Japanese photography is not sufficiently detailed to identify any rising stars directly influenced by Hatakeyama. I think this sort of influence is often only identifiable with hindsight which is why I have concentrated on other indicators of influence. That said I've not given up looking :)