From July 28 through November 4, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the work of one of Japan's most important contemporary photographers in the exhibition Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories. This will be the artist's first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum and the first presentation of his work on the West Coast.
Organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in association with SFMOMA, the exhibition gathers work spanning Naoya Hatakeyama's entire career, including more than 100 photographs and two video installations, offering viewers new insight into the artist's practice and place in the rich history of Japanese photography. The presentation at SFMOMA, the sole U.S. venue for this internationally traveling retrospective, is overseen by Lisa J. Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography.
Hatakeyama is known for austere and beautiful large-scale color pictures that capture the extraordinary powers routinely deployed to shape nature to our will—and, in the case of his photographs made after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the equally powerful impact of natural forces on human activities. Whether photographing factories, quarries, mines, or tsunami-swept landscapes, Hatakeyama has developed a thorough and analytical method for observing the ways in which the human and natural worlds have both coexisted and clashed. "For the past 25 years Naoya Hatakeyama has made pictures that focus on the complicated relationship between man and nature," says Sutcliffe. "Approaching his subjects from diverse perspectives and across time, he redefines the ways in which we visualize the natural world."
Hatakeyama has long been interested in the relationship between human industry and the natural environment. His early series of photographs of limestone quarries, Lime Hills (1986–91), references the Romantic painterly tradition of the sublime, but links it to the relentless pursuit of raw materials for modern development. After observing that "the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph," Hatakeyama began to investigate urban centers built from limestone and concrete. In Underground (1999), he explores the pitch-black depths of Tokyo's underbelly from the tunnels of the Shibuya River, revealing the ecosystems of the city's sewer network that often go unseen. Nearly a decade later he returned to the subject, photographing the remnants of decaying limestone quarries underneath Paris in Ciel Tombé (2007).
Several of Hatakeyama's photographic series capture scenes of destruction with calm precision. Contemplating the abandoned structures surrounding a disused coal mine, Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen (2003/2004) includes images of a German factory hall seemingly suspended in midair at the moment of its demolition. For the Blast series (2005), the photographer used a high-speed motor-driven camera to document explosions in an open-cast limestone mine, framing the instant of impact in a series of still photographs. The exhibition will present the U.S. debut of Twenty-Four Blasts (2011), a video installation of his still photographs from Blast that transforms these explosions into a found sculptural event.
Hatakeyama has applied his measured and unsentimental method of observation to landscapes in transition around the world. In the series Atmos (2003), his representations of tranquil French landscapes include steam clouds generated by steelworks. Also made in France, the series Terrils (2009–10) pictures the massive conical hills created by coal mining, documenting landscapes transformed by the human exploitation of natural resources. Considering a different type of human impact on the natural world, Hatakeyama observes the conquest of the Swiss Alps by tourism in Another Mountain (2005), invoking the sublime both through choice of subject matter and through the contrast in scale between man and nature.
The most recent series in the exhibition, Rikuzentakata (2011), records the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. For Hatakeyama, the disaster struck very close to home: his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture was left in ruins, his mother was killed, and the house he grew up in was destroyed. Although these are some of the most personal photographs the artist has ever exhibited, they are remarkably unsentimental, displaying the same clarity and refinement that mark the rest of his work. The video installation Kesengawa (2002–10), named after the river that flows through Rikuzentakata, presents his personal photographs of the area made before the tsunami, creating a poignant dialogue with the 2011 series.
A fully illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition and includes essays by Satomi Fujimura, curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and Philippe Forest, French author and professor of literature.
Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories is organized by Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Support for the San Francisco presentation is provided by the Japan Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
About Naoya Hatakeyama
Naoya Hatakeyama was born in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, in 1958. He studied at the School of Art and Design at the University of Tsukuba, earning a bachelor degree in 1981 and a master degree in 1984. The artist received the prestigious Kimura Ihee Photography Award in 1997 for Lime Works and represented Japan in the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. His books include Lime Works (1996), Atmos (2003), Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen (2004), Two Mountains (with Balthasar Burkhard, 2006), Scales (2007), Terrils (2011), and Ciel Tombé (2011).