Category Archives: landscape

Grant Gill interviews Sarah Moore

Introducing editorial assistant Grant Gil as he shares a recent interview he conducted with Sarah Moore….

For the past few months I have been very grateful not only for being able to help out with LENSCRATCH but also getting to know Aline as a colleague and friend.  This spring, I will be finishing my last semester at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with a focus on photography.  This opportunity has been a great educational tool in submersing myself in the variety of different works posted everyday, and also has let me view the art making world from a different perspective.
I was first introduced to Sarah Moore’s work after she had been featured in Fraction Magazine, and since then we have constantly crossed paths without actually formally meeting.  I then begun following her journey across country, from Philadelphia to Santa Fe, able to watch her work change and adapt based on location. I find myself transfixed on her beautiful landscapes that make me yearn for travel, but even more so I am fascinated with her raw interactions with nature that translate emotional isolation and loneliness.  Because of her young age, emerging status, and her stamina to continuously work I am constantly inspired to do more, work harder.  Today I am showing images from two of her series: expanse and Scape.

Sarah Moore was born and raised in South Dakota, where she still finds much of her inspiration for her work. She received her BFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 and has since lived and traveled throughout the country. Much of Sarah’s work deals with the ideas of loneliness, escaping, and the ways landscapes inform and shape us. Her work has been shown throughout the country and online. She is currently living and working in Santa Fe, NM, where she is trying to understand the harsh light and delve into the book-making world.

expanse:
Throughout the years I have become increasingly interested in my home of South Dakota and how the people and place shaped me and continue to influence me. Even though I appreciate many aspects of the Midwest and still long for its landscape, it represents the pinnacle of loneliness in my life.

My photography is a depiction of this loneliness. The landscapes of the Midwest are beautiful but empty, simple but overwhelming. My relationship to my home is based on love, but also thwarted by distance. Since moving from South Dakota, I continue to find solace but also conflict in the land around me. I now see many moments in my life as a way to document or construct a personal narrative of isolation, both representative of my past and indicative of my present.

Expanses can be comforting but also stifling. Distances can fuel love but also misunderstanding. The vast space of the land is something I can’t quite embrace, break free from, or understand, but it provides infinite inspiration for me.

What is you personal statement as
an artist, or how exactly would you describe the work you make?
Most of my work comes from a very personal and emotional
place.  I photograph mostly
landscapes and self-portraits.  I
started doing both in 2007, when I went back home to South Dakota to
shoot.  Focusing on landscapes has
always allowed me to break free from the personal connections I have with
people.  Still though, I love
portraiture and what a person can show in a photograph, so self-portraiture is
a way for me to still use a person in my photography, while still keeping the
work mainly about me.
Is this personal place derived from
a specific event, or just a general emotional state?
It’s a little of both. 
My parents divorced when I was four because my dad is gay.  This is something I’ve more than come
to terms with now, but it was tough to deal with while growing up in the
conservative Midwest.  I think the
divorce and the subsequent silence my family kept about it instilled a sense of
“me versus the world.”  I grew up thinking it was best to keep quiet about big issues,
especially emotional ones.  Then I
eventually thought it was just best to keep quiet in general.  So I spent my years in South Dakota
sort of closing myself off from everyone, not knowing how or if I should share
the important parts of myself.
After leaving South Dakota, I learned that even if I have
some trust issues and some issues with the way my problems were handled, I can
still try to share a part of myself through my photography.  If loneliness was going to be such a
big part of my life then I wanted to at least make it part of my work.
I read so much visual poetry in to
your work, from the breath taking sights to the self-portraits that begin to
blend in with the surroundings.  I
see this action of back and forth between the photographs and the
photographer.  I wonder why you
choose to turn the camera inwards?
Photographing myself started about six years ago, when I
first went back to South Dakota.  I
wanted to put a person in the overwhelming landscape, and I was the most
accessible.  Throughout the years,
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to portray what a landscape and a moment
mean to me is to photograph myself. 
I think my self-portraiture is definitely part
narcissism.  But then again, isn’t
most photography rather narcissistic? 
As photographers, we capture what or whom we want to be seen and how we
want them seen.  It can be a very
selfish medium.  Yet by showing
others what or who we see, maybe we can also affect or help others. 
Another part of turning the camera towards myself deals with
my own issues of insecurity and loneliness.  I don’t like images of myself, and in real life, I’m not often
apt to open up to people.  I have
too many walls built up.  I guess
through photography I allow myself, my body, my face, and my emotions to take
center stage.  I get to act a
bit.  I get to be important.  And I hopefully get to communicate with
others through my images.
Do you have any specific
philosophies when it comes to humans and their interactions with nature?  What books, or even other work, do you look
to when making the images you do?
I’m still trying to figure out what and how I feel about the
human interaction with nature.  I
know my own relationship to nature is pretty complicated.  Though I grew up in a rural place, with
large expanses of land all around me, I still never felt really in tune with
nature.  And after living in cities
for seven years, I felt even more detached from nature.  Yet, I long for the land.  I think many people do.  I think there’s something in us that
wants to be closer to nature, but we’re not sure how to do that in this
increasingly electronic and cement culture.
People go camping or gazing at national parks, feeling for a
moment that they’re immersed in their primitive roots.  That’s about as close to nature as many
live.  People like to be able to
feel close to the land while at the same time in control of it.  I’m the same way, I admit.  I bring my camera to the land with me,
perhaps trying to harness my own little bit of control over the wild vastness.
Years ago, when I was starting my photography project in
South Dakota, I looked a lot at Todd Hido and Larry Sultan’s work.  I read a lot of theories about
photography and families at that time too.  For the past few years, I’ve been reading way too much David
Foster Wallace.  His work doesn’t
deal with nature explicitly, but it does talk about human society and our
alienation from each other, the landscape, and ourselves.  I think I’m more interested in reading
about the human psyche and weird outbursts in society than I am about humans
versus nature. 
Do you ever feel you are having a
visual conversation with other landscape and travel photographers, both
historically and in the contemporary?
It’s hard not to feel that way, honestly.  There are a lot of landscape and travel
photographers out there.  Sometimes
I’m constantly comparing my work to others’, but I try to maintain my own
vision and keep a peace with myself. 
I get overwhelmed really easily and intimidated even more easily.  It’s definitely important to be aware
of your peers, both contemporary and historically, but it’s also important to
forge ahead on your own.  I think
part of the reason I was in a rut while living in Philly was that I was just
too scared to make images.  I
thought everyone saw better places, had better ideas, and executed their ideas
better.  So I just stopped
creating. Obviously that’s not a good answer, so now I try to keep in tune with
other work (especially landscape and self-portraiture), but I also just try to
create for myself.
There is a lot of reference to time
passing and travel within all of your work.  In Scape there is this feeling that nothing is
constant, like you are drifting from place to place.
I’ve never been good at photographing in my own backyard, so
to speak.  For one reason or
another, escaping has become increasingly important or my photography.  That has meant escaping back to where I
grew up, escaping all over the country, and escaping to large city parks outside
of the city.
My first large travel experience, photographically, was in
the fall of 2011, when I made my work in Scape.  I mostly went on that trip because it had been about two
years since I really photographed. Living in Philadelphia after college put me
in some sort of photographic and emotional rut, so the only way I thought to
get out of it was to travel and see again.  That trip was literally about escaping and reinventing.
I love traveling and seeing new places, especially
landscapes.  That will probably
never go away in me.  Yet, I also
really need to travel to be alone sometimes.  As I’ve mentioned, loneliness (or my illusion of it) is
partially ingrained in me, and I’ve found that traveling to different
landscapes helps me cope with my loneliness. 
I am aware that you just moved out
to Santa Fe, NM.  It seems like you
have lived in some very different places in America’s geography.  Does shifting
home this much affect your work?
Yes, it definitely does.  Each place I’ve lived has a different geography and
different social climate.  Even
though I’m not great at photographing where I live, I’m trying to get better at
that.  When I lived in Ohio, I had
a realization that I was going to be in this strange place for about a year, so
I had to make the most of it with my photography.  That’s when I started photographing the large parks in and
around Columbus.  I tried in some
way to make the Ohio land a part of me.
I’m still trying to grasp the New Mexico landscape and how
this is home for me now.  It seems
that once I get used to a place, especially geographically, I move.  It takes time for me to acclimate to a
landscape, and the New Mexico one is especially difficult.  I’m not used to intense sun or
mountains, not to mention adobe architecture and small pueblos.  It’s more of a “wild” land
than most places I’ve lived, which is hard for me to grasp photographically,
strangely enough.
Overall, shifting my homes helps reopen my eyes to the
constants and changes in my art and myself.  I’m starting to learn which terrains I appreciate and which
light I want to follow.  I also
really enjoy the challenge of trying to make a place my own, especially through
my photography.
Why exactly do you think it is so
hard photographing your direct surroundings?  Does the familiar become too mundane?
I think in some ways, I feel too close to my immediate
surroundings.  It’s not that I find
the familiar mundane–in fact, I’m constantly inspired by what I see.  I actually tend to post photos on Instagram
of every mundane moment I have or see. 
Yet, when it comes to my other photography–the work I think about more
and use my “real” cameras for–I always seem to need to go away to
make that work.
I try to delve into some part of my emotional past and
present when photographing portraits and landscapes.  And I think in order for me to do that, at least right now,
I need to go outside of my comfort zone, outside of my immediate space.  Unfamiliar landscapes–even if they’re
within mere miles of where I work, eat, and sleep–help me disconnect from my
everyday life and find a part of myself that I want to explore more.
Nothing is really mundane to me.  I just find different types of inspiration in different
places.
Because nature is quite vast, and
easily accessible, are there specific images that you strive for, that you go
out to shoot, or is there spontaneity to your photographs?
When photographing in South Dakota, I usually have specific
shots that I strive for.  I know
that landscape pretty well, and I know that it’s largely the same view
everywhere you look.  So I know
that I need to look for a certain type of field or certain color palette when
I’m there.  I try to use the
repetition of that landscape to my advantage, which sometimes takes a lot of
pre-visualization and some sketches.
When I’m traveling to different landscapes in shorter
periods of time, I tend to shoot more and shoot very spontaneously.  Unfamiliar landscapes force me to be
more spontaneous, and spontaneity forces me to try more things and make more
images.
I like both methods of shooting, if they’re methods at
all.  I love the slowness of my
South Dakota photography, and how it allows me to think about that one specific
landscape over the years.  Of
course, I also love seeing a wide variety of terrains within a short period of
time. The diversity of the land allows me to think about how to connect all
those terrains into my life.
You deal with many over arching
themes, so how do you declare a body of work finished?  Does it necessarily finish when you
move, such as when you left Ohio, or is there potential for it to continue?
I think there’s always some potential for most of my
projects to continue, especially my work in South Dakota.  I’d love to continue to photograph in
Ohio as well, and since my dad lives there, that will probably happen in the
future.  On some level, I do
declare a body of work finished once I move, since it’s easy to wrap up
projects at that point.  Yet, since
I go back to both South Dakota and Ohio so often, I’d like to keep both of
those projects open for a while.
My work in Scape is definitely finished though; at least I’m
finished making the images.  That
project, though I didn’t know it at the time, was about a specific journey at a
specific time in my life.  It
chronicles a road trip around the country during a time when I needed it
most.  Though I definitely plan on
going on more road trips in the future, they won’t fit into what Scape became, because
I’m not in the same personal space as I was then.
I also see many of my separate projects as part of a general
whole body of work.  All of my
photography deals with escapism, alienation, self-searching, and the land.  I don’t see an “end” to that whole
project anytime soon.  So for now,
everything is sort of left open.

Scape
These photographs document a journey through America. They are images of wonder and excitement,pain and loneliness, and my personal ideas of self. Additionally, they are portraits of America’s land.

I often can’t relate to America as it’s depicted through the media’s eyes. I find it difficult live up to cultural standards and societal expectations. I have trouble getting close to those closest to me. Yet, when I see America—the America of such diverse, beautiful, and nuanced terrain—I find that even if I can’t understand what America has become, what people around me have become, or what I’ve become, I can feel comfort in the landscapes.

This collection is vast. Not every photo is perfect. Immense meaning won’t be found at every turn. Rather, the photos are a way for me to both explore and escape where I live and who I am.
































Displaced History and the Art of Collective Memory

Somewhere in Switzerland there’s a municipal archive, the collective memory of a town, with negatives and newspapers and postcards and photographs that tell the story of the area from 1880–1940. It’s the collective paper memory of the place, including a picture of four children who might not have grown into respected elders, a picture of a priest who may have performed important rituals in the town, a picture of a young woman whose face you might recognize—if the town’s memories are your own.

On the other hand, for photographer Nicolas Dhervillers, who spent only six months residing in Sion, the people in those images were more like characters in a play he would write. Acting the parts to which the photographer assigned them, they appear throughout a series called My Sentimental Archives which will be exhibited at Galérie Bacqueville in Lille, France through Nov. 20. In a meditation on appropriation, each photograph is a two-in-one. Dhervillers’ landscape photography from the area was subjected to a digital process adapted from the cinematic “day for night” technique, lending an eerie look to pictures taken in broad daylight; the archival figures are placed within those landscapes and washed with the unnatural digital light.

“It was very important to find a technique that gives an impression of being ‘outside time,’” Dhervillers told TIME in an email. “Thus, it’s not about a simple photograph but rather a photograph that mixes different mediums that I particularly like: theater for the positions and attitudes of the characters, movies for the light, photography for the idea of controlling the framework, painting for the final rendering.”

Each figure from the archives—small, dusty, black and white people—has been carefully restored by Dhervillers. And, in the process of restoration, the photographer says he felt that the images raised a spiritual question: can we create a present, a now, out of the scraps of the past? “The appropriation of the collective memory, of photographic memory, overlaps with the desire to question a picture in a larger sense,” he said. “This series takes us into a fictional space outside of time, through the photographic processing.”

Dhervillers has worked with appropriated figures before; his series Tourists uses images taken from the internet. But in this case, in the end, his questions about photographic appropriation took on another dimension: the archives from which Dhervillers took the figures did, in a way, become “his.” Even if he didn’t share the town’s history, he felt he knew its inhabitants well. “I spent a lot of time with these little characters,” he said. “I raised them, I colorized them, I gave them life.”

This interview has been translated from French.


Nicolas Dhervillers is a Paris-based photographer represented by School Gallery/Olivier Castaing in Paris.

Looking at the Land From the Comfort of Home

Andy Adams works almost exclusively in the virtual world of contemporary photography. Whether you visit his photography website FlakPhoto.com, follow him on Twitter or take part in his daily Facebook discussions, you’ll find Adams diligently working as a young cultural anthropologist. Reaching far into the online photo ether, Adams always tries to present us with something new that he hopes you’ll be equally thrilled by.

Since 2006 FlakPhoto has grown to become a defining resource for anyone interested in the latest trends in photography online. Institutions like the RISD Museum of Art have recently taken notice of his work, calling upon Adams to curate an installation and accompanying online exhibition to complement its most recent massive show America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now.

In the fall of 2010, Adams curated a similar project for FotoWeek in Washington, D.C. called 100 Portraits, which was a broad survey of contemporary portraiture. Beyond the physical installation Adams, of course, put the project in its entirety on the Internet. LightBox recently spoke to Adams about his projects:

[100 Portraits] was the beginning of my realization that you could bring the ideas of online publishing and art exhibition together to produce a public digital exhibition for everyone in the world that has access to the Internet.

The focus of the RISD exhibition curated by Jan Howard is an historical survey of American Landscape photography from 1865 till now. The parameters for ‘Looking at the Land’ were also very broad and the website component is an exploration of current photography in the documentary style with interviews that analyze and understand the evolving landscape photo tradition. 

The constraints were fairly simple — I wanted this to reflect contemporary styles and current practice, and photographers exploring new directions. In the interest of serendipitous discovery, and hoping I would see something new, I put out a public call online seeking images ‘depicting the American Landscape since 2000.’

While curating the 100 Portraits project, which I coproduced with Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library, she impressed upon me the idea that this web site that I’ve been publishing every day was becoming a kind of archive and collection unto itself. In a way, the Web has become this giant collection of contemporary photography—portfolio websites, photo blogs, Tumblrs. That’s really interesting. 

What I’ve witnessed in the last few years is this real anxiety about the abundance of images in the world, on the Internet. That’s one way to see things. I prefer to view the situation as one with infinitely more opportunities to discover new, interesting work. Of course, the hazard of what I did here is that you have to look through more than 5,000 pictures to make sense of it all.

I’m interested in learning why people photograph landscape so I asked each of the 88 photographers the same questions: ‘What compels you to photograph the land? What does that mean?’ 

One of the things that I’m trying to do is to foreground the perspective of the image-maker. This may be another way to add meaning to that huge abundance of pictures. 

I also asked each photographer: ‘Why did you photograph this place?’

With landscape photography it’s easy to tell a pro-environmentalism narrative that shows the destruction of the land or how human alterations have forever destroyed that land. That’s all true, of course. But I don’t have an agenda with this project; I’m more interested in understanding why contemporary image-makers make landscape photographs to learn how that tradition is evolving in the 21st century.

If there is a dominant theme in the show it probably is the absurd juxtaposition of nature and culture, recognition that this is the way things are now, that we co-exist with nature. Rather than preach at the spectator, many of these images describe that disconnect with irony and humor.  

One of the things that I think might be indicative of this generation is that you have all these photographers that grew up in suburban sprawl, so that whole concept of home and place is different. Maybe we’re not even lamenting development and the loss of wilderness anymore because we’ve come of age without it? I see a lot of these photographers coming to terms with those ideas and the place where nature and culture are colliding. That’s why some of these pictures seem humorous or ironic. They are less an indictment and more of an acknowledgment.

It was important for me to show the American landscape and real places. America looks very different than it did 100 years ago. It’s also important to remember that these images are not objective facts — they’re subjective interpretations, personal perspectives about how the world looks today. 

This is very much a research project that I’m making public. The ideas that I’m trying to understand and the things that we are interested in have existed before this exhibition and they will exist after. I’ve attempted to tap into the new public sphere that exists in the global online photo community, to learn collectively what these things mean and to hopefully contribute to the history of things, so one day people can look back and learn from it. That’s the bigger picture goal.”

Andy Adams is the founder of FlakPhoto.com and curator of Looking at the Land — 21st Century American Views, a collaboration with the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. The exhibition is on view until Jan. 13 and you can visit the online version here.

Finding Beauty: Fractal Patterns on Earth as Seen from Space

In a world made small and accessible by technology, it is easy to forget the magnitude of nature’s infinite complexity. But sometimes technology reminds us, such as when trawling planet Earth on Google’s Satellite View, zooming across landscapes partitioned by natural and unnatural boundaries.

While searching Google Earth, Paul Bourke, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia, discovered an amazing sightthe patterns of the Earth seemed to form a delicate geometric pattern when viewed from the sky. Not only delicate, but almost perfect. Bourke was captivated by the geographylacy tracks of rivers and mountain ranges stretching across the Earth in unison as if digitally cloned.

Fractals are recognized as patterns of self-similarity over varying degrees of scale. seo marketing . There are both mathematical fractals as well as natural fractalsthe former are idealized and found across a range of scales, while the latter generally only exist across a smaller scale range.

Bourke explains that fractals are found in all parts of life, from the brain sciences and astrophysics to geographic formations and riverbeds. “Fractal and chaotic processes are the norm, not the exception.”

“I always knew these amazing natural patterns would be there,” he said. “They are literally everywhereit’s just a matter of finding them.”

And find them he did. Bourke, an authority on fractals and visualizations, showcases more than 40 different fractals he’s uncovered while zooming through the satellite views of 25 countries. Through his website, he encourages users to submit examples they’ve found in their own browsing, and provides KMZ coordinate files for each image, allowing users to visit the exact views of the fractal features. Bourke’s collection realizes the power enabled by the open-ended tools of modern technology and applies them to a practical and popular aesthetic end.

To see more natural fractal patterns, visit Bourke’s website.

Landscapes on the Verge of Change

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has a strong collection of Japanese photography and a history of showing important photographic work from that country to American audiences, dating back to a 1999 retrospective of the work of Daido Moriyama. free basic cable . Last year, curator Lisa Sutcliffe began work on putting together an exhibition of the work of Naoya Hatakeyama, a photographer whom she describes as one of the most interesting Japanese artists working right now but someone who has not yet become well known in the United States. She traveled to Japan to meet with himin March of 2011, when the tsunami struck, destroying Hatakeyamas hometown of Rikuzentakata and killing his mother.

The show that Sutcliffe and Hatakeyama were meant to discuss was transformed by those events. The result is Natural Stories, organized in cooperation with the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and opening at SFMOMA on July 28. The exhibition is a retrospective, featuring more than 100 photographs along with videos, all with a focus on the artists landscape work.

All of his work is looking at landscapes in transition. It draws on the tradition of the sublime, so even when the work is peaceful theres always this quality of on-the-verge-of-change, Sutcliffe says. Even if the photographs are sort of peaceful and idyllic there is this sense of this other, more interesting system at work.”

The earliest work in the show comes from Hatakeyamas Lime Hills series, which the artist began in 1986. Those photographs of a landscape shaped by a desire for the natural resources within are, says Sutcliffe, a sort of jumping-off point for the career that followed, throughout which Hatakeyama has explored the relationship between the land and the people who live and work in it. And, ever since the tsunami, the balance of power in that relationship is exceedingly clearand seeing Hatakeyamas photographs from 25 years ago next to his work from this past year just underscores that point.

You look at these landscapes where humans have interacted with the landscape, and you see the pictures after the tsunami, Sutcliffe says, and just how much nature really does still have power over us.

Naoya Hatakeyama is an award-winning Japanese photographer. The exhibitionNaoya Hatakeyama: Natural Storiesis on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from July 28 Nov. 4, 2012.

Exclusive: Behind the Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Awards

On Thursday night, the book Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs by Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis, from Getty Publications, was named the winner of the 2012 Kraszna-Krausz Best Photography Book Award at the Sony Photo Awards in London. The book presents more than 1,000 photographs by Watkins, a 19th-century landscape photographer of the American West, along with essays and research. Jem Southam, a British photographer and a professor at the School of Art and Media at Plymouth University, sat on the judging panel; he spoke exclusively to LightBox about the process of judging photography books.

Getty Publications

Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis

Southam says that when the panel met together to narrow the list of books down to five, and then to one, after spending weeks on their own with the nearly 200 contest submissions, the process—meant to take two hours—took five. “Each book that we shortlisted, each of us could have happily stood by it as a winner, and each was an utterly different kind of project,” he says. But the Kraszna-Krausz award has a very specific criterion for recipients, that they make a significant contribution to scholarship in the field, and with that standard in mind the Watkins book stood apart from the rest.

“One of the things that this book has done is bring an immense amount of labor to create a catalogue raisonné the likes of which, for a 19th-century photographer, I’ve never seen,” says Southam. He says that many of the judges were of a generation for which the 1975 New Topographics exhibit at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., was an important event, and—at least for European photographic scholars—the first time they were introduced to landscape photographers from Watkins’ era, a category that Southam says is still under-examined. This book, Southam says, will be the resource to which future generations of scholars turn when they are writing essays about Watkins and his compatriots—and, as such, the book fulfills the prize’s mission.

The book also accomplishes a scholarly task by showing Watkins’ work in great volume. “He was solving photographic problems for the first time,” says Southam of Watkins’ work from the Yosemite Valley, in which the photographer confronted a landscape that had never before been photographed. “You develop an understanding [with a book] of the photographer’s process that wouldn’t be possible with one print.”

Nevertheless, Southam cautions any photographer against making a book that is intended to do well in competitions. “I’m not very keen on judging. Books aren’t made to be judged,” he says. But it helps when a book is as much of a stand-out as the one in question this time around. “One of the things that one’s looking for is an object that’s captivating as an object, that has presence, that the hands and the body and the mind get a pleasure from the holding and the turning and the looking at, that the whole has an integrity that comes from the vision of the author. This book, every page you turn to is as engrossing as the next.”

The Sony World Photography Awards Exhibitions and World Photo London takes place April 27 – May 20. An exhibition of the winning and shortlisted books from the Kraszna-Krausz book awards 2012 is at Somerset House, London, during that time. More information is available here.

Naoya Hatakeyama: a book and an exhibition

My most recent trip to Japan in October happily coincided with Naoya Hatakeyama’s first retrospective at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of his work – and there is quite a lot of it – so I was curious to see how this exhibition, entitled Natural Stories, would be put together. The exhibition has now closed in Tokyo but opens at the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam today until the end of February 2012. To coincide with Natural Stories, Hatakeyama also released his latest book, Ciel Tombé, which I included on my best books of 2011 list, so I thought I would discuss them together here.

I will admit to being a little surprised at the selection of work in Natural Stories. Although there are ten different bodies of work in the exhibition, none of Hatakeyama’s work on Tokyo (Underground, River, Maquettes/Light…) was included. However, in the curator’s text on the exhibition she is quick to explain that this was a conscious decision given that Hatakeyama already had several solo exhibitions in Japan including a 2007 show at the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura & Hayama which took the city as its theme. With that in mind the exhibition’s focus on the natural landscape makes sense.

The title Natural Stories is an intriguing one. I think it works best in french (Histoires naturelles), which I believe is the language in which the title was originally given. In french ‘histoire’ can mean both history or a story. The title evokes Natural History, stories about nature, and perhaps even a history of nature itself. The essay by the French writer Philippe Forest in the exhibition catalogue explores these notions in detail so I won’t dwell on them any further, but the title evokes the very different considerations that inform Hatakeyama’s photographic approach to the landscape. His landscapes are never ‘just’ landscapes: they are always the reflection or the echo of something else. For instance, although it depicts the limestone mines, the series Lime Hills deals with the transformation of the natural landscape to feed the insatiable growth of the city of Tokyo.

Although it is almost never directly present in this exhibition, the city is never very far away. In the series Ciel Tombé Hatakeyama explored the Parisian catacombs and their underground ‘fallen skies’ (ciel tombé). This series is the subject of Hatakeyama’s latest book, Ciel Tombé (Super Labo, 2011). For this book Hatakeyama has deviated from the standard photobook formula and asked the French author Sylvie Germain to contribute a short story based on his photographs . I won’t go into detail about this book as this post is already overly long, but I will say this: I first saw the work from Ciel Tombé a few years ago at a gallery in Tokyo. Several months later I had the opportunity to read Sylvie Germain’s deliciously strange and unsettling text. I had not seen any of the images since that first viewing, but as I read through the story the images appeared in my mind as if I had only just seen them. For the moment the book only exists in a deluxe edition of 200 which includes a print, a book of Hatakeyama’s photographs and another book containing Sylvie Germain’s text in French, English and Japanese, but there is word of a second edition in the making.

Returning to Natural Stories, for me the final two rooms of the exhibition were the highlight. The first of these rooms (pictured at the top of this post) contained Hatakeyama’s most recent work on his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, one of the many towns destroyed in the tsunami of 11 March 2011. Although very little time has passed, Hatakeyama decided to include a series of photographs in the exhibition that he took in the wake of the disaster. Many images have been produced of the aftermath of the tsunami, but most of these fail to connect beyond conveying the scale of the physical destruction. What stands out about Hatakeyama’s images is how matter of fact they feel. He has photographed these landscapes with the same unflinching precision, intelligence and quietness tinged with nostalgia as any other landscape. His photographs strike me as the most natural possible response to the disaster, but they must have been incredibly difficult to make given the deeply personal and tragic nature of the subject. These images are presented on three adjacent walls in the space, while on the fourth a slideshow of images taken between 2008-2010 in his native region is presented in the guise of a framed photograph.

The final room contains the companion series Blast and A Bird. Both series have been exhibited and published in the past, but for this exhibition Hatakeyama also chose to present Blast as a stop-motion video projected on a huge wall in the space. These photographs have a potent mix of beauty and brutal force which is heightened even further when animated in this way. It is an overwhelming end to the exhibition and one which resonates long after you leave the space.

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Related posts:

  1. Review: Naoya Hatakeyama @ Rencontres d’Arles
  2. Review: From Back Home (book and exhibition)
  3. Some more fuel on the photo-book fire

Insha’Allah: Morocco’s Changing Culture

We reached a vast field just beyond Casablanca’s limit. Dusty trails wandered toward the center, where they crisscrossed then extended further outward toward mosques, half made tenement blocks and shanty towns. The sun felt metallic hot. Opaque echos of a single prayer call grazed us with the coming breeze. More began to rise, until the many voices braided the air around us. I watched and froze the sprawling urban panorama that vibrated behind heat waves, until the voices faded away.

This past June I spent five weeks in North Africa participating in an art-research project called Beyond Digital: Morocco. As a collaborative, experimental project, each of the seven multi-disciplined participants interpreted a core research theme centered around contemporary Moroccan music and the culture it emerges from. I used this evocative aspect of the culture as a guide to explore the country’s current landscape, both environmental and social.

Morocco is a landscape at the precipice. At the far western edge of the Muslim world, it is both a world unto itself and a historic doorway between Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These varied influences have woven themselves into a unique cultural fabric, marked with sharp contrasts. Today, Western cultural trends, international investment projects and sprawling urban development jostle together with the country’s Muslim and ancient Berber cultures. To this is added the pressing undertone of Morocco’s ambivalent position within the developing Arab Spring.

My goal was to make a series of images which would capture the concurrent dynamics of this contemporary Moroccan landscape. As a foreign artist, I wanted to seek the edges of the landscape that fell away from the ways Morocco is generally represented, allowing the landscape to recount its story through the image-making process. This photographic contribution was one of several media involved in the larger project, from documentary video shorts to software design, each offering its own artistic interpretation, thus creating a multi-faceted experiment in how art and cultural research can work in tandem.

John Francis Peters is a New York based photographer and photo editor.