Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories – Exhibition at SFMOMA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In my last post, I mentioned that I took my brother and sister-in-law to lunch and attend a historic tour at the San Francisco Palace Hotel – SF Palace Hotel Historic Tour and Lunch.  After lunch, I took them to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  My brother was an Art Major when he was in College, but he is not too much interested in modern art.  Since we were so close by, and I am a member of SFMOMA, I “must” take them there!  To my surprise, he liked the current exhibition:  the photography show of Naohya Hatakeyama:  Natural Stories.  

Although I love arts, both visual and performance arts, and I visited many museums in different parts of the world, photography is not my first choice if I have limited time.  I do appreciate our own Ansel Adams, and many of his works, but I don’t know much about other photographers. Well, this exhibition is an eye-opener for me, because of my brother who loves photography, and also because we attended a very interesting docent tour.  Both the docent and my brother had educated me about this Japanese Photographer, well-known for his exploration of the relationship between nature and humanity.  My brother told me that this is called Literary Photography, or Photo Story.

I am reblogging the Press Release of SFMOMA about this exhibition.  I found the information here very educational to me.  


Leading Japanese Photographer’s First U.S. Museum Exhibition

Release date: May 30, 2012


Naoya Hatakeyama,Trockener Steg (Matterhorn)#03001, from the seriesUntitled (Another Mountain), 2005; chromogenic print; 23 5/8 x 48 5/16 in. (60 x 122.7 cm); Courtesy the artist; © Naoya Hatakeyama , courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

“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 Worksand 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).”


I have also obtained the permission from SFMOMA to post the slide show of the Photographer’s Lime Hills (Quarry Series) which is posted in the blog of SFMOMA – Open Space, a post written by Lisa J. Sutcliffe.

Please note that you need to click the link below in order to see the slide-show. 

Naoya Hatakeyama: Lime Hills (Quarry Series)

via SFMOMA | OPEN SPACE » Blog Archive » Naoya Hatakeyama: Lime Hills (Quarry Series).

July 30, 2012  |  By 

Filed under: 151 3rd

Naoya Hatakeyama, Lime Hills #27403, 1989; chromogenic print; 11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in. (30 cm x 38 cm); Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; © Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.

Lisa J. Sutcliffe

Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories, which opened on Saturday, is the first solo exhibition of this important contemporary Japanese photographer in the United States. Drawn to landscapes in transition, Hatakeyama is known for large-scale color photographs that explore the collision of man and nature. His pictures examine the structures societies create to claim and process natural resources, and capture the extraordinary forces we deploy to shape nature to our will. Over the course of the exhibition we’ll share selections from the show with you on Open Space.

Last weekend I took Naoya and his partner, Corinne, on a driving tour of San Francisco. While we gazed upon the hills of San Francisco from the Marin Headlands they taught me some Japanese landscape terms, and I was delighted to discover that Hatakeyama’s name translates to field(Hatake) mountain (yama). It seems fitting that someone named for the landscape has dedicated his life to making pictures that transform our understanding of the natural world.

Today we’re featuring Hatakeyama’s earliest series, Lime Hills (Quarry Series), the work that launched his career. In 1986 the artist returned to the area near his hometown, Rikuzentakata, in Iwate Prefecture on the northeastern coast of Japan, to investigate the nearby limestone quarries and their corresponding factories. Over the next five years he broadened his scope to include mines throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Calling on the traditions of Romantic painting, these pictures blur the lines between man-made and natural environments, transforming industrial settings into awe-inspiring images. Reflecting on the physical connection between these sites and civilization, he later noted: “If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.”

Lisa Sutcliffe is SFMOMA assistant curator of photography. Her March 2011 post Spirit in the Air, remembering the Tohuku earthquake, also includes work by Hatakeyama.


The docent that led the tour when we were visiting, had stimulated us to express our thoughts when we saw these photos.   I wasn’t too responsive during the tour, but my brother had expressed a lot of his thoughts.  He thought in many of the photos, there was destruction, but at the end there was light…there was hope…I think this is actually my interpretation! I like to look at the positive side of life.

I also like to respond about the comment in the Press Release that “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. ”  I remember after the tragic tsunami, the Japanese people as shown on TV, did display lots of self-control and self-help.  Isn’t Hatakeyama ‘s unsentimental expression a reflection of the nature and personality of most of the Japanese people?

To conclude this post, I would like to use a quote from the artist Marcel Duchamp: “the work of art is not performed by the artist alone.  The viewer completes the art.”

Naoya Hatekeyama: Natural Stories is on view at SFMOMA through November 4, 2012.  If you happen to be in San Francisco, don’t miss this exhibition.

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