Fotograf Magazine

Naoya Hatakeyma

Explosions, Tsunamis and the Metropolis

The traces of human intervention in the landscape, the extraction of raw materials and the development of our built environment are at the focus of a Japanese photographer celebrated for a series that shows spectacular explosions in limestone quarries.

Over the past thirty years, Naoya Hatakeyama has undertaken various long-term investigations in the Tokyo/ Yokohama metropolitan area, exploring its environment and ever-changing urban sprawl. Other series focus on the theme of human intervention in the landscape and natural materials, including mines, factories and construction sites. His most famous series, especially internationally, is Blast, where he silences and freezes limestone quarry explosions, showing massive boulders and shreds of rock flying through the air, as an affecting testament to man’s radical alteration of the natural landscape. His most personal and touching project, without doubt, is dedicated to his home town Rikuzentaka, in the north of Japan’s main island. The town was heavily destroyed during the 2011 Tsunami, which took away not only the physical structures of his home, but also the life of his mother. His careful analysis of the effects of the disaster and the slow recovery from it took four years to grow into a body of work, and, nearly obligatory for a Japanese photographer, a book.

The interest in the freezing of explosive moments may be derived from his teacher Kiyoji Otsuji, who famously documented Japanese artists such as Shōzō Shimamoto, who created his works by crashing paint bottles on large horizontal canvases in the 1950s. The concern with nature and its raw materials, which form the basis of our contemporary life, recalls Bernd and Hilla Becher’s main subject matter, and suggests shared interests with the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. One could even establish a direct link to the Bechers’ interest in industrial architecture, despite the obvious differences in their visual language and artistic intention. The German couple demonstrated great concern in saving these buildings and structures, both by fixing them in their imagery and by preventing their destruction, for example, by having them declared national monuments. Hatakeyama, on the other hand, documents not only the relation of the Zeche Westfahlen I/II Ahlen (an old German coalmine) to the surrounding landscape, but also its disintegration and demolition, which culminated in the blasting of the coal washing plant, and the razing of the industrial site.

I believe it is fair to say that the fascinating oeuvre of Naoya Hatakeyama confronts us with our own smallness and mortality in the face of nature: explosions, tsunamis and the relationship between landscape and architecture, all carefully documented and packaged into stunning photobooks that are a true visual blast.

NAOYA HATAKEYAMA was born in 1958 in northern Japan. He completed his graduate studies at Tsukuba University in 1984, as a student of Kiyoji Otsuji, before moving to Tokyo. His work has been largely exhibited in museums both in Japan and abroad, as well as featured in the Japanese Pavilion of the 49th Venice Biennale.

MORITZ NEUMÜLLER is a curator, educator and writer in the field of Photography and New Media. He is currently chief curator of the Photobookweek Aarhus, Denmark and runs The Curator Ship, a platform that provides useful information for visual artists.

Moritz Neumüller