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.