I wasn’t originally looking forward to the Hatakeyama exhibition the same way I was looking forward to Cindy Sherman. Sherman had been on my radar for a year. Hatakeyama only showed up a few weeks before it opened. But the more publicity I saw about it, the more I suspected that I’d actually enjoy it a lot more.
This exhibition met my expectations and then some.
I can’t think of an exhibit which reminded me of so many other things which I like and brought them together in a new way.
This is Edward Burtynsky plus Mark Ruwedel plus Richard Misrach plus The Third Man. Not really ruin porn or new topographics, but dancing around the area where man intersects with nature and nature fights back.
This kind of thing is crack for me.
Hatekayama approaches most of these as landscape photography with deliberate rule breaking—most often by making the subject something man-made but in general implying that landscapes are not still-lifes. We’re not used to the concept of a decisive moment with landscapes nor are we used to seeing a landscape which is changing in human time.
Whether it’s the way clouds change our perception of a mountain range or how industrial earthworks transform and interact with nature,* these aren’t just landscapes. These are moments—something which becomes all too clear with his photos of explosions.
*Some of the shots and descriptions reminded me of Michael Chabon’s “cloud factory” concept from the Mysteries of Pittsburg—still one of the more evocative things I’ve been introduced to.
They are also photos of things that most people try to avoid. Most people wait for clouds to move away from their view. Most people try and crop out the ugly pit mining scar or slag heap in the landscape . Most people don’t want to see how we impose ourselves on nature. Looking at these—and making them beautiful without glossing over our imposition is hard to do well. These photos accomplish it though. The earthworks are beautiful in their own way yet are still appalling to the treehugger in me.
The tsunami photos in particular deserve special mention. I cannot but compare them to Misrach’s Oakland fire photos. These are deeply personal to the artist and aren’t about gawking at a trainwreck but rather a way of processing the disaster. If anything, the dominant feeling is a renewed sense of awe at the power or nature and our small place in everything.
We may be able to move and destroy mountains. Mother nature can still do it better.
My only complaint about this exhibition is the size—and the price of the catalogs. I want to see more of this work.