In Hatakeyama’s photographs of the city, there’s a cramped feeling of loneliness. Often, there are no human figures to be seen. Instead, street signs, empty stairwells, painted pavement, and towering high bridges take the focus. Sometimes, Hatakeyama offers just a glimpse of his own place in the scene when the shadow of his camera appears. One particularly eerie series, Underground (1999), features a lone tripod in a desolate culvert underneath the Shubuya river. Beneath the hum of the city, the damp scene represents an isolation that prevails throughout Hatakeyama’s depiction of urban landscapes. This palpable detachment is born out of his practice of viewing the world from a distance — framed and separate from the self.1
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Whether photographing limestone quarried by explosive blasts, the evolution of a city from a bird’s-eye-view, or recovery and reconstruction efforts of the artist’s tsunami-swept hometown in northeastern Japan, Naoya Hatakeyama’s photographic explorations have consistently traced the ways that human intervention alters nature and transforms it into the built environment. Each keenly composed image captures phases of creation, change, and destruction over time in Japan’s contemporary topographies. By documenting the lifecycles of these built and natural environments, Hatakeyama (Japanese, b. 1958) creates not just records of their past and present, but provides the possibility of imagining and projecting their future.
The artist’s first thematic exhibition organized by a U.S. museum features approximately 90 works created over the last 30 years.