“The first time I took these photographs I was in a panic, so I did not have an awareness of what I was doing,” photographer Naoya Hatakeyama says of his experience with the March 11, 2011, Tōhoku tsunami in northeastern Japan. “But when you look back at the first point, there is a sense of creating, and feeling for the first time.”
A catalyst for his new monograph Excavating the Future City (Aperture), the 59-year-old photographer documents the disaster that ravaged his hometown through an analog lens. Featuring essays by curator Yasufumi Nakamori, architect Toyo Ito, and the artist himself, Hatakeyama’s book tours a range of landscapes altered by forces of nature and human progress. The pages are filled with glossy prints of mountains standing without summits, intricate labyrinths of asphalt highways, and rivers weaving between buildings, bleeding rusty oranges and browns.
Yet these scenes are not Japanese photography in the traditional sense taught during Hatakeyama’s years at the University of Tsukuba. Intentionally lacking Japanese signifiers, his work is influenced by Western ideas of documentary style. But, Hatakeyama is not a photojournalist: The Tōhoku disaster is not a subject for one day, or one project. The photographer has returned home many times, capturing remnants of the past and echoes of things to come, “a cycle of going back into the past to look into the future.”
Hatakeyama’s poignant images document the industries that have lifted his prefecture and country higher, but not without a price: The green rolling hills and expansive neon cities of Japan are subtly marked by the realities of modern urbanism. “To observe with an understanding of complexity—that is what I want to do.”
Excavating the Future City will be published by Aperture in April. “Excavating the Future City: Photos by Naoya Hatakeyama” is on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through July 22.