‘When returning from a foreign country, I have often had the impression that the night view of Tokyo is especially shimmering. Compared to Western Europe, where sodium lamps are commonly used for streetlights, in Tokyo streets mercury lamps are heavily used. One can often find nightlights regularly lining an exterior passageway that connects the individual apartment units of an apartment building. The appearance of regularly lined fluorescent lights is characteristic of Tokyo’s skyline at night. I started taking pictures of this kind of light with a small camera around 1995. I got on a motorcycle every night and went out here and there and gathered only the lights of the apartment buildings.’
– Naoya Hatakeyama
Naoya Hatakeyama (born 1958) is probably best known for two bodies of work: firstly, his urban photographs of both elevated and underground locations in Tokyo, where he has lived since 1984; and secondly, his documentation of the slow recovery of his home town Rikuzentakata in Iwate, a small coastal city in northeastern Japan known for its fishing and food processing industries. It was completely destroyed by the tsunami following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, losing about 2,000 of its residents.
For his black and white series Maquettes/Light, made during the mid-1990s, Hatakeyama wandered the Tokyo streets at night, observing the patterns of lights originating from apartment buildings and other structures in and around the city. He photographed each site in a way that reduced the illumination of light fixtures to a minimum. He then emphasised this by printing the images in black and white as a gelatin silver print, before affixing a transparent film of the same image onto the paper print. By layering the prints’ and the transparencies’ black-printed sections Hatakeyama accentuated the darkness of the images’ deep shadow areas, doubling their density. Finally, he mounted the print and film together on to a ready-made lightbox. There, the brightest points of the photograph appear to gleam even more brilliantly, the light shining through the highlighted parts of both layers, contrasting sharply with the darkened areas.
According to Hatakeyama, he approached the individual structures in this series as if they were models of actual buildings, as if manipulating their scale and presentation. This signalled his early interest in scaled models and miniatures, which he would later photograph extensively.
Yasufumi Nakamori is Senior Curator, International Art (Photography), Tate Modern and author, with Megan Gleason, of Naoya Hatakeyama: Excavating the Future City, published jointly by Aperture and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Hatakeyama's Maquettes/Light series was purchased with assistance from the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of an anonymous donor in 2014 and is on display at Tate Modern from 8 July.