36 Views

09 May

 

 

The exchange of inspiration between Japan and the Western world was already well established when wood block print maker Hokusai came out of retirement to create his renowned project 36 Views of Mount Fuji 1834/35. The series was so successful that it became a three-volume set of 100 Views of Mount Fuji.

These images are some of the most Westernised of Hokusai’s landscape work and, as such, have become something of a worldwide phenomenon. They are probably the best-recognised images of the Tenpo era, although it is accepted that many are largely imaginary compositions with only a tenuous representation of real places.

The method used is called Ukiyo-e, ‘Floating or Fleeting World’ – a romantic notion to appeal to Landscape artists and photographers. The influence of this project on the arts is undeniable. ‘The Wave’ from this series is the most influential. Artists, musicians, film makers and photographers have all made work inspired by this image.

Hokusai believed the universe to be made up of circles and triangles, another compositional notion to attract landscape photographers. Becoming engrossed in Hokusai’s work and ideologies, it seemed to me that he was making a typology of sorts, pre dating the photographic structure for binding a project together where the subject is constant, the location changes, sometimes the view changes, but the framing remains; 100 years later photographers such as the Bechers, Thomas Struth, Ed Rusha and others would base whole careers on this regimen.

Hokusai wanted to represent force and counter force, push and pull, man and nature. Somewhat controversially, he had a democratic eye that made him include, almost uniquely for the time and medium, every-day people going about their lives within the landscape, at work, play, and always – however small – the mystical Mount Fuji. The Japanese establishment frowned upon this and considered only the upper classes should be portrayed.

Yet it was the recognition of this documentary element to Hokusai’s landscapes that introduced an exciting project idea; Somerset has its own mystical ‘mountain’, Glastonbury Tor, surrounded by towns, villages, farms and a variety of landscape. Working with a 5 x 4” camera would be the photographic equivalent of using the wood block process of Hokusai, a technique that was considered, in the way that many less enlightened feel now about film, not just to be out of date but archaic.

I have included pages from the preparatory book which explain my approach. The project has begun practically, albeit slowly. This will be my first step into landscape photography since being a student; however a major shooting period will begin soon.