the city and the uncanny: lost in the work of naoya hatakeyama

Figure 1 - Naoya Hatakeyama, Maquettes/Light #3108 1995, gelatin silver print on paper and transparency on lightbox, 43.7 × 35 × 3.5 cm
Figure 1 – Naoya Hatakeyama, Maquettes/Light #3108 1995, gelatin silver print on paper and transparency on lightbox, 43.7 × 35 × 3.5 cm

Whilst wondering through the Tate Modern the other day, I stumbled across a series of photographs by the Japanese artist, Naoya Hatakeyama. Something about them really caught me, and it’s actually something I’ve tried to articulate in two academic essays already, so why not make it a hat-trick.

First, a bit of background on the artist and an explanation of what I saw:

Hatakeyama was born in Japan in 1958, and most of his photography seems to deal with the urban lived experience. Essentially, our relationship with our environment, and how we inhabit that space. In the Tate, I saw a series he created in the 1990s entitled, Maquettes/Light. Black and white photos that he captured while wandering around the streets of Tokyo at night, which depict the lights in empty offices and apartments.

‘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

These photos reminded me of several things I’ve read in the past, a series of contrasts. Firstly, there’s a great line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, where Nick, the narrator, describes this sensation of being both within and without. Simultaneously experiencing a moment of intimacy and inclusion, where we can see this other world that is running parallel to our own, but also experiencing a sensation of being an outsider/excluded from this world. deep

Secondly, something I’ve actually touched on in several essays and is somewhat of a borderline obsession for me. We’re about to get a bit Freudian so hold onto your hats for a second ladies and gentlemen.

Figure ? – Le Corbusier, Kitchen, Villa Savoie

The uncanny was a concept described by Freud in a 1919 essay, Das Unheimliche. The uncanny “confronts a world where the familiar and the unfamiliar […] are in a state of uneasy alliance.” There’s a tension between the occupied and the empty space I think, particularly in Hatakeyama’s photos. The city is a place we usually understand as fast-paced and crowded, and yet here we see a version of the city we recognise, buildings we recognise…yet they are seemingly abandoned. There’s another photograph I explored in an essay that really caught my attention in a similar way. Le Corbusier’s Kitchen, Villa Savoie. It’s as if we’re occupying a space that was just occupied by someone else, but we’ve just missed them. The lights left on in the offices and apartments of Maquettes/Light gives the impression that someone has just left the room and I think the contrast between past occupation and present emptiness heightens the feeling that we really are alone now.

I’m reading this book at the moment, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City by Richard Sennett. I’m going to borrow one of his explanations, because I think he makes a really nice distinction between the physical city and the lived experience:

The French language first came to sort out this distinction bu using two different words: ville and cité. Initially these names big and small: ville referred to the overall city, whereas cité designated a particular place. Some time in the sixteenth century, the cité came to mean the character of life in a neighbourhood. […] ‘Cité‘ can refer to a kind of consiousness.

And I think this applies well to Hatakeyama’s photographs.

Anyway, I probably ought to stop there as this is starting to get long. I hope you all enjoyed and remember to keep up to date with Crop Up Gallery on all social media platforms for daily updates!


Written by Emily Stokes

Feature – Naoya Hatakeyama, Maquettes/Light #4303 1995, printed 2012, gelatin silver print on paper and transparency on lightbox, 43.8 × 34.9 × 3.5 cm

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