A photographer’s return to Aomori

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

Masako Kakizaki’s photographs of her native Aomori Prefecture for “Aononymous: Full Circle” are nuanced and ambivalent. They do not project a sense of dominion, with grand open views out to a far horizon, but are rather an examination of land as geological textures and forms.

“I photograph landscape like it’s skin” Kakizaki tells me at her exhibition at the Poetic Scape gallery in Nakameguro.

Kakizaki accompanies her visual work with poetry. When she writes, “To the living layers, built up over thousands of years, I wish to be in tune” in her exhibition booklet, “Aononymous: Hai” (“Aononymous: Lungs”), it tells us that she is not awed by nature in the romanticist tradition, in which an existentialist threat is implied. Rather, her desire is to portray an acceptance of her own materiality and, like the literati painters of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) or Edo Period (1603-1868) Japan, she expresses a personal interpretation of nature, sensitive to its rhythms and presuming of a (relatively) benign connection with the cosmos.

Kakizaki’s day job is as a food photographer, and it’s tempting to see an artistic equivalence between her personal work and the literati ideal of art as a noble pursuit, distinct from the rude economy of having to make professional work for clients. Questions of social value aside, food photography requires patience, attention to detail and a good sense of how to make something viscerally alluring. In the pecking order of careers in photography, it’s chamber music compared to the stadium rock of fashion or celebrity portraiture, but the skills needed for it serve Kakizaki very well in her “Aononymous: Full Circle” project. The combination of poetry and visual imagery is precise but not literal. It is visually seductive, but not in a syrupy, tourist-board sort of way.

Using standard and short telephoto rather than the wide-angle lenses that are the usual bread and butter of landscape photographers, Kakizaki’s images are sometimes close to claustrophobic. Other-worldly rock formations in close-up, trees in fog and white fields viewed through falling snow appear in “Aononymous: Full Circle” as an expression of the artist’s relationship with the natural environment.

The delicately controlled and subdued color palette and square format of the images, meanwhile, tell us about her choice of medium. Whike Kakizaki uses a digital 35 mm camera at work, she prefers to use negative film and a medium-format camera to take landscapes — that is to say, a process which is slower, more material and less forgiving of lapses in concentration.

In the context of the passage of time and returning to one’s roots — two of the underlying issues in the project — using film makes sense.

“Aononymous; Full Circle” at Poetic Scape in Nakameguro, Tokyo, runs until July 29; free admission. For more information, visit www.poetic-scape.com.