1946 : Born in Nagano Prefecture
1968 : Drops out of the College of Art at Nihon University
1969 : Starts taking photos, leading to freelance work
1973 : Begins creating motion picture with 16 mm film
1983 : Sun and Sea series, consisting of shooting the sun in long exposures, wins the 33rd Photographic Society of Japan Newcomer’s Award
1994 : Receives the National Calendar Exhibit Prime Minister’s Award
2001 : Receives the 26th Ina Nobuo Award for Cherry Blossom, his photogram depictions of cherry blossoms set against the sun in Tokyo and Yamagata, captured using a telescopic lens
At the core of Hiroshi Yamazaki’s photography is a desire to create deeply intuitive photos, imbued with a vitality that is reminiscent of the documentary genre’s obsession with coincidence. From this foundation, Yamazaki launches countless artistic experiments in photography and motion picture in an attempt to capture the essence of film itself.
This ambition is evident in his signature series 「Heliography」(1974), a body of art representing over ten years of work. Fixing his camera over a featureless coastline, Yamazaki captures the slow arc of the sun with super long exposures. His powerful compositions capture bands of sunlight and their fierce reflection on the water below with stoic poise, and his motion picture work includes pieces in which the camera itself is destroyed by the sun’s brilliant luminescence. Yamazaki repeatedly dismantles and reconstructs notions of photography as if to seek out its purest essence. His quiet determination to surpass the bounds of convention is beyond imitation. Photography is the art of the freeze frame, and Yamazaki’s photographs represent the forefront of a tireless journey to the outer limits of film photography.
The title of this collection, “Heliography”, is the term photography pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce gave to the photographic technique he himself discovered. Yamazaki states that “a frank desire and sensitivity toward light seem to be expressed in this word. Now that I have adopted Niepce’s appealing designation for titling my photographs, I feel I must also maintain the same earnest enthusiasm for photography as my great predecessor had.” (Artist statement, 1983)
Before Heliography, Yamazaki used to place deliberate limitations on his shooting. In what he describes as his “premeditated crimes”, he would conduct modest experiments to see what expression could be gleaned solely from subjects visible from his apartment window, such as buildings, vapor trails, the sun or moon. Deriving an answer by deliberately limiting one’s possibilities has been intimately connected with Japanese aesthetics since ancient times. Sen no Rikyuu, the sixteenth century master of the tea ceremony used to summon forth beauty by first banishing all forms of decorativeness. Even further back in time, Zeami, the forefather of Noh theatre, terms the beauty of Noh as “makoto no hana” (genuine flower), that emanates from his performances only when one is free from conscious thought of it.
The power and appeal of the works of Yamazaki is universal. With them, he carves for himself a vital footprint in the history of Japanese photography. The pieces we present here are only a tiny sample of the timeless majesty of Hiroshi Yamazaki’s photographs, that refuse to fade even after forty years of existence.
New York Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
The Museum of Modern Art Saitama
Princeton University Art Museum
The Arizona University Center for Creative Photography
The International Center of Photography (U.S.)
Yokohama Museum of Art
Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music
Chiba City Museum of Art