Part four – Creativity – Mount Fuji

The introduction to this section struck a chord with me as for some time I have had a problem with certain aspects of the idea of landscape photography.  I had noticed that a lot of images of the same sort of subjects come up time and again and few if any seem to have anything fresh to say about the subject.  I have already mentioned elsewhere that I see this as a problem with a lot of the views, nighttime ones in particular, of the River Tyne and its bridges.  It is a popular subject for local photographers but I find it inescapable that they all end up looking alike and become indistinguishable from each other.  Another example, not so far from where I live, is the tree at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall; possibly the country’s most photographed individual tree!  The very best work says something about the place itself or the photographer’s reaction or relationship to it.  Much does not.

Fuji San (as the Japanese more respectfully address their most famous mountain – Mr Fuji) has clearly suffered in this way.  The sort of images that come up on Google are all pretty generic and are so obvious that they take away any real sense of the true nature and importance of this mountain.  Were it not for the occasional intrusion into the frame of, for example, cherry blossom (another Japanese picturesque cliché that says nothing about the significance its transience has to the Japanese people) it could just as easily be a picture of any conical, snow topped mountain. If you did not know that Kilimanjaro has a flatter top would you be any the wiser and able to tell them apart?  OK, maybe I am pushing the point a little far but I think the basic premise is right.

I was therefore interested in John Davies’s work, which I had not come across before.  Coincidentally I recently bought a copy of Nineteen Fuji Views by Lucy May Schofield, the current (summer 2017) artist in residence with VARC at Highgreen in Northumberland, whom I have assisted on a couple of school printmaking workshops.   Lucy’s approach was similar to Davies’s though from a more rural perspective  from the area around Fujikawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture.  Her express influences were Ed Ruscha and Tom Sowden (another name new to me who, I now see, has much in common with Ruscha).  I do not know if she was also influenced by Davies – I will ask her the next time I see her!  I never did get to see Fuji San during my own brief visit to Japan but I did travel a lot through similar rural and semi-rural areas so the views she chose (Fuji apart!) had a resonance for me.

I was similarly unaware of Chris Steele Perkins’s Fuji work.  I am more used to thinking of him in Magnum black and white reportage made.  These are a bolder set in terms of use of colour and composition and what I think they do is actually make Fuji San anything but “incidental”.  These pictures say a lot to me about how important Fuji San is to Japanese culture.  Yes, superficially at least, it is just a big mountain that is always there in the background and overlooks a large area of land.  It does not strike me though that the Japanese people just take the presence of the mountain for granted.  Rather than ‘just’ being there, it is a constant presence, a root, a pivot around which everyday life revolves.

Go back almost two hundred years and Japan’s greatest artist, Hokusai Katsushika did the same sort of thing with his Fugaku Sanjurokkei, Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji.  Only a few of the prints are direct views of Fuji San alone.  In most he is in the background or, as in the case of “Shojin tozen”, Climbing on Fuji, is the background.


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