Risaku Suzaki

Risaku Suzuki’s solo exhibition “Between the Sea and the Mountain—Kumano” brought together recent photos taken in the holy mountains of Kumano, the ancient Shinto capital. The sequence of photos reconstructs an approach to its sacred waterfalls. As usual in Suzuki’s work, the evocation of the site’s sacred character does not depend on any use of religious symbols. The clarity with which anonymous trees and rocks are captured indicates an immersion in the actuality of personal contact with a place, conveyed by an accumulation of discreet perceptions. Similarly, in his 1998 “Piles of Time” series shot at Osorezan, the mountain where it is believed possible to commune with the dead, he reconstructed his journey, frequently conveying a casual “snapshot” approach. Coupled with the overall precision, blurs and accidental details lend the pictures a touch of unreality, signaling an eruption of another dimension of experience. The premonition of something unnatural coming, intensifying as the photographer approaches the site, ultimately signifies the incommensurable.

In the gallery, the effect was both exquisite and fresh. Color photographs taken by a large-format (8 x 10) camera were individually lit by a single pin-spot, giving each picture an eerie glow, with every detail standing out. Minute detail communicates the photographer’s desire to show everything visible; at the same time, it works (along with formal design) to claim painterly materiality. The fine mesh of young camphor leaves possesses the powdery texture of a gouache drawing, and the splash of the waterfall against a rock is depicted as a white gap with knife-blade glitter. This interplay between photographic and painterly materiality is effectively balanced in those photos showing a contrast between light and shadow, sometimes revealing an unnatural blur in the otherwise clear picture field. The surreal emergence of a patch of earth against dark foliage, or dapples of light on the brightly lit surface of a rock, seems to deprive the scene of materiality or to indicate a superimposition of different moments.

Suzuki’s combination of the snapshot approach and formal rigor interestingly compares with the method of Daido Moriyama. Despite the external differences in their styles—Moriyama, rough and spontaneous; Suzuki, precise and meticulously composed—they share the same interest in capturing an aura of a place beyond the visible, communicating the physical intensity of their encounter with the unnamed. Even Suzuki’s pursuit of places charged with people’s desire for the sacred echoes a theme cultivated by Moriyama in “JAPAN’S SCENIC TRIO,” 1973–74, depicting Japan’s traditional tourist sites. While Moriyama tries to arrest the invisible by means of radical blurring, Suzuki does so by insisting on the materiality of a photographic vision. The unrepresentable depth of the Kumano mountains, suggested by the accentuated clarity of Suzuki’s photos, finally appears as a sheer trace in the vision of a waterfall as an exploded gap. While adopting a Moriyama-like snapshot immediacy to avoid the rigidity of a rational framework, Suzuki updates it with his refreshing loyalty to photography’s essential relation to the visible. In the lyrical yet attentive manner of Stephen Shore, he creates a unique photographic idiom for his own, more inward-looking generation.

Midori Matsui