My latest enthusiasm is for the work of Yuji Obata who we are now lucky enough to represent. I was introduced to Obata’s work by Yoshiko Suzuki, curator of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, who kindly gave me a rare copy of Obata’s study of winter in the Hokkaido Province titled “Winter Tale”.
Yuji Obata was born in Japan in 1962. He attended the Nihon University College of Art and currently resides in Tokyo. In 2003, Obata was compelled to photograph winter scenes in Japan as he stood in front of Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Hunters in the Snow" in Vienna's Museum of Art History. Upon returning to Japan, he traveled to the country's northernmost island, Hokkaidō, known for its cold and snowy winters. As he worked there photographing ice skaters at a middle school rink and a local speed skating team, his enchantment with images of winter deepened. Traveling around different regions of the island in winter, he began noticing the varied qualities of the snow itself, and finally became fascinated with the unique challenge of photographing snowflakes in motion as they fell from the sky.
Obata was inspired by the story and works of W.A. Bentley, an American farmer and photographer who adapted a camera and microscope to photograph a single snow crystal for the first time in 1885. Bentley went on to photograph more than 5,000 snowflakes in his lifetime, and his technique was so successful that it continues to be used today.
Like Bentley, Obata was obsessed with the challenge of doing something no one had done before – in his case photographing snowflakes in freefall rather than on a flat surface without digital or any other manipulation. It took Obata five years to achieve but his breakthrough resulted in the capture of pictures that allow the snowflakes to relate to each other in space and size, creating dynamic compositions and scenes. Obata chose to shoot the series in the mountains of Hokkaidō, based on its extreme cold and its history as the place where Dr. Ukichiro Nakaya did research that led to his invention of artificial snow. And while Obata is properly reverent to those who inspired him in this project, his photographs stand alone as fresh and original works.
I hope you enjoy them and if I don’t get around to posting again for a while I hope you'll find these pictures seasonally cheery and appropriate. Happy Holidays!