The Indefinable Mount Fuji

There’s something unknowable about Takashi Homma’s photographs, as if caught in the seconds between being awake and falling asleep

Courtesy the artist and Mack

It’s actually really hard to see all of Mount Fuji. Most of the time its peak is shrouded in clouds. Or the entire thing is hidden by a general atmospheric mist, even on a sunny day. The best time to catch a glimpse of the mountain is between November and February at around 8am – if the conditions are clear. Or you could content yourself with taking it in via Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Takashi Homma’s photobook dedicated to Japan’s iconic volcano. It seems important, here, to note that in this book there are in fact 56 photographs of the mountain – but it’s not immediately clear why Homma didn’t stick to the number of images in the title. The title and series of photos is an homage to Hokusai’s famed set of ukiyo-e prints (c. 1830–32, of which the best known is probably The Great Wave off Kanagawa), the title also later used by Hiroshige for two series of prints, made in 1852 and 1858.

Shot using a pinhole camera from various vantage points and distances, Homma’s grainy photos capture Mount Fuji’s elusiveness in a twilight palette of pinks, purples and blues, as well as black-and-white. There’s a vaporosity to the images that situates them within a kind of dreamlike realm, a quality that’s heightened by Homma’s occasional sequencing of two of the same views side-by-side; one pair includes buildings in the foreground, where the sunlight seems to shift so subtly that at first it’s easy to miss that one is shot during sunrise and the other in the gloaming. Another pair, where one image is saturated in a deep Prussian blue reminiscent of Hokusai’s prints and speckled with blurred, multicoloured beads of light from a nearby town, and the other is developed in high-contrast black-and-white, somehow feels evocative of the seconds between being awake and falling asleep. Homma’s photos join the lineage of Thirty-Six Views – the Hokusais and Hiroshiges that have contributed to casting the mountain as an immovable, recognisable and commercially reproduced feature of Japan’s landscape. But in capturing its indefinable and transient qualities, Homma’s photographs allow Mount Fuji to gently unfurl in the haze of the everyday.

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Takashi Homma. Mack, £35 (softcover)

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