Alfie Goodrich reviews the current exhibition by aerial photographer, Yoshiyuki Akutagawa; Fuji Square, MidTown.
STOP PRESS: This exhibition finishes tomorrow, 24th June.
Review: Any exhibition of aerial photography – and I have seen a few in my time – brings back childhood dreams of flying. And I dont mean flying in aircraft; I mean the kind where you just jump in the air and spread wings.
Flying – with all the modern-day security precautions, shoe-x-raying, plastic airline food and the same drab selection of in-flight entertainment – has become boring. In fact, to be honest, after the first time I went in an aircraft [aged 11] the whole exercise lost its mystery and wonder to a large extent. Only when I spent some time in the British Army did I get any of my childhood dreams stirring again; sitting in the open door of a Lynx3 helicopter, with the wind rushing past and free-reign for the eyes to wander over the ground below, was far closer to what I imagined flying would be like. It was so good in fact that it helped me – temporarily – to forget the screaming Sergeant-Major sitting behind me.
And so, good aerial photography can inspire the same feeling in me; immediacy, immersion in the landscape, a freedom for the eye to wander unfettered by thick aircraft windows no larger than the size of a small dinner-plate.
Akutagawa’s photos are displayed big. In this digital age it is often all too easy to forget that photographs are ever printed-out and to see large prints – 6ft tall and larger in some cases – is to feel the total presence of the subject.
The photographer has chosen his exhibits carefully and the shots span all four seasons of the year. His ability to get the best from the unique viewpoint afforded by shooting from a small aircraft – in most cases between 1000ft and 2500ft above the ground – is well demonstrated in this show but not overburdened by too many detailed shots which verge on the abstract. There is some of that too but Akutagawa’s show has plenty of wider shots which allow the viewer’s eye to take in the wider landscape, increasing the effect of ‘being in the aircraft door’.
Having grown up with film and shot many 5×4 inch plates over a period of ten years, the challenges of doing this in mid-air are not lost on me. Not least of which would be the changing and storing of dark-slides in a banking, rocking aerial platform like the small Cessna high-wing monoplane which was Akutagawa’s choice and the choice of most aerial snappers.
In addition to seeing the camera on display, it would have been nice to have seen what meter he was using. I guess it would be something like a Pentax analogue or digital spotmeter. But having the camera there gives all – especially digital-generation photographers – a chance to appreciate the challenges.
All his plates are so well exposed and are testament to years of practice, the honing of techniques and experience with plate-film. The large prints afford the clear, saturated colour and sharpness that one would associate with large-format shooting and they bear close inspection for details as well as longer-range viewing for that ‘wow, I’m flying’ feeling.
One would assume, given the venue, that it is not just Akutagawa’s lenses which are Fuji, but that he shoots on Fuji film stock. The depth of the colours – especially the greens – would lead me to believe that this is the case.
Favourite shots? Well, the whole show was wonderful and reminded me that despite having travelled around Japan a fair bit myself, there is still an awful lot of this country to see. A pang of jealousy invaded me at one point too: up there, 1000ft or more off of the ground, one doesn’t have to put up with the constant bustle of hordes of people, which spoils many a nice Japanese landscape at ground-level.
The avenue of cherry blossom stretching into the distance is a wonderful shot and gave me an impression of the long avenues of poplar trees, stretching to the far horizon which one encounters in Northern France. The green fields, the dark border of trees along the road, with the sakura tucked inside all the way along; beautiful.
Akutagawa is famous for his shots of Fuji. There are several in the show and his reputation is deserved.
Several shots play on the classic aerial photography trick of focussing in on shapes in the landscape below which we would never appreciate from our usual, earthbound perspective. There are not too many, they are all engaging and balance well with the other shots in the show.
As well as shooting oblique from the aircraft [45degrees or thereabouts], there are also shots which have been made looking straight down from the door of the plane. Akutagawa has chosen these well too, as this technique works especially well when there is strong cross-light. The shot of a beach covered in parasols is a great example.
Data File: Born in Matsuyama City, Aichi Prefecture in 1939, Akutagawa was a regular entrant to photo magazine contests in his high school days, later becoming a freelance professional photographer. He began his career as an aerial photographer in the 1970s, taking photos for All Nippon Airways calendars and government promotional magazines. He realized the need for enhanced cameras for aerial photography and set about developing a new camera, which attracted much global attention. Latest versions of his camera are launched at each edition of the internationally famous Photokina trade show. His photo collection “1,000 Feet” is currently on sale though Seki / SPC. Akutagawa is a member of the Japanese Professional Photographers Society, and in 1999 was the recipient of an award by the Photographic Society of Japan.
Venue and Access:
- Fuji Film Square, Tokyo MidTown, Roppongi.
- Access map here.
- Nearest Station: Roppongi [Hibiya and Uedo Subway Lines] exit 5.