past exhibition

Demarcation - Gentaro Ishizuka

Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00

Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30

Mondays and Tuesdays Closed

Entrance Fee 800 yen for over 18


Emergent spectacle – the pipelines of Gentaro Ishizuka
Yuri Mitsuda (Art critic)

Setting out to journey through untouched “wilderness,” I first visited Alaska in the spring of 2003. What caught my eye there was not so much the “wilderness” as the pipeline that ran right through it.

Gentaro Ishizuka, Pipeline Alaska, 2007, Petit Grand Publishing

A globetrotting Gentaro Ishizuka had an unexpected encounter with a pipeline, and following pipelines came to form the backbone of his work as a photographer. Piercing plains with a metallic gleam, pipelines are manmade objects extending endlessly across vast tracts of nature. The energy of this photographer, who employs a large-format camera to best savor all the formative beauty of both natural and artificial, has sustained him through close on twelve years of grueling photo shoots. This exhibition is the first compilation of the resulting work. It will be intriguing to see how Ishizuka’s understated prints stand up amid the cavernous concrete space of Gallery 916.

They are uninhabited, the places in Alaska, Iceland, and Australia where pipelines run: without exception remote wilderness areas of rocks and grass, far from any human settlement, no man’s lands. The absence of people can be explained by the fact that these are areas where the harshness of climate, land and topography do not attract a human presence. The rocks are jagged, the grass soft, the skies big. Pipelines are, one supposes, the perfect thing to construct in just such locations.

Unadorned metal tubes extend across the landscape, their pure geometric forms an utterly alien presence on the land. In Ishizuka’s photos, this incongruity is converted into something new and beautiful; a harmonious disharmony, so to speak; what one could describe perhaps, as the plastic power of photography.

Devoted solely to the reliable transport of oil, the pipeline is a utility good, albeit an unusual one, that also possesses an unconscious functional beauty. Or rather, the secret allure harbored by something originally constructed with no consideration for it being seen, is exposed in the photographs. These are portraits of pipelines that only emerge when the photographer has an untrammeled command of that plastic power. The expressionless lines running between boulders seem masculine in form; under trees, almost touchingly determined, but at no point are they anthropomorphized. Detached, Ishizuka gauges and maintains a sense of distance from his subjects as he sets up the 8x10 camera.

The pipeline was originally a thing to be seen by no one, a thing invisible both socially and politically. It is only when Ishizuka and his camera came along that it morphed into spectacle.

The weather is sunny, and the light reflecting off the pipeline makes an intoxicating sight. I asked Ishizuka if the scene needs to be in fine weather, and he replied that shooting it in rough conditions would be dangerous. I suppose it is true that these are places where in adverse weather conditions, one is occupied entirely by staying safe, with no room to think about setting up a camera solo. True that the photographer has no special reverence for this scene.

A pipeline is not simply a practical thing. It is a cross-border project for the purpose of transporting oil, or geothermal or other forms of energy produced by nature, to a different location and turning it into a commodity; a project that can only be as profitable as the length of that endless line. The rights undoubtedly at its source, the carrier’s concession, and the lack of rights of the territory through which it passes, are all another function of this line.

Can any autonomous body install something like this in no man’s land? How much labor is required? How high is the value of this energy, the transport of which requires such effort? Looking at Ishizuka’s photos, we are compelled to contemplate what they show.

The photographer himself, having followed a pipeline for a long time, will hardly fail to ask himself why he photographs it. Ishizuka is a photographer who can also write, but prefers to respond to this question with his photos. He presents the pipeline as a cloudless, deserted scene. As a photo of a form. And does so exclusively. The photographer attempts to capture clearly every detail in front of the lens of his 8x10 large-format camera. It is precisely because he is clearly aware that the pipeline has been made, and hidden, for a logic and purpose in a different location to here, that Ishizuka devotes himself to looking at the scene before him.

That Ishizuka early in his career worked as an assistant to Doug Aitken is interesting. Aitken’s films, which deal with the Alaskan landscape and simultaneously possess an air of urbane sophistication and sharpness, have elements in common with Ishizuka’s work.

One can also see why Ishizuka cites Naoya Hatakeyama as a photographer who has influenced him. The approach of turning one’s gaze to the surfaces where artificial and natural meet permeates all of Hatakeyama’s work. This stance is very much apparent in Ishizuka’s PIPELINE series.

An obsession with print quality is something else Ishizuka has inherited from his forebears. This is a truly analog photographer for whom the work carried out in the color photography darkroom is of huge importance. Ishizuka says that with each photo he is looking to achieve the kind of realism that makes the viewer “want to climb right into the frame.” This requires a large-format camera, and giving greater weight to the printing in the darkroom.

Once Ishizuka has traveled to his end-of-the-earth location, and completed the shoot under grueling conditions, it is time to secrete himself in the darkroom. It is between these two extreme ends of the pendulum’s swing that Ishizuka’s practice lies. The dual tasks of the shoot and darkroom find a parallel in the opposite poles of his life: moving between the boundless, unforgiving world of nature, and the huge metropolis of Tokyo.

It was reflecting on this fact that Ishizuka says gave him the idea for his new series N/P to be shown at Gallery 916 small.

Taking photos just inside his home; capturing a single object consecutively on color negative film and color positive film; presenting the positive and negative images overlapping in the same frame, instead of reversing the images on the film. N/P follows these rules Ishizuka set for himself. Here, the artist’s intention is shown not in what he photographs, but what is used in the photography and making of the prints, and how. Which is why Ishizuka deliberately restricts the location to inside his own home, and highlights the technique.

This arrangement, which could be described as the complete opposite to the PIPELINE series, was conceived for the analog photography using a view camera and film that has consistently intrigued Ishizuka. Even if the trend toward digital cannot be halted, it is not always clear what is lost, and what gained, in the move. Ishizuka decided first of all that he wanted to give visual expression to the very existence of “negative” and “positive” film, something in the process of being lost. There are two options for color film photography: negative and positive film. In digital photography, even if negative and positive can be inverted, this is merely a data conversion that imitates the concept of negative film after the fact, something fundamentally different in quality to the material foundations of the negative image, that is, the film image.

In principle, if the negative and positive images overlap perfectly, the image will disappear. The layered negative/positive shots Ishizuka takes in N/P are shot with different cameras, and overlaid with just a slight slippage. This is the work of showing not in principle but as a material fact, and as a photo, how two types of film capture a single object.

Gentaro Ishizuka will doubtless continue his forays into no man’s land for a long time yet. He is currently undertaking a fascinating series that involves photographing abandoned gold rush sites. Meanwhile, by adding experiments in critiquing analog media like N/P, paradoxically he is also striving to expand the field of photography, and its freedom.


artist statment

I first started shooting landscapes with pipelines while in Arctic Alaska. Astounded to find an oil pipeline extending an incredible 1280km right across the continent, I realized that there were similar landscapes all over the world. From Alaska I went to Iceland, to Australia, and to Austria, to date documenting landscapes of this sort in these four countries.

Pipelines in photos, stretching in a straight line across wilderness, somehow remind me of a single pencil line drawn across a blank sheet of paper, and it is from this that the exhibition title Demarcation is taken. The dictionary defines demarcation as a differentiation or boundary, referring to an area or disparity created when something is placed in a place where hitherto there was nothing.

When it came to exhibiting at Gallery 916, which consists of a small box-like space and cavernous gallery-like space, I was keen to display the photos of pipelines from around the world in the bigger space, and in the smaller, darkroom-like area, my new work N/P.

Contrary to the pipeline series, this new work did not even require stepping out of the house. It involved manifesting negative and positive on the same print, in order to create an image in which the shadows of objects are reversed. I cannot help thinking that amid the growing digitalization of photography, the technique of reversing negatives and positives cultivated over 170 years or so, is a very precious one. It was with this in mind that I embarked on N/P.


Gentaro Ishizuka

Photographer. Born in Tokyo in 1977. Taken with an 8 x 10 or other large format camera, his uniquely seen images with topical themes traverse the realms of documentary and art. In recent years he has focused on landscapes characteristic of the polar regions of Alaska and Iceland, featuring motifs such as glaciers, pipelines and remnants of the gold rush. Recipient of the Photographic Society of Japan Awards Newcomer’s Award in 2004, and a fellowship for overseas study from the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs in 2011. The (what might be called “early”) compilation Pipeline Iceland/Alaska (published by Kodansha) was awarded the Higashikawa Awards New Photographer Award in 2014. Winner of the Steidl Book Award Japan in 2016, his new work Gold Rush Alaska will be published by Steidl in 2017.


Gentaro Ishizuka

Date : 20 January - 26 March, 2017
Time : Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00 / Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30
Closed : Mondays ( Except for Holidays)
Entrance Fee :
Adults 800 yen / College students or over the age of 60 500 yen / High school students 300 yen / Junior high school students or younger Free (Gallery916 & 916small)

Reception : ​20​ ​January​, Friday 18:30 - 20:30
Funded by : Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture)
Cooperation : ​Kashima​ Co., Ltd., ​SUGAART​

Gentaro Ishizuka, the photographs For enquiries regarding
the purchase of the photographs, please contact the gallery.
TEL: +81-(3)-5403-9161 / FAX: +81-(3)-5403-9162
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