The Shore of the Firmament - Kazuyoshi Nomachi

Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00

Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30

Mondays Closed

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Faraway landscapes portrayed by a wide-swinging “pendulum”
Kenji Takazawa, photography critic

One of the joys photography brings is that of encounters with unseen worlds. Photographs accurately capture the landscapes of faraway places, and how people go about their lives in those places, and deliver that information to us. In the West, where photography was invented, people had relatively early access to the landscapes and products of civilizations outside their own. For example, in 1849 French writer Maxime du Camp spent a year traveling through the Middle East with his friend Flaubert, taking 2000 photos along the way. The photo collection Egypte, Nubie, Palestine, Syrie released on his return was by all accounts phenomenally successful. (1) We have always been fascinated by the worlds seen in photographs, turning our thoughts to places we may never visit in our own lifetimes. Since the invention of photography, one could say we have attempted to learn about the world by “looking.”

Kazuyoshi Nomachi is another photographer who has contributed to the broadening of our visual experience. Vast natural landscapes, huge places of worship preserved for thousands of years, exotic lifestyles and customs: he has delivered all these wondrous images and more to our eager eyes. Many of Nomachi’s photographic works conjure up the idea of being in a vehicle capable of traveling infinite distances.

Kazuyoshi Nomachi was inspired to set his sights on faraway places by an encounter with the Sahara Desert. Nomachi first headed for the Sahara at the age of 25, when he had been a freelance photographer for about a year. After enjoying a skiing trip to Switzerland and Austria with a group of friends, he and one friend were suddenly struck with a desire to see the Sahara. Seduced by the desert, he ended up making five more visits in the years up to 1975, spending a total of thirteen months on location there. (2) The resulting photos were published in major international magazines, followed by the photo collection SAHARA published first of all in Italy in 1977, then the following year in five other countries including Japan. SAHARA was highly acclaimed both in Nomachi’s native Japan and elsewhere, and set him on what was to become his path as a photographer.

In SAHARA Nomachi acquired two themes that would later connect. One was that of remote frontiers: views of nature in places far from civilization. The other was portraits of the people who live in those places, and their lifestyles. The former has led Nomachi to locations on the very outer limits of our world, beyond media reach, and the latter to covering Islam and Christianity – the so-called desert faiths – and also world religions like Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. Of special note was Nomachi’s coverage of the Hajj in Mecca, when he became the first photographer ever to do so.

In the forty plus years Nomachi has been covering places around the globe, photo-journalism has taken great strides, swelling the desire of the general public to “see everything there is to see” of unknown worlds. Modern civilization, industrialized and mechanized, has promoted the development of a consumerist culture to match our desires. As we know, this has resulted in huge lifestyle changes in the so-called developed world. The changes in Japan, the first country in Asia to join the developed nations, have been particularly drastic. Strangely, Kakuei Tanaka’s Nihon Retto Kaizoron (Building a New Japan: A Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago) was published the same year (1972) that Nomachi visited the Sahara, and economic stability, product of high economic growth, gave people the scope to enjoy a consumer lifestyle. During this era Nomachi covered the Sahara for extended periods on several occasions: meaning he deliberately took the plunge to work in places where there is nothing, and life is hard. Why?

Nomachi has likened his approach to photography to a pendulum. “Staying in one place for an extended period to take photos, then coming back to Japan: that’s what I did, over and over. I felt like a pendulum with a wide swing.” (3)

In the case of SAHARA, at one end the pendulum was in the desert, and at the other, in this country. If there is one difference between the photos of western photographers and those of Nomachi, it would be that while from a European perspective the Sahara Desert was a vast place of death, it never looked that way to Nomachi. Spending extended periods in the Sahara, Nomachi realized that to nomads living a traditional lifestyle, the desert is their motherland. This viewpoint perhaps overlapped with the reverence for nature and awareness of the wisdom of coexisting with nature that Nomachi was unconsciously acquiring.

For photographers who work under harsh conditions, reliable equipment is indispensable. Since SAHARA Nomachi has been using a 35-mm SLR, 6X7, and 4X5 cameras. In the afterword of his photo collections he frequently asserts the “straightness” of his photos. (4) He writes that he does not employ any filter work such as color filters, just an PL filter to cut any excess light. He began using a digital SLR with the Canon EOS 5D released in 2005, and was amazed by the camera’s high-speed performance, which enabled him to capture perfectly the image of bathers at dawn in the River Ganges. From that point on, the range of Nomachi’s photographic expression expanded with each advance in digital technology. Yet rather than “creating” images, he still limits himself to “capturing” them, retaining his pre-digital passion for astounding the viewer. This requires thorough research, and shooting over a long period.

“The Shore of the Firmament” consists of photographs taken over a period of about 50 days traveling in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina in early 2015, using a Canon EOS 5Ds, which features an ultra-high pixel count of around 50.6 megapixels. The theme was to take this ultra-high pixel camera and use it to capture images to form part of Nomachi’s ongoing extreme altitude series. Nomachi says that as always he went solo, venturing into remote areas in search of the kind of landscapes not featured in guidebooks or on the internet.There are landscape shots he only finally managed to get by staying with local farmers, and his enthusiasm for seeking out scenes never before photographed remains undimmed. We live amid a deluge of photos and videos, and feel that if we search the net, we will find an image of just about anywhere. But is this really the case? There is no doubt that photographs make handy tools, as evident in their social network ubiquity. On the other hand, it is often unclear how a shot has been taken, and how far removed the image is from reality. That photographs no longer represent the truth is now almost a given.

But a photographer for whom documenting is of primary importance needs to take responsibility for his or her photos right up to how they are received. For instance, one reason photographers such as Robert Cappa and Henri Cartier-Bresson started the Magnum photo agency was so that the photographers themselves could make decisions on trimming and captions. Similarly, for Nomachi it is undoubtedly vital that his photos be “straight.” This emphasis on veracity and a documentary quality also helps to open up some of the possibilities that high-resolution technologies bring to photography.

In his searching for unseen landscapes, unknown scenes, the photographer who began with SAHARA is somewhat of an “image hunter.” In the case of “The Shore of the Firmament,” that image is a place at high altitude where nobody lives; a ghost town quietly succumbing to the elements that once prospered, but was forgotten at the end of an era; or a derelict ship, abandoned in the Straits of Magellan, whose role in history ended with the opening of the Panama Canal. The photos give a sense of the harshness of a natural environment in which humans cannot survive, and the sublime beauty of a landscape that has seen the cumulative impact of time.

Nomachi’s “pendulum,” swinging robustly between the land of his birth and far-off places, also overlaps with the conflicted selves of those of us living in the modern world. Natural or manmade? Tradition or innovation? Localism or globalism? Faced with the works of Kazuyoshi Nomachi, let us engage for a while with our own inner pendulums.

1. “Maxime du Camp,” exh. cat. (Mitaka City Gallery of Art, 2001).
2. Kazuyoshi Nomachi, SAHARA (Heibonsha, 1978).
3. In an interview for “The Shore of the Firmament” exhibition (2015).
4. Kazuyoshi Nomachi, SINAI (Heibonsha, 1979).



Kazuyoshi Nomachi

Born 1946 in Kochi Prefecture. Nomachi studied under the photographer Takashi Kijima, launching his career as a freelance photographer in 1971. A journey to the Sahara Desert in 1972 led to extensive photojournalistic coverage of Africa including the Nile River region, Ethiopia, and the Great Rift Valley. From the late 1980s, he turned his attention to the Middle East and Asia and undertook long-term coverage of places such as China, Tibet and Saudi Arabia, homing in on the lifestyles and faith of people living in harsh climates. Since 2000 he has focused mainly on the Andes, India, and Iran. The resulting photographs have been published in magazines and as books, and shown in exhibitions worldwide, garnering much attention. Among his many photobooks published internationally are Sahara, The Nile, Tibet, Mecca, and A Photographer’s Pilgrimage, and among the cities his “Sacred Lands” exhibition has toured are Rome, Milan and Taipei. He has won numerous awards, including the Domon Ken Award, the Minister of Education Award for Emerging Artist, the Photographic Society of Japan’s International Award, and in 2009 the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon.


The Shore of the Firmament
Kazuyoshi Nomachi

Date : 15 January, 2016- 14 February, 2016
Time : Weekdays 11:00 - 20:00 / Weekends and Holidays 11:00 - 18:30 (Final day - 17:00)
Closed : Mondays ( Except for Holidays )
Entrance Fee : Free

Kazuyoshi Nomachi, the photographs for enquiries regarding
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