When the wife of British photographer Chris Steele-Perkins presented him with a book of Katsushika Hokusai’s Mount Fuji prints, the body of work inspired Steele-Perkins to go out and photograph the mountain. Just as Hokusai’s paintings documented a cross section of nineteenth century life living under the influence of the snow capped peak, Steele-Perkins set out to capture contemporary life on celluloid using Mount Fuji as the conduit. The result is a collection of 132 photographs depicting the mountain and its influence on life surrounding it, spanning the four seasons.
Autumn begins with the image of a football field next to the Fujigawa river (p12). The relatively newfound love of football is documented by the football coach in his brightly coloured Adidas tracksuit as he instructs a hopeful young goalkeeper leaping for the ball. In the background, beyond the players the clouds covering the peak of Mount Fuji appear to subdue its mighty presence.
This presence is far more visible in Fujiyoshida (p32). It is winter and a street comes to life under a clear blue sky. The sunlight defines the ridges and the contours of Fuji as she looks down on a woman delicately negotiating the well-trodden snow.
Much of the work documented by Hokusai in his painting is of the working classes; men out in the fields tending to the rice crop, merchants trading, the fisherman out on the rough seas all wearing loose fitting garments of the time. Today in modern Japan, the suit, or the tracksuit is the outfit of choice and the Tokyo landscape consists of industrial chimneys churning out pollution, floodlit oil refineries and busy petrol station forecourts.
The fumes, the bright lights and the bustling scenes all bid to divert your attention, yet like a magnet the eye is always drawn to the mighty Fuji. Occasionally it may take some searching; a reflection in a travel agent’s window or the glimpse of the distant peak through the branches of a tree. Whether there or not, all the images convey the mountain’s omni-presence.
Hokusai would now barely recognise Japan sprawling around Mount Fuji, Steele-Perkins directs us to reflect on the dramatic contrasts between traditional and modern life. Rather than recreating classic Hokusai scenes, he has captured today’s classic scenes; football, theme-parks and heavy industry. If Houksai were to pick up a camera today this is the body of work he may produce.