Steam & Ice: The Recent Work of Hiroyo Kaneko

Currently on view at the Red Poppy Art House is the work of photographer Hiroyo Kaneko (b.  Aomori, Japan) which explores the relationship between her subjects and the element of water in two very poetic contexts, in the steamy bathhouse and the outdoors as an accumulation of snow. The exhibition showcases two parallel series of photography, selected by Exhibitions Director Marisa Aragona, based on the poetic relationship of the subjects in Kaneko’s photographs and the mutable element of water. Each frame captures a mood, like a track by Philip Glass, and transmits simple yet delicate beauty. The photographs are a mixture of documentative and artistic sensations – a mélange that communicates a serenity so intrinsic to the Japanese countryside and its people.

Sentimental Education III, by Hiroyo Kaneko (b. Aomori, Japan)

The photos were taken in Kaneko’s home country, Japan, a place full of ritual and of such ancient origin that American culture seems in its infancy by comparison. The landscapes in Kaneko’s photographs show architecture buried under snow, and the people who seemingly live encased by a frozen shell during the winter months. In contrast, the bath photos show an ancient practice that has risen to become a ritual, the steam bath or hot springs known as onsen[1]. The steam is yet another form of the element of water, and it also engulfs the people in the bathhouse. The representation in Kaneko’s photographs can also be found throughout the history of Japanese art, from prints, to paintings and clearly photographs, all depicting a land surrounded by water and where lore has elevated the element to the heights of an almighty and dual deity — The same beauty that captivates us in each frame can also turn on us and obliterate the landscape, as we clearly saw with the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which has affected millions.

Kaneko’s photographs show us water in an almost docile state, showing bodies gracefully framed by its distinctiveness. These images almost seem to counter the devastation the Tohoku earthquake left behind, and certainly does show a people with the serenity to face destruction with a confidence honed by millennia.

The exhibit is in its final week at the Poppy, so we recommend you come by this week of May 21-26 to see it. On Wednesday May 23 at 6:00pm, there will be a discussion about the work of Kaneko in relation to the history of landscape photography in Japan conducted by Lisa Sutcliffe, Assistant Curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Come by and learn about Japanese photography and share your thoughts with a professional in the field of curatorial practices.


Ralph Vázquez-Concepción

Web Manager, Red Poppy Art House