Responding to Mount Fuji

Fujiyama (Mount Fuji) is said to be the most-photographed mountain on the planet. This must be due to its location, 60 miles from Tokyo and visible from the city on a clear day, while more spectacular mountains such as Everest are rather more remote. I am not convinced that Fujiyama would attract the attention that it does, based on its appearance alone.

google-fuji

Google images search on “mount fuji” (accessed 4/10/2016)

Geologically, Fujiyama is the archetypal stratovolcano, an almost perfect (if rather shallow) cone which is snow-capped for much of the year. The majority of images that appear on a Google images search use the mountain as a backdrop; those which show Fujiyama as the main subject appear (to me) very static and boring.

The use of the mountain as backdrop can be seen in the classic paintings of Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858), both of whom produced series of landscape prints entitled ’36 views of Mount Fuji’. Hokusai went on to add another 10 prints to his original series and, later, another series of 100.

The images above, three from each artist, are typical of the sets (source: Wikipedia Creative Commons). All show Fujiyama rather small (or very small) in frame, as a background element, and I note that both artists have chosen to dramatise the mountain by depicting it with much steeper sides than we see in photographed reality. Although both collections are described as ‘views of Mount Fuji’, it is the foreground elements that are most important and in many cases they show the 19th-century Japanese equivalent of industry or transport.

Set against this background, I suggest that the ‘Fuji City’ images of John Davies and the ‘Fuji’ images of Chris Steele-Perkins are very much in the tradition of the old painters, showing Mount Fuji as a backdrop to contemporary life. Indeed, Steel-Perkins tells us that his book is a response to having been presented with a copy of Hokusai’s.

In summary, there is a tradition, both photographic and painterly, of using Mount Fuji as a background element to give a sense of place (rather than just being incidental) not as a foreground subject in its own right.

References

Davies, J. (2008) Shizuoka Prefecture & Fuji City [online] at: http://www.johndavies.uk.com/fuji%20text.htm (accessed 4/10/2016)

Steele-Perkins, C. (2002) Books – Fuji [online] at: http://www.chrissteeleperkins.com/books/fuji.html (accessed 4/10/2016)

Wikipedia (s.d.) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji (accessed 4/10/2016)

Wikipedia (s.d.) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Hiroshige) [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji_(Hiroshige) (accessed 4/10/2016)

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