Response to Hokkaido 1971–1976 by Eiji Sakurai

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By: Akari Stimler


Hokkaido is an island in Japan, and it is also the island where my mother grew up. Hokkaido is located at the north tip of Japan and is close to Russia. I always thought of Hokkaido as different from the rest of Japan because of its open spaces, farming culture and nature compared to the compact cities and small spaces on the main island (Honshu). Eiji Sakurai captures the mining culture of Hokkaido during the 1970’s with highly contrasted black and white photographs. Sakurai’s work explores each corner of daily life in Hokkaido. The various scenes seem to be moments that would be deemed as mundane or ordinary to the subjects. The children playing in their backyard on swings makes me wonder if my mother, who grew up during the 1970’s in Hokkaido, had a similar experience to the children in the image.

The most powerful images to me are the portraits of the miners. They are printed with many blacks, accentuating the “roughness” of each photograph. The composition of each portrait is fairly traditional; the subject is aware of the camera and is the focal point of the picture. The overall series seems to be a collection of candid images from the lives of the native Hokkaido people. It is as though they live on farms but work in mines, balancing the two. Every photograph looks composed and printed well. Sakurai’s use of contrast and blacks is clearly intentional and fits well with the work.

Japan is not known for its mining, so Sakurai’s work has taught me something about a place that I have called my second home.

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