Hokkaido rusting steel panels

Age or Beauty? – 1: Modern Art Painted by Nature

When I first went to Hokkaido I was taken to Shinzo Maeda’s gallery in Biei. I was impressed by his style and images and, like many other landscape photographers, I later went to live in Biei, opened a gallery and took some poor imitations of Maeda’s style. I was young and immature, in my 40’s. I soon realised there were 100 other galleries nearby, most containing imitations of Maeda’s style but (with a couple of notable exceptions) two or more ranks down. I had to do something different.

Traveling around I saw many objects typical of the Hokkaido landscape which struck a chord in me rather than landscapes itself. Objects I recognised as beautiful, telling a story through their presence and decay. In particular, I noticed the farm buildings. Many were covered on the walls as well as roofs by steel panels with a variety of makers’ marks on the panels. I later learned these panels were intended as roofing panels, but farmers are generally income poor so as the panels deteriorated and needed replacing the old panels were reused, then attached to the sides of the buildings to help protects the simple wooden structures from the harsh Siberian winters. The maker’s mark was intended to be on the inner side of the panel but, both sides being zinc coated and the inner side in better condition, the farmer often attached the panel so the inner side was now outside. As these panels deteriorated further the farmer would use any available scraps of paint to roughly paint the now outer sides. As a consequence the panel developed combinations of original surface, rust, and a variety of colours and patterns as the various painted areas themselves faded or were worn off. Many of these panels reminded me of modern art, Pollock, Rothko and others. “Modern Art painted by Nature” I thought and started to photograph them.

Images were taken mostly with a 4×5 camera, negatives developed commercially and initially printed on Fuji Crystal paper, but as time went on and material became unavailable I also printed on an ink-jet printer using pigment inks. I displayed the prints in my gallery. One of the marks appearing often was the “Moon Star” logo belonging to Nisshin Steel. The company heard that I was displaying photographs of their rusting and disintegrating panels so sent a team round to investigate! They immediately understood that what I was displaying were 40 to 60 year old panels, whereas the intended life was under 20 years, so they became interested, supportive, and invited me to hold exhibitions (three over the years) in their head office gallery in Marunouchi, Tokyo.

One barn in particular yielded many interesting individual panels as well as an impressive frontage. I regularly visited and became friends with the farmer, Nagakawa-san. He told me the history of the barn. Built many years ago (some panels were over 60 years old) the original farm track in front of the barn was to become a tarmac road and widened. This entailed moving the barn back from its original position and reassembling. The reeds visible in the right hand window were collected by his wife and dried. She intended to use them to make some form of decoration but never got round to it – the reeds remain.

Hokkaido rusting steel panels
Moon Star
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
after Rothko
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
Peeling Paint
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
Waterfall, taken with a Hasselblad in early morning sun
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
7 after Pollock
Hokkaido rusting steel panels
Red Head

Further images can be seen on my website www.geoffgallery.net.

Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-free Experience

There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:

Paid Subscription - £2.99 per month and you'll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).
Subscribe here.

Content contributor - become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.

About The Author

10 thoughts on “Age or Beauty? – 1: Modern Art Painted by Nature”


    Your selected images are beautiful. They transcend the gap between a mechanical device and an artist’s mind/eye/heart.
    It’s so easy today to snap an image. So much of what is now posted is redundant crap. There is no thought or effort (boy, I’ll get flak for that!)
    Your work demonstrates that you need to look rather than see and you need to spend time searching out the overlooked.
    Well done. Best of luck as you continue.

    1. Dan, thanks for the comment. Interestingly I have a high end digital camera, the same camera for 6 years, and I’ve taken only 4000 images with it. My approach is always the same as if I was lugging an 8×10 around. Why am I going out to take images, what do I want to take, what’s the reason behind these intended images (and other questions)? I’m not saying this is the only way or best way to photograph but its the way I work. I’m a mathematician!

  2. I like this article. Every illustration tells a story about the people that live there, the words matching the photos. These photos resonate with me and remind me of my grandfather’s farm. We had barns, and everything was recycled, repaired and reused. Even the the cold winds in winter came from Siberia, just the direction was from the East.

  3. Simon Cygielski

    Beautiful and haunting images. One of my formative experiences in photography many years ago was seeing a series of almost abstract close-ups of cars crushed at a junkyard, by a Chicago photographer whose name I do not recall. They were surface studies similar to yours in many ways, combining texture, color and abstract composition, and even had a similar material palette of paint and rusty metal. I saw them as projected slides, which completely blew me away. I can only imagine what impact yours would have presented in a similar way. Wonderful work. Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top