• Photographer Miyazaki Manabu puts Japan’s Wildlife at Center Stage

Photographer Miyazaki Manabu puts Japan’s Wildlife at Center Stage

By Staff Writer
December 17, 2021
A Japanese marten in snow

Japanese Marten, 2017, Collection of the Artist

The Tokyo Photographic Art Museum presents “Wild Animals Now”, Japanese photographer Miyazaki Manabu’s largest exhibition to date

From August 24th to October 31st, 2021, The Tokyo Photographic Art Museum presented “Wild Animals Now”, showcasing the works of Miyazaki Manabu, also known as the “photojournalist of the natural world.”

About the artist: Miyazaki Manabu

Miyazaki Manabu is a completely self-taught photographer born in 1949 in the small rural town of Nakagawa at the foothills of the Japanese Alps in Nagano Prefecture. His work with unmanned robotic cameras has repositioned how we view animals in their completely natural habitat, away from human eyes.

The mountainous prefecture of Nagano, home to Kamikochi and the Japanese Alps, is largely made up of forests and mountainous environments, a perfect habitat for many of Japan’s native fauna and flora. It is no surprise that Miyazaki’s home prefecture played a key part in his artistic journey. Using his own ingenuity Miyazaki was able to photograph the ecology of animals that are difficult to see with the human eye, such as nocturnal owls and Japanese serows that live in alpine zones, and became known as the leading photographer of birds of prey in Japan, winning several prizes for his photo books such as Fukuro (Owls, 1978), winner of the 1st Japan Picture Book Award grand prize and Washi to Taka (Eagles and Hawks, 1982), winner of the Photographic Society of Japan New Talent Award.

A young owl

Owlet about to fledge and leave the nest, from the series Ural Owls, Collection of the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

Technology Meets Nature

Miyazaki Manabu worked for a precision instrument company for many years before becoming a freelance photographer in 1972. Exhausted by long periods of observation in often extreme climatic conditions, Miyazaki used his technical skills and know-how to install unmanned photographic equipment of his own design in various natural environments throughout Japan in the 1970s. These cameras would allow him to capture many scenes of wild animal life that are normally difficult to photograph. A robotic camera is placed along an animal trail in the woods, where its shutter is tripped automatically by an infrared sensor. By using the penetrating vision of a hunter and cutting-edge equipment, Miyazaki made it possible for animals themselves to snap photographs, thus revealing the unknown scenes of the lives of wild animals.

A mountain goat standing between a pair of rocks

《中央アルプスの稜線から下界を見下ろすニホンカモシカ》〈ニホンカモシカ〉より 1970-1973年

One of Miyazaki’s best-known images captures the scene of a black bear playing with a robotic camera he set up. Developments of camera technology enabled the photographer to shed a light on the habits (and playfulness) of the black bear, one of Japan’s most noted large-sized wild animals.

A black bear at night investigates a camera on a tripod

A black bear photographer. from the series Wild Animals Now Collection of the Artist

Post-Pandemic society

A fisheye lens view of monkeys in a forest

Macaque, from the series There’s a Sky I’d Like to Show You, Collection of the Artist

Miyazaki Manabu’s driving theme throughout his work remains “How much do we really know about nature?” Whether that is in their environment and habitats or the relationship between human society and animals. In his most recent exhibition “Wild Animals Now” at The Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Miyazaki's personal trajectory and artistic explorations of these relationships were revealed throughout over 200 prints and 21 pieces. The museum also asked him a series of questions on how his work could be interpreted in the current global situation in a video interview (linked below). “Because with their fast generational change, animals teach me the seamy side of the human world from their perspective and give me hints on how to survive this age.” Miyazaki Manabu noted. In recent years, Miyazaki has worked as an adviser to rural communities that are developing policies to deal with the menace of wild animals. These threats may be partially a consequence of humans encroaching on the animals’ natural habitat but also due to climate change.

A dead deer laying in the snow, with a black bird

死〉より 1994年 東京都写真美術館蔵
(冬の死・二ホンジカ コメヅカの森のはずれに、二ホンジカの死体が雪にうもれていた)

With the COP26 climate conference in November 2021, there has been a clear and resounding message that climate change poses a threat to humankind. However, with the important work that artists such as Miyazaki Manabu are creating, we are reminded of the imminent impact the consequences of environmental change can have not only on humankind but on the lives of animals that inhabit the same planet.

Exhibition details
From: Aug. 24—Oct. 31, 2021 (The exhibition is now over)
Organized by Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Patronized by the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun
Sponsored by NIKON CORPORATION, Nikon Imaging Japan inc., the Corporate Membership of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
With cooperation Montbell Co., Ltd.

Interview with Manabu Miyazaki (Japanese): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lNTFJj9Amo

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