Art Islands from a Black & White Perspective

Words and film photography by  Spenser Paul

Words and film photography by Spenser Paul

I recently spent 6 weeks touring Japan with a friend. I took my trusty Leica to join me on my travels. While there, I spent almost a week exploring the Japanese Art Islands Naoshima and Teshima. These islands once polluted by toxic waste are now a haven for art and architecture. The islands themselves contain multiple museums and external sculpture works. The Museums contain works by Claude Monet, Jean Michel Basquiat, and David Hockney.

When I first arrived at the islands I was struck by the contrast between industries. The islands themselves are dotted with fishing villages that have seen better days while most of the tourists are there for the museums themselves. This renders the towns as if they are in a time capsule, totally separated from the art on the islands. The docks are worn down as if they had seen time pass it by while it remained unchanged. The boats, barnacle ridden and worn felt like they were from a different time.

While I was there, I set out to explore the dynamic between the hyper-contemporary architecture that dots the landscape with the seemingly traditional villages that make up the islands. Farms and animals are still found on the island as the people of Naoshima and Teshima live independently of both the world outside and the art that they live with. The feeling of the islands was one of isolation. You struggled to find reception, combined with the traditional Japanese towns and the contemporary museums created a vexing juxtaposition.

I seek to tell the story of these islands and how a group of islands. Teshima had over 600,000 tons of toxic waste dumped there in the 70’s, although a clean up has occurred it is obvious that the dump of toxic waste has taken its toll. A large portion of the population is clearly elderly and it was rare to see any new construction. It is clear that the island still has a stigma attached to it.


These images were taken on my Leica M6 and a 35mm Summicron. I mostly shot Fuji Acros and Kodak Tri-X. The light on the structures was a continuous overcast which suited me quite nicely, I tried to get the ideal tonal range that would both print in my darkroom well, as well as an image that would present well on a scan. The locations include an abandoned Children’s hospital, the museums themselves and the towns that are scattered over Naoshima and Teshima.