Helmut Völter The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji

In 1927, the Japanese physicist Masanao Abe built anobservatory with a view on Mount Fuji. Using film and photography, he observedthe movements of the clouds around the mountain for nearly fifteen years. Hisscientific goal was to research the invisible air currents that formed, shapedand shifted the clouds.  

I first came across Masanao Abe’s work while I wasresearching for my book, Cloud Studies. I was immediately struck by howhis photographs and films combined the precision and clarity of scientificdocuments with an enormous aesthetic quality. Abe managed to simultaneouslyadvance meteorologic knowledge and methods, and continue the long tradition ofartistic interpretations of the Holy Mountain within its landscape.

Although Abe’s work was widely known internationallyamong the meteorologists of the 1930s, it was quickly forgotten after his deathin 1966. His family warmly invited me to visit their private archive in Tokyo,where Abe’s documents had been lying untouched for decades. In my research, Iaimed not only to understand the scientific context of his work, but also toexamine its historical, cultural and aesthetic aspects. 

Helmut Völter: The Movement of Clouds around MountFuji: Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe, Spector Books: Leipzig 2016

Helmut Völter (b. 1978) is a Berlin-based visual artist and graphic designer. Using original and archival research, he creates books and exhibitions. He focuses on the role photography plays in history, the media, the arts, and science. The double nature of scientific photographs—the fact that they are rational evidence and aesthetic objects—often serves as the starting point for his works. He is the awardee of numerous international distinctions, including photo book prizes, as that of The Rencontres d’Arles, and the Walter Tiemann Prize. He held the scholarships of the London Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Akiyoshidai International Art Village.

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Helmut Völter: The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji: Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe, Spector Books, 2016
Masanao Abe, Cloud Photograph 690, 15 September 1936, 9:00 am
Unknown photographer, Masanao Abe in front of a tent, before the observatory was built, c. 1927
Masanao Abe, View from the observatory on Mt. Fuji, 1930s
Masanao Abe, photograph from a wind tunnel with a model of Mount Fuji, 1930s
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