Philippe Séclier and the obsessive concrete of the Japanese architect

“Atlas Tadao Ando”, by Philippe Séclier, introduction by Yann Nussaume, poem by Naoko Kawachi, 296 p., 2,300 photos, € 49.

Philippe Séclier devoted ten years of his life to photographing all possible buildings, in Japan or elsewhere, of the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, ​​world famous artist of raw concrete. He took dozens of planes, trains, buses, trams, taxis, he walked thousands of kilometers. From this frosty challenge, he made a book.

It all started in July 2011, four months after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. So editor-in-chief of the journal Auto Weekly, he finds himself, the only western journalist, around the Sugo circuit, for a car race. It is mostly 50 kilometers from the power station. What he sees of the country upsets him. He has to come back.

Masochistic protocol

A year later, he entered the Church of Light, one of Ando’s most famous works, in Osaka. A concrete rectangle, the light spurting from a cross pierced in the wall. Seclier is carried away. Because this journalist specializing in racing cars is crazy about art and literature, also a photographer, author – among others – of a book about Pasolini (Pier Paolo Pasolini. The long sandy road, Ed. Xavier Barral, 2005), and a documentary film on photographer Robert Frank (An American trip, 2009).

With Ando, ​​he intends to complete an admiring trilogy. Greedy for challenges, he imposes a masochistic protocol on himself. That of the vagabond. He does not have a sponsor. He commits his money and his stubbornness. He photographs on a cell phone. Sometimes he stumbles on a facade and takes a few images, black and white like concrete, wood, glass. Sometimes, he manages to return, carried by his art of meeting, and takes up to eight hundred photos of the Church on the Water, on the island of Hokkaido. In the evening, at the hotel, he makes his selection.

He begins in Paris, where he lives, photographing the Meditation space designed by Ando within Unesco. Then goes to Germany to photograph the Langen Foundation, in Neuss, near Düsseldorf. And always further. The Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, west of Dallas (Texas), the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, in Saint-Louis (Missouri), a building in South Korea …

He knows that Japan is Ando’s main playground, and that’s another matter. There is the cost of stays, the language barrier, few signs in the street, hidden buildings, with no address or number. So, Séclier buys hundreds of books and magazines devoted to the master, to facilitate his hunt. “An investigation becomes a quest, then an obsession”, he said.

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