Jessica Sattell

Traveling Kevin J. Miyazaki’s “Perimeter”

The Haggerty-commissioned exhibit includes images of Lake Michigan and portraits of individuals whose lives are tied to it.

By - Feb 14th, 2013 04:00 am

Photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki portrays people of and around Lake Michigan in this exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art. Installation photo by the author.

For Milwaukeeans, Lake Michigan acts as our very own natural compass — a point-of-reference that always reorients us to look for the shoreline, no matter where we go. It’s so engrained in our day-to-day lives we often overlook its significance. In addition to being an inspiration of meditation, memory and renewal, it is also our city’s key to becoming a global leader in fresh water research and conservation. Though it is only the third largest of the Great Lakes, it holds 20% of the global supply of fresh water.

The “Michigan Ocean” holds infinite histories, secrets and stories, but can you give it a face?

Perimeter: Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki might. The exhibit, on display at and commissioned by the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, crafts a diverse portrait of Lake Michigan through images of its dynamic waterscapes and the everyday people that are closest to them. The Wauwatosa-based photographer collected more than 200 portraits of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan residents with a connection to the lake during a two-week, 1,800-mile journey around its perimeter.

Employing a traveling studio constructed from PVC pipe and black velvet, he set up in public and private spaces within view of the lake. While some of his subjects were identified in advance, most of the people that he photographed he had met serendipitously in his travels. He also briefly interviewed his subjects, asking only two questions: “What draws you to Lake Michigan?” and “What about the lake matters most to you?” (their answers, along with the portraits, can be found at his website).

The waterscapes (portraits in their own right) were created on the same trip, and are a statement on public access to the lake; Miyazaki avoided all interstates and tried to stick as close to the physical lake perimeter as possible, but in some areas he was thwarted by restrictions from private or industrial land use.

The abstract and variable qualities of water are explored in Miyazaki’s images. Installation photograph by the author.

Perimeter is a project that is far too multidimensional for the mere confines of a gallery, but the Haggerty space offers us a well-crafted presentation of Miyazaki’s undertaking through a site-specific installation entitled Mauka, Makai (in Hawaii, where his mother was born, these are commonly used words for “toward the mountains” and “toward the ocean,” respectively). A selection of the portraits and lake views are enclosed in a small side room no longer than 12 paces, facing each other in a reflective juxtaposition. The photographs here offer a heartfelt, charming honesty, with none of the esoteric art-speak that often discourages people from understanding and appreciating art included in the accompanying catalog or on the placards. The exhibit space itself, so humble and intimate, encourages visitors to find a face (or two, or three) to fall in love with. In this sense, it’s a welcoming and interactive exercise that finds us seeing ourselves reflected right through the literal (and metaphorical) personas of Lake Michigan.

Views as diverse as the portraits themselves emerge from Miyazaki’s interviews, shaping an image of fresh water as both a nurturing source of healing and a destructive taskmaster. If there is a common theme that runs through Perimeter, it is one of a gentle call to action; many interviewees express quite sincerely how they wish that Lake Michigan could be preserved for generations to come. Reading through the snippets of these discussions in the gallery catalog, or in full on the website, is almost like perusing the field notes of an expedition. Miyazaki acts as a scientist, taking “water samples.” Those samples may vary greatly from place to place, but each photograph is a perfect representation of a community’s ecosystem.

Perimeter: Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki continues through May 19, 2013, at the Haggerty Museum of Art on the Marquette University campus at 13th and Clybourn Streets. The museum is free and open daily to the public.

0 thoughts on “Traveling Kevin J. Miyazaki’s “Perimeter””

  1. Anonymous says:

    very nice! Great photography series / installation of Lake Michigan. Thank you!

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