Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Constructed Landscape - the photography of Toshio Shibata

   I recently viewed a wonderful exhibit of the noted Japanese photographer, Toshio Shibata.  I have never seen is work in person and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts has a wonderful show entitled, Constructed Landscapes, on view until February, 2014.  If you are in the area you should really try to see it.  It will challenge you to see photography in a new way and it might even get you thinking about the way you approach the relationship of the man-made world to the natural world.

Shibata's photographs reveal
that even the humblest places
can inspire, delight and
merit contemplation.
-from the introduction
to the exhibit

   Shibata combines Japanese aesthetics with contemporary subject matter, what he calls infrastructure, and the immense scale of the work is breath taking.  The smallest piece is 25" X 30" and the largest is 49" X 60".  The huge size of his prints really made me think about the role of scale in photography.  The trend of creating large scale images is pretty much the norm amongst the elite photographers of today.  There is certainly much you can say about the impact such large images make on the viewer.  You find yourself stepping back to take it all in.  When you are across the room from a photograph of this size it ceases to be "photographic", it seemed to take on the illusion of an abstract painting.

   There is an elegance and simplicity to Shibata's view of the constructed landscape and by making his photographs so large it adds to their monumentality.  By failing to name them, you are often unable to comprehend what they are so the work borders on the abstract.  Here, there is almost a reverence for the work of Man which dominates the pictures space.  The fact that they must have been printed on a monumental printer at a monumental cost simply adds to the overall impression I got of being somewhat small and overwhelmed! 

    I also wondered, as I left the gallery, if the age of the small, hand held print is gone or is there still a place for the intimate, close-up encounter with the photograph?  I hope so; I would hate to see it go the way of the book which is being slowly replaced by the e-book.  Bigger isn't always better but in Toshio Shibata's case it is certainly awe inspiring!


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