CNN Photos

Reflections in the mundane

Toshio Shibata takes photographs of structures that normally only a civil engineer would pause to appreciate.

Dams and buoys and dirty water are not what anyone would envision while thinking of Japan’s most eye-catching landscapes. But when captured by Shibata, they take on a simple, stark beauty.

In the words of Larry Miller, a gallery owner who has collaborated with Shibata for 20 years, he makes the mundane elegant.

“They’re meditations on the place where man and nature meet,” Miller said about Shibata’s work.

Landscaping in Japan differs from the United States, Miller said. With manmade structures, the Japanese strive for harmony so that man is of the landscape. In the United States, man isn’t a part of nature. He looks out on landscapes, he said.

However, Japanese people wouldn’t necessarily see the beauty in Shibata’s subjects any more inherently than a Westerner. That is a unique touch to Shibata’s work.

Shibata shoots on a large format camera to create large prints that capture the details of the landscapes. He has worked in the United States and studied in Belgium, but all his work has a very Japanese aesthetic, Miller said.

“They’re about surface and light and texture and rhythm,” he said, whereas American works tend to have starker depths of field. Shibata’s flat images remind Miller of lacquer ware.

Shibata’s personality is similar to his works – quiet and thoughtful, Miller said

“He’s a smart, modest man who would rather express himself through his camera than through a lot of chit chat,” Miller said.

For this particular selection of works, Miller observes that water is either moving and blurred, or it’s meant to be a reflective surface.

Even though there are no horizons in the landscapes, some imply it. For example, the trees in photo 11 look like clouds above a horizon line.

“He’s really like a painter,” Miller said. After working with Shibata for years, he sees his pictures in the landscape while driving around Pennsylvania.

But Miller doesn’t think it’s worth too much analysis. It’s impossible to articulate Shibata’s works as eloquently as they look.

“Not every picture is meant to be dissected,” he said. “They’re meant to be pictures.”

- Lauren Russell, CNN

Selections from Toshio Shibata and Japanese painter Toeko Tatsuno are on exhibition at the Laurence Miller Gallery in New York until May 25.