Unreal Nature

August 19, 2015

Not a Landscape Created by God

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… The built infrastructure is not a landscape created by god or formed by nature. It is the raw mark of human beings living in this world …

This is from the essay ‘Another Landscape Photography — On Shibata Toshio‘ by Iizawa Kotaro in Randosukepu / Landscape (2008):

A question has been nagging at me: is there a subtle difference between the meaning of fukei in Japanese and its English equivalent, landscape?

fukei implies a space familiar, close and emotionally accessible.

The English term landscape, by contrast, implies an absolute distance between what is being viewed and the viewer. A landscape is an object for us to observe, analyze and recognize.

… [Early art photographers in Japan] tried to become part of the landscape of the natural environment, to merge themselves with it, and reach a state of serene, comfortable integration in which “subject and object are one.” That stylistic ideal is probably not unrelated to the Japanese view of the landscape as peaceful, harmonious, and compact, on the order of a miniature garden.

The Western view, by contrast, requires photographers to adopt an almost defiant attitude towards the landscape, a natural world that excludes them and can be actively hostile to them. Confronting the vast landscapes of Europe and America, photographers wield their skills and their sensibilities as weapons in a battle to capture an entire scene on a single light-sensitive plate. The work of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Carleton E. Watkins, William Henry Jackson, and the other “frontier photographers” who documented the American West in the latter half of the nineteenth century clearly bears witness to their spectacular battles to address and comprehend their subjects. Their spirit lived on in the twentieth-century landscape photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, whose sublime work is almost religious in character.

What, then of Toshio Shibata?


… [His] photographs, made with the precision a large-format camera makes possible, have every detail sharply in focus throughout. They are towering examples of landscape photography in the Western sense, rejecting the introjection of any emotion, yet what he captures is a remarkably Japanese landscape or fukei, a patchwork of the man-made and the natural, sensitively, almost neurotically woven together. Shibata took advantage of the confusion that he himself felt about the chaotic Japanese landscape upon his return from Belgium, by daring to ignore the gap between methodology and subject, and to create landscape photographs that have a unique texture.

… The built infrastructure is not a landscape created by god or formed by nature. It is the raw mark of human beings living in this world and engaging in production in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In that sense, Shibata’s color landscape photographs go beyond the aesthetic achievements of his black-and-white work to introduce a more strongly sociological perspective.


The following are not from Iisawa’s essay:

… “I am interested in human ingenuity.” — Toshio Shabata

… “When I see certain scenery develop through my car window, I find myself talking to myself, ‘Shibata!’ and ‘There’s Shibata again!’ ” — Etsuro Ishihara




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