SANTA MONICA — Gallery Luisotti, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building A2, in Santa Monica, is presenting “Toshio Shibata: Japanscapes” through Jan. 27.
For over four decades, Shibata has focused his camera on Japan’s built environment. Noted for his large-scale black-and-white photographs of infrastructural projects, he has lately turned to color photography.
Gallery Luisotti is featuring his most recent work, several examples of which were published in the photographer’s 2017 monograph “Japanscapes” (London: The Velvet Cell, 2017). With “Japanscapes,” Shibata’s camera not only revels in the abstract qualities of Japanese infrastructure, but also in the palette and texture of the natural landscape such infrastructure seeks to restrain.
In 2016, **New York Times** critic Arthur Lubow compared Shibata’s 2007 large-scale color photograph “Okawa Village, Tosa County, Kochi Prefecture” to the work of Californian photographer Carleton Watkins. Lubow wrote that with Shibata, like Watkins, “the care given to the lighting and to the composition manages to transform a man-made violation into something beautiful — a reminder of the camera’s insidious power to aestheticize almost anything.”
Yet, also like Watkins, Shibata’s poetic framing of infrastructure and architecture has not simply been a means to aesthetics, but also a way of tracking humanity’s endeavor to reign in the forces of nature.
Shibata’s Japanscapes may be sublime, but the photographs are also mindful of the limits of our industriousness. This is in part due to Shibata’s turn from creating black-and-white photographs. Within the many dams, hillsides, and roadways his earlier photographs featured, one would find concrete, in light gray tones, contrasting the darker hues of nature beyond. With the work featured in “Japanscapes,” the clean, minimalistic forces of industry take on a different character.
We see traces of wear – stains, cracks, overgrowth. The colors of the forest, the roadside, the water held at bay, each establish a strong textural element. Shibata allows us to recognize that his industrial subjects are not only not uniform, immaculate, and authoritative, but may in fact be transient and vulnerable.
“Japanscapes” features several large-format color photographs – a size and scale Shibata has been working in for decades. The exhibition likewise features a grid of color contact prints from Shibata’s 4×5 negatives, offering a sense of scale and typology that is rarely seen in the photographer’s exhibitions.
The exhibition is co-curated with Maya Ishiwata, an editor at Nazraeli Press, and a long-time independent curator of Japanese art and photography.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (310) 453-0043 or visit http://galleryluisotti.com.