Review by Wayne Swanson •
Toshio Shibata likes to blur boundaries. Between the natural and the human-made. Between the representational and the abstract. Between photography and drawing. Shibata, one of Japan’s preeminent landscape photographers, has focused his attention since the early 1980s on the intersection of nature and infrastructure, finding art in scenes of bridges, dams, erosion-control barriers and the like.
Boundary Hunt consists of images made in Japan and the United States between 2000 and 2004 that play off a specific type of boundary. The 34 black-and-white images were captured on Polaroid Type 55 film, the classic 4×5 film that produces both a positive image and a negative that can be used to make enlarged prints. He presents the images with the irregular borders created by the negative included. “The imperfection of the Type 55 film border has always fascinated me,” Shibata writes. “I find myself on the boundary between a photograph and an art drawing.”
Indeed, the images have the look of work created by the hand of the artist, not the camera. Shibata may be a landscape photographer, but normal assumptions about foreground, background, land and sky don’t apply here. His lens may have captured shots of the landscape, but the resulting images are often divorced from any recognizable sense of place.
He disrupts the scale by flatting the perspective and eliminating the horizon line. Concrete retaining walls appear not as scars on the land but sculptural elements in abstract compositions. Long exposures soften rough edges. Striking contrasts between light and dark draw attention to shapes and contours. The result is abstract and poetic imagery that shows the natural and the engineered in harmony with one another.
In keeping with his minimalist aesthetic, the book features a simple, understated design. The images are presented on 9.5 x 12.5-inch pages with plenty of white space setting them off. There is one image to a spread, with a double gatefold in the center dramatically showing a 6-image progression of a mountain roadway traversing a shear rock face. The only text in the book is a 3-paragraph statement by Shibata at the end.
Boundary Hunt breaks down the boundary between civil engineering and art and invites viewers to consider the idea of landscape with fresh eyes.
Wayne Swanson is a Contributing Editor and a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.
Boundary Hunt, Toshio Shibata
Photographer: Toshio Shibata, born and resides Tokyo, Japan
Publisher: Poursuite Editions (Paris, France, copyright 2021)
Essay: Toshio Shibata
Text: English and French editions
Stiff cover book with dust jacket, perfect binding, black-and-white lithography, 72 pages, 34 images, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, printed by SYL, Spain
Editing: Benjamin Diguerher and Marc Feustel
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