Friday, 22 February 2013

A Tree, A Blade of Grass–Shinzo Maeda

Maeda is a Japanese landscape photographer who appears relatively unknown in the west. There is a short biog at On Landscape and a search of his name on google images brings up a fair selection of pictures.
I bought A Tree, A Bade of Grass on a whim and it was well worth the slight risk involved. It includes around 70 very well printed images on glossy pages which seem to enhance the colours – and what colours - Maeda makes green an art form of its own with every shade and hue on display. Couple this with the colours of Japanese flowers, skies and lakes and and the resultant feeling is simply luxurious.Most of the shots appear to have been taken in mountainous areas, and they do drive home how few trees we have here in the UK.
The book is arranged by season starting with spring, which I think is similar to traditional anthologies of haiku, and is as good an example of seasonal characterisation as I think you could want. Spring, inevitably is a riot of cherry and plum blossoms. leavened with misty blue-greens. During the summer months green predominates, turning to the inevitable browns, reds and golds of autumn. Several of the winter shots make use of the blurring/contrast reduction caused by photographing in snow storms and bring the book to a quiet close.
Maeda is clearly someone who understood and loved the Japanese countryside. In a short afterword he says that he has simply tried to present a glimpse of the seasonal changes in the various parts of Japan – and in this he has been very successful.
In some senses his work treads the same representational path of some popular western landscapers – Rowell perhaps or Cornish – and yet, it seem altogether more modest. You aren't left admiring the clever lighting technique, wondering about the weird light balance or the near-far perspective trickery of wide angle lenses. You sense that the images are about his love of the natural world and for me that sets them apart.

Since writing this I have also acquired a copy of Kamikochi: The Nippon Alps which continues in much the same vein. The images are so different from the stereotypical Japanese images of big cities, bullet trains and Mt Fuji that you could be forgiven for wondering if it's really the same country. 

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