Austin exhibit of Hiroshi Watanabe’s monochrome photographs
displays an expert presentation of subtle beauty and exquisite
prints. A native of Japan, Watanabe lives in the US, but travels
frequently to Japan and other countries to record the beauty
of his world, as reflected in most of the art in the exhibit.
Half of the 40 photographs focus on portraits of Matsuo Kabuke
– amateur, Japanese actors dressed in traditional attire.
The remaining photographs reflect the artist’s striving to
preserve ephemeral aspects of life that he witnessed in his
travels. All of Watanabe’s medium format photographs feature
subtle toning and beautiful printing.
approaches his subjects, in the true tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson,
as a neutral observer, freezing time to objectively record
his rapidly changing world. Nowhere is this more obvious than
the artist’s portraits of the Kabuki players, each of which
show individuals in traditional costumes. With a playful attitude,
the artist includes portraits of these costumed actors dressed
as bunnies, shogun warriors and geishas. One portrait displays
the gentle sloping neck of a geisha above her kimono and below
her heavily ribboned and tied hair. Another image focuses
on the bare feet of an actress below her boldly striped dress.
The subjects’ sad or angry eyes stare at the viewer through
many of these photographs.
culls his second portfolio on display, entitled ‘Observations,’
from his travels across the globe including Burma, India,
Equador and New York City. One photo features a white bull
dog resting at the feet of his owner seated in a dark, New
Orleans bar, evoking the feelings in Cartier-Bresson’s portrait
of William Faulkner. American Museum of Natural History,
shows us the shadowy figure of a young girl before a diorama
of four African oryx causing the viewer to wonder which image
is real – the girl or the African plains. Another image confronts
the viewer with the giant, bell-shaped dome of a temple in
Mandalay, Burma, put into perspective by a tiny, silhouette
of a young boy standing on the monument’s base.
common theme throughout many of these photographs is the sensation
of viewing the subject through a veil, such as the pattern
created by screens, fabric or wrought iron. Watanabe variously
uses this technique to obscure, highlight or beautify his
subjects. One such photograph shows a worker building a structure
of metal rods in Quito, Equador. As we stare up at the sky,
through the grid formed of the rods, we see the shadowed worker
placing a rod on the structure, but the real subject seems
to be the clouds far above his head. The show’s standout image,
however, is White Terns, Midway Atoll. Again, the
view is up, this time through a thin, gauze-like tent. A flock
of terns sits on the tent, their bodies are viewed in the
photograph as shadows while their webbed feet are seen directly.
Watanabe’s mastery of
the printing process is the glue that holds together the images
in this display. The beauty of his use of mist, shadowy figures
and gauzy veils would be lost without his ability to render
these subtleties on photo paper. Accentuating Watanabe’s beautiful
printing skills is his use of toning to further capture and
convey the moods of his images.
Writings On Photography:
- Camera Work, written for Wikipedia
- Annie Leibovitz, American Music, at the Austin Museum of Art, as published in fotophile.com magazine, August, 2005
- Paul Outerbridge biography written for Wikipedia
- Sean Perry, Transitory, at the DBerman Gallery in Austin, Texas, as published in fotophile.com magazine, August, 2005
- Mike Smith, You’re Not From Around Here, at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, as published in fotophile.com magazine, March, 2006