Yamamoto Masao had not only treated these prints with a range of teas, and chemicals—this I already knew—but also with tears from his own eyes.
By Peter Watkins
Bound in blue, Small Things In Silence is a book of photographs about looking; about noticing the world as distinct from the noise and chatter that increasingly permeates our collective lived experience; they about the quiet contemplation of a man who has been looking for many years, who’s delicate work is as much about locating meaning in the order of things, as it is about the nature of time and photography, the earth and the cosmos, close looking and far looking, and perhaps most poignantly for him, the substantiation of his place in the world—his distinct way of seeing. This is what he is showing us.
Installations of Yamamoto Masao’s work encompass rhythmical swathes of small, pocket-sized photographs that adorn the walls, most often unframed. His photographs are physical, in the way that photographic paper can be when it has been handled, bent, torn, and treated experimentally in alchemic baths of teas and chemicals. The torn edge of a work is as important to him as the formal rigor displayed in the images themselves. “You can print photographs to be any size you want”, he says, “but everything has its appropriate size.” Hung low, and sweeping up high, these exhibitions encourage a kind of slow looking, a non-linear movement of the body through space—its physical, I am told. It has no beginning and no end.
Installations of Yamamoto Masao’s work encompass rhythmical swathes of small, pocket-sized photographs that adorn the walls, most often unframed. His photographs are physical, in the way that photographic paper can be when it has been handled, bent, torn, and treated experimentally in alchemic baths of teas and chemicals.
If some artists get excited by how big one can print, then Masao is that artist’s polar opposite—he wants to hold a photograph in his hand, to possess it, to feel this thing as an object. In the book these photographs are reproduced as close to the actual works themselves; that is they are both accurately printed in size, and are taken from scans of the resulting works, lending them a physical closeness that we as an audience can possess and carry with us. They are broken into sections: Chaos, Tranquility, Wandering, Light Construction, Shizuka = Cleanse. These tend not to create boundaries, but punctuate the flow of images. Instead of experiencing these photographs in swarming rhythmical clusters, as in his exhibitions, we now view them centrally oriented, one photograph per page, a fairly conventional edit. But all this perhaps only emphasizes the seriousness of the endeavor. He is playful in this, but only within the confines and parameters set out by he himself. Viewing extends outwards from the center of the page, and a detailed close inspection of the photographs—often challenging the eye in decoding and deciphering—to the edge of the image, and a surrounding mass of white space, which by all intention is thought of as important as what is contained within. I am reminded of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, not for the unadorned method of display and the space between photographs, but for the If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters kind of philosophical looking. On the page, one experiences these works mostly as diptychs, that play with the kind of quiet aforementioned formalism: a body and a cloud; a bat and a road; a fog filled landscape of mountain tops and the gentle break of a wave photographed from an almost impossible distance. These are small moments of wonderment at the natural world, but also explore the limitations of the medium—of light and dark and ladders to nowhere.
Whilst visiting Photo London recently I spoke with his Japanese gallerist, who whilst carefully removing a palladium print from its protective sleeve told me that Yamamoto Masao had not only treated these prints with a range of teas, and chemicals—this I already knew—but also with tears from his own eyes. Those same eyes that have been looking so quietly and so meditatively at the world around them for so long.
(All rights reserved. Text @ Peter Watkins. Images @ Yamamoto Masao.)