Focus on the Collection: Yamamoto Masao

Discover works recently acquired by the Canadian Photography Institute.

# 280 (from the series A Box of Ku), 1987–2018 (printed in 1994)

# 280 (from the series A Box of Ku), 1987–2018 (printed in 1994), gelatin silver print with hand-applied ink, 11.1 x 17.3 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © Yamamoto Masao, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery. Photo: NGC

 

Japanese photographer Yamamoto Masao creates small and intimate images focused on the relationship of humanity to the natural world, and to broader metaphysical states. The works in the CPI collection come from four series — A Box of Ku, Nakazora, KAWA=FLOW and Bonsai — each of which has a specific theme.

Yamamoto's works have been described as “visual haiku” for their ability to evoke a sense of harmony between various elements: a cat posing next to flower pots, swans sleeping in the snow, and snow monkeys soaking in hot springs. In some photographs, time itself is a medium, its expression realized by the period of waiting to take the shot. 

For Yamamoto, photography has strong connections to the art of bonsai, which involves crafting a miniaturized version of the natural world as a means of evoking a larger reality. In the image N°4009, the artist has produced an effect that makes a bonsai tree glow. This aura symbolizes the intensity of the tree’s existence, as well as its longevity. As Yamamoto has said, “Famous bonsais may be hundreds or thousands of years old. Perhaps the time it has withstood gives the tree a kind of aura. And perhaps I continue to photograph bonsais to find out why they have such an effect.”

 
N°1255 (de la série Nakazora), 1987–2018 (tirée en 2005)

# 1255 (from the series Nakazora), 1987–2018 (printed in 2005), gelatin silver print with hand-applied ink, 11.1 x 16.9 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © Yamamoto Masao, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery. Photo: NGC

 

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Biography

Yamamoto Masao (Gamagōri, Japon, 1957–) studied painting, choosing photography as his primary media around 1980. In his photographs, the artist engages viewers through a concentrated presentation of his subjects, which are most often animals or elements of the natural world. He is particularly drawn to small objects that are often overlooked. In early works, he emphasized the material qualities of the photographs through the application of paint, and deliberate signs of wear such as folds, stains, scratches and frayed corners. In later works, he used specialized darkroom techniques to explore ideas of temporality, and to create poetic effects.

# 4009 (from the series Bonsai), 1987–2018 (printed in 2018)

# 4009 (from the series Bonsai), 1987–2018 (printed in 2018), gelatin silver print, 25.7 x 33.7 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © Yamamoto Masao, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery. Photo: NGC

 

In the Artist’s Own Words

 

About A Box of Ku :

Vast landscapes, societies, countries and space are all made from smaller parts. These small things not only exist as elements that make up the whole; they each have their own story, as everyone has their own life. Under the rock there are thousands of baby ants being born, caterpillars eating leaves, birds that are attacked by cats — small events are taking place in the continuous flow of time. Searching for beauty within these easily overlooked small events.

 

About KAWA=FLOW :

This series is about the “Kawa”/river that separates life and the afterlife. There are some who see a river merely as a border, with two sides, but I focus on its creation.  Rainfall filtered by mountains emerge as spring water, first forming rivulets, then streams, and finally rivers. This natural creative process reminds me of the river of life — the flow of numerous events in life that occur between life and death. I hope to express this flow of life through this KAWA=FLOW series.

 

About Nakazora :

It represents a broader space than the series A Box of Ku. The space between sky and earth, the place where birds fly. Empty air. . . An internal hollowness. Vague. Hollow. Around the centre of the sky. Emptiness. A state when feet do not touch the ground. Inattentiveness. The inability to decide between two things. Midway. The centre of the sky (the zenith). A Buddhist term.

 
# 1662 (from the series KAWA=FLOW), 1987–2018 (printed in 2016)

# 1662 (from the series KAWA=FLOW), 1987–2018 (printed in 2016), gelatin silver print, 24.2 x 16 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © Yamamoto Masao, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery. Photo: NGC

 

 

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