For over 30 years, Toshio Shibata has traveled across Japan and the United States, producing a body of photographs showing the extent to which humans have shaped the surrounding world. The images mix landscape painting with documentary realism, thus moving beyond mere physical description. Indeed, Shibata’s work is not solely about the environment; he does not want to simply shame us for destroying nature. Rather, he aims to show the awe-inspiring extent of our creative (and destructive) powers, allowing the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about the impact humanity has had on the world.
As Marc Feustel writes in his introduction to Shibata’s book, Contacts:
“[Shibata] describes the process of making his photographs as “borrowing a landscape”: they are not images of the landscape but images made from the landscape. While they document the world that they depict, that is not their primary function. Instead, the exquisite nature of these compositions seems to be inviting us to look at the world a little differently than before, to reconsider what a landscape might be.”
“[Shibata’s] borrowed landscapes are transformed through the flattening of perspective and the omission of the sky to upend our sense of scale, or by emphasizing geometric lines and panels of color to push a composition towards abstraction. In fact, after two decades of black and white work, Shibata’s switch to color has brought his work closer than ever to that of his hero during his student days, Paul Cézanne, whose paintings first led him to the arts. But Shibata is not attempting to make paintings using the medium of photography. He is acutely aware of the fundamental differences between these two artistic mediums. For Shibata, it is essential that his images are instantly recognizable as belonging to reality, while creating a world of their own.”