Drawing on his background as a fruit breeder and farmer, Masumi Shiohara’s award-winning images record and celebrate the identifying characteristics of different species of fruits that he grows. He creates photographic botanical art that not only serves as a practical tool but also depicts the multifaceted beauty of plants.
I am a fruit farmer in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. I grow grapes, pears, plums, peaches and apples. I am also a fruit breeder. I breed and cultivate dozens of varieties of fruits.
When filing a plant patent application, we keep records to identify each of the varieties and to compare those with other similar varieties. A collection of these records is called a characteristic table. As a fruit farmer and breeder, I continue to use photographic techniques to illustrate all of the important items in the trait table in a single piece of work. My photographs become a form of botanical art.
Initially, I thought that it would be more efficient to list the characteristics of each breed with accompanying photographs, rather than trying to identify the varieties by comparing them with a characteristic table that spans dozens of pages. I think you should compare in more detail using the characteristic table only after you identify the fruits by their photographs.
Botanical art originally evolved from the study of medicinal herbs, to identify different varieties in this way through drawings. During the Age of Discovery, a huge number of plants were recorded in faraway and foreign lands, and their detailed depictions began to be considered works of art. Even now, botanical art is highly regarded and continues as an art form. I create works based on the methods of scholars at that time, expressing the beauty of plants using modern, photographic technology and digital editing.
Why the Critics selected this work
At first glance, the photomontages of Masumi Shiohara appear to be about specific varieties of certain fruits. In fact, the images and the underlying project itself are about absolutely everything. Without sustenance there is no life, and without beauty there is no art. While any number of the projects I viewed for this competition are about themes that might seem more timely than the details of certain varieties of grapes, pears, plums, peaches and apples, in the end this competition is about photography. Masumi Shiohara is a farmer, and fruit breeder, and grew the subjects of these montages himself. He utilizes photography in a visually striking and disarmingly sophisticated manner, choosing as his subject something he is deeply knowledgeable about, and which is relevant to all of us.
—Chris Pichler, Founder and Publisher, Nazraeli Press
Ancient and contemporary botanical illustration has achieved such levels of perfection that it is not easy for photographers to compete with this form of art, one that requires profound scientific expertise and a refined aesthetic sense. Masumi Shiohara took up the challenge and started to photograph the plants and fruits of his family’s orchard. A former engineer, he’s now a farmer and breeder and he uses photography to document the new varieties of fruit he creates and to keep record of the ones disappearing. Thanks to the right light, every element emerges gracefully from the dark, as a revelation. And while we admire every single detail, we think with melancholy about the wonder of nature we’re losing.
—Elena Boille, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Photo Editor, Internazionale