Red Bridge, Okawa: Shibato

Toshio Shibata, Red Bridge, Okawa, 2007
Picture obtained from the guardian.com, link above

The title of Shibata’s photograph gives the audience a focal point, which is the bridge and gives us its location. If you know about his bridge series and the photographer himself you will come to view this work differently from someone who is seeing the work with fresh, unknowing eyes. For this picture analysis I will analyse it as I did for the first time that I saw it.

As a viewer we are directed straight to the image of the bridge due to it being the title, having a red dominant colour and where it is situated within the picture plane. We are not initially looking for hidden subjects, themes or stories within the images frame. Our eyes instantly fall upon the red structure that dominates the centre, we then move our eyes upwards and down the bridges triangular framework to the road/pathway below. The road then takes our eyes forwards to the centre of the picture frame, through the bridge to the trees in the distance. It is once our eyes stop at the layered trees we begin to notice smaller details, like road signs, a second road/track and an electric cable of some sorts. Now we can start to think more deeply about the image, Where do these roads lead? Who lives there? What are they like?

We can then begin to notice other small but important details in the composition of the photograph connected with light and shade. The top right hand corner of the photograph shows us a negative space which is just a tiny glimpse of the sky, this in turn then lets us to decode that the trees are actually layered in depth because they are on a mountain. This negative space is repeated opposite on the lower right of the photograph where a dark shadow, which is thrown from the bridge, gives us a sense of the height of the bridge.

The colours within the photograph are opportune, that is, Shibata did not paint the bridge red, it just happens to be a manmade construction in red which has its complimentary in natures green behind it. Also the yellow ochre of the road/walkway construction is subtle like the greens of the trees. This again lets the red construction dominate the photograph. For me this is what the photograph represents metaphorically: manmade ‘v’ nature/ red ‘v’ green/ erosion ‘v’ decay. They exist to balance each other and the over all composition of the image.

The image has impact due to the manmade objects which have strong lines and angles and shapes which form grids. These shapes rectangles and especially triangles are strong and solid compared to their opposite within this photograph which is natures trees with their branch spikes and soft and fragile leaves. The trees have irregularities in their shapes, sizes and lines and they are also subtle in colour. The diffused light which falls on the trees, and the shadows that it creates add to the atmosphere of the overall image which also emphasises the different textures.

These textures also provide another depth to the image. We can see the hard, solid mass of metal that forms the bridge and road as manmade giants which abuse the natural landscape. They are built where nature should be, evicting it and the animals that lived within, they are harsh and unforgiving a product of harsh man.

What do I think of the photograph overall? For me, this work has an abstract quality, if you disregard the title which is like a closed question which leads you to only one possible answer, and that is the word ‘bridge,’ but instead you look at it from an artistic viewpoint without a title, you get ‘abstract.’ For me, abstract is exciting, it has possibilities. Abstract within this work is the varying shapes and lines which contrast with nature, and the dynamic red of the bridge which dominates the soft hues of the trees and road. However it took on a different meaning for me when I viewed it as part of Shibata’s bridge work, this provided a series with meaning and reason. The photograph also became interesting in another way because it is was now connected to a person, their backstory and their travels, not only around the globe but as a developing photographer.

I take a lot of photographs and show very few. If there is too much reality, too much identifiable sense of time and place, I don’t show these images. I have taken around 4,000 plates with my 8 x 10 camera and of those I show about one percent. I try to eliminate the reality, time and any sense of specific place. Of course this is extremely difficult with photography. Within a frame there are so many elements that are present and you cannot choose those that you want to keep and those that you want to eliminate. The only elements that you can control are contrast and tonality, light essentially. With painting all the ‘unnecessary’ parts in a scene can be eliminated. With photography, you just have to accept what is there. That is where the difficulty of photography lies. Photography is not something that you can make. It cannot be forced. You have to accept the subject. 

Interview with Toshio Shibata, Marc Feustel, 2009

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