Santa Monica Japanese photographer Yamamoto Masao (b. 1957) is a Zen poet of the medium. His images focus on the body and the natural world, subjects pared down to their essence, at once ordinary and extraordinary. Yamamoto’s publications and installations have tended to reinforce a sense of continuity between part and earthly whole, the specific moment and the duration, by presenting images in close combination with one another. He has printed them in clusters on a single long scroll or hanging, unframed, in rhythmic sequences across the wall, occupying the entire space from floor to ceiling, corner to corner. His unpredictable assembly and composition of photographs exhibited in a variety of formats, tonalities and sizes—mostly quite small (down to one inch across)—trigger alertness, an observant presentness that serves the pictures well.
Images in Yamamoto’s latest exhibition, “KAWA=Flow,” resonate harmoniously with what came before, but here the artist reverted to a conventional method of display, hanging the 11 photographs in frames at eye level, at standard intervals. Ironically, considering the show’s title, the installation de-emphasized the temporal stream uniting all things. Yamamoto proffered a succession of discrete moments, whose common stillness and grace served to bind them fundamentally, if not lyrically. Each of the prints (all gelatin silver, untitled and undated, ranging from 4 3/4 to 13 inches on a side) is a pristine and quiet celebration, an act of recognition and reverence.
In one picture a log appears newly split on the chopping block, opened toward us like a book with its pale interior exposed. In others, a spotted deer nests in a bed of ferns, delicate mushrooms sprout from a stretch of rope, a dragonfly’s wings glisten with minute beads of dew and a dark bird capping the tip of a leafless vertical branch completes an inverted exclamation point. In one particularly exquisite piece, three white cherry blossoms align in a neat column, while the pale oval faces of the tree’s sawed branches seem to progress like phases of the moon in an arc across the left side of the dark page.
Yamamoto’s closest philosophic kin might be Japan’s 20th-century Zen painters, whose sparely brushed images and phrases were meant as prods to enlightenment, zingers to awaken our drowsy consciousness. Oddly, perhaps, his work also brings to mind the contemplative rambles of Richard Long, a solitary soul moving through space and time, and, less surprisingly, because of the composer’s own deep connection to Zen Buddhism, the silence-soaked compositions of John Cage. Yamamoto’s photographs invite clarity and gratitude. Their purity is timeless but ever timely.
Photo: Yamamoto Masao: Untitled, n.d., gelatin silver print, 9 3⁄4 by 6 1⁄4 inches; at Craig Krull.