Japanese Art

Masao Yamamoto’s Nostalgia for Nature

Masao Yamamoto

Masao Yamamoto was born in 1957 in Gamagori, Japan, and is best known for his simplistic yet poetic photographs. Yamamoto blurs the distinction between photograph and painting through his manipulation of print surfaces – he intentionally makes his photographs look aged by fraying the edges and toning and staining the surfaces with tea; these alterations evoke memories and feelings of nostalgia in the viewer. Often as small as 3×5 inches, the photographs individualize the prints as objects and require viewers to look at the pieces intimately. The dainty size of the photographs parallels the delicate nature of Yamamoto’s subjects, such as birds, soft nude forms, and minimal landscapes.

This photograph of a hand reaching out to a butterfly is a reflection of the harmonious interaction between man and nature. With no other elements in the background, Yamamoto immediately draws the viewers’ attention to the two protagonists and their point of contact with each other. The hand’s positioning is gentle, and the butterfly – with its feeler just slightly touching one finger – seems unafraid. The photograph is evocative of peace and coexistence – consistent with Yamamoto’s personal philosophy of respect and humility toward the universe.

In his birthplace of Gamagori, Yamamoto was surrounded by mountains and seashores, and as a child he enjoyed collecting objects of nature. This piece, manipulated to a muted sepia tone that imitates an antique print, could be Yamamoto’s attempt to transport himself back to childhood and in doing so influence the viewers to return to their own early memories. I am reminded of carefree afternoons in my own childhood running through grass chasing butterflies just like the one in Yamamoto’s photograph.

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