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Spirit of the forest

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Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Jul 9, 2010; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

Spirit of the forest Amazing clarity and color lend a sense of awe to Tokyo-based artist’s photographs of Northwest Coast rain forests Art Issues MALIN WILSON-POWELL For the Journal

How is it possible that Yoshihiko Ueda’s large color photographs of the rain forest feel predominately blue, yet look predominately green? Although the saying goes “seeing is believing,” there are mysteries of perception afoot in these images of the magnificent Hoh and Quinault Rain Forests on the Olympic Peninsula. Upon first encountering these photographs, there is a classic Doubting Thomas reaction. The colors can’t be “real”; they must be digitally enhanced. Or perhaps Ueda used a film stock with a tendency toward the blue part of the spectrum? Not so, according to the artist: The color in this series of 39 photographs is absolutely accurate. To capture these images Ueda hauled a bulky, difficult-to-transport, largeformat view camera, mounted on a tripod, through the dense vegetation of these virgin Northwest Coast forests. Each print is developed from a single 8-by-10- inch sheet of film. All have a magical “Voila!” intensity with amazing gradation, clarity, detail, and a subtle tonal palette. The Tokyo-based Ueda set up his studio in 1982 and quickly rose to prominence both as a commercial photographer and a generator of poignant personal projects. Originally told his work was not light enough or glamorous enough, he has charted his own course toward work with “an essential human quality, an element of spirit.” Since 1990 Ueda has published 16 books and this solo exhibition is the first time the artist Ueda is represented by a U.S. gallery. His wide-ranging projects include a 2003 reissue of “Quinault” (first edition, 1993), and two 2006 books: “At Home,” a small 6-by-8-inch book with hundreds of his family’s domestic moments, and “Portrait,” a collection of more than 200 Japanese writers and artists in pursuit of portraying wisdom. Ueda is clearly adroit at using both hand-held and stationary cameras as well as taking great care to design each project, whether casual or formal. For the “Quinault” oversize publication (10¼-by-14¼ inches), he chose heavy matte paper and used four-color printing to emphasize the blue tint that deepens shadows. While the book is meant to be a hand-held personal experience, the large (50-by-40-inch) and smaller (29-by-23-inch) prints on exhibition at Tai gallery shimmer, glisten and feel atmospheric and enveloping. The Quinault is a very wet place, one of the rare temperate rain forests where up to 180 inches of rain falls each year. It is a place hard to image in New Mexico, with an average 10 inches per annum. These pictures offer a calm, cooling experience. None of Ueda’s photographs has a title and they are numbered chronologically in reverse order, with the first image number 39 and the last number 1. This inversion suggests the artist’s trajectory was from a intuitive pull forward to a primary source, a journey from the elusive to the “very ordered structure therein.” He made the first photograph, “Number 39,” in 1990 while looking for locations during a commercial fashion shoot. Ueda describes an uncanny “sensation [that] stopped me in my tracks and sent me hurrying back to the spot.” He felt “the forest itself” as a time and place where, for an unfocused moment, there was a “shadowy nuance that slips away the instant you try to shed light on it.” Looking through the viewfinder, everything went into slow motion; he saw the forest in time-lapse, he felt the great layering of the biomass, he lost the word “forest,” and he found a wordless, heightened “spectacular hyper reality.” All the while he was reminded of dioramas seen at the Museum of Natural History in New York of thoroughly faux nature created with artificial light. Compelled to look at the image again and again at home in Japan, he returned to the forest the following spring. After several days of questioning himself, his “second miracle” occurred: “The brushwood wheezed, the moss shown an impossibly phosphorescent green that seemed to radiate from everywhere over the mammoth trees ... even as I trembled at what I’d seen, might not the forest itself have also trembled at being seen? A most natural thought at the time.” Immersed in the filtered light of the forest primeval, while he photographed the giant trees, moss and the carpet of plants on

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Spirit of the forest

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the forest floor, Ueda pondered human fear of the dark and began to explore it. From the evidence of the prints on exhibition, the artist was released from habitual patterns by his submersion into the embracing, whispering murk. Photographers by definition work with light, but in the Quinault, Ueda shed this basic notion of his craft and began “composing with darkness rather than light.” The artist’s reorientation, his penetration of the darkness, is most obvious in the first photograph he made on this second visit. In the foreground of “Number 38,” two large tree trunks read as negative presences, like a chasm created in a Barnett Newman canvas by a dark vertical zip. In “Number 1,” the final and culminating image, bursts of bright yellow lichen and shafts of sunlight punctuate the blue light in the green forest. It is a cyclical return to light, bringing along lessons learned from the dark and from the shadows. If you go WHAT: YOSHIHIKO UEDA “Quinault” WHERE: TAI Gallery, 1601 B Paseo de Peralta WHEN: Through July 22. Gallery hours: Monday thru Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and by appointment. CONTACT: 505 984-1387 or www.taigallery.com

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Spirit of the forest

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COURTESY TAI GALLERY “No. 38” is a print from photographer Yoshihiko Ueda’s “Quinault” series.

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Spirit of the forest

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“No. 13” is a print from photographer Yoshihiko Ueda’s “Quinault” series.

“No. 31” is a print from photographer Yoshihiko Ueda’s “Quinault” series.

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Yoshihiko Ueda at Tai Gallery  

Yoshihiko Ueda's"Quinault" Northwest Coast color photographs

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