Celebrating the Beauty of Japanese Trees


Yuka and The Forest Book by Lena C Emery published by artpapereditions charity

Three photographers, Yoko Ikeda, Toshio Shibata and Lena C. Emery, are all celebrating the majestic nature of Japanese trees in their own way, with a book and a double exhibition. With Treescapes, a joint exhibition commissioned by the New York-based Laurence Miller Gallery, Yoko Ikeda and Toshio Shibata contrast their different but complementary views of nature.

Toshio Shibata, one of the most famous Japanese landscape photographers, became known for his work in which he explores the interaction between nature and man-made infrastructure. He was born in 1949 and lived in Belgium before settling in Tokyo. On his return to Japan, he was struck by the eclectic mixture of traditional landscapes and western influences he found in the region, and focused on the beauty of ‘non-photogenic structures, the stuff most photographers would ignore’. In his images, trees take up only part of the frame. They’re shown surrounding dams, adding beauty to a bridge or planted an equal distance apart in a field to meet crop requirements.

His exhibition partner, Yoko Ikeda, approaches the subject from a totally different angle. In her works, the trees fill the whole frame to the point of being too big for it. The calluses in the bark are visible and the colours are intense, almost overexposed. Dead leaves strewn across a turquoise tarpaulin, green and pink woodpeckers perched on a tree in Kyoto, or branches weighed down with flowers in Misato, in Kumamoto prefecture: where Toshio Shibata photographs large areas of land, Yoko Ikeda narrows the frame and looks for the details.

The magical dimension to her work echoes that of Lena C. Emery, a young German photographer. Her love of trees dates back to her childhood, when she walked around the different nature reserves in Singapore. Her new book, Yuka & the Forest, tells the contemplative story of Yuka, the solitary fictional character, in the mysterious, dense and poetic spaces in the Japanese forest. The photographer also pays homage to the Shintoist concept of chinju-no-mori (broadly speaking, the notion of the idolisation and protection of nature), which she discovered on one of her many trips to Japan over the past few years. The whole work is printed on recycled paper and thus actively strives to preserve the forest: 10% of the profits go straight to the WWF to help protect the environment.

Yuka and The Forest Book by Lena C Emery published by artpapereditions charity

Yuka and The Forest Book by Lena C Emery published by artpapereditions charity

Kuroishi City, Aomori Prefecture, 2006 ©Toshio Shibata

Hirakawa City, Aomori Precture, 2006 ©Toshio Shibata

Saga City, Saga Prefcture, 2014 ©Toshio Shibata