|Notes on PLACES
Hiroshi Watanabe is an inveterate traveler, but he doesn’t take “travel” photos in any conventional sense of the word. What he takes, rather, are deftly composed, unassuming pictures that home in on a whimsical detail, or a quiet moment. His photographs don’t advertise their location: in fact, they are more about photographic aesthetics than they are about place. A spare image of a simple white picket fence, for example, speaks more about line and composition than about Bora Bora, Tahiti, where it was taken. An ephemeral photograph of a flock of white birds, seen from below as they rest on piece of netting, says more about composition and a certain visual poetry, than it does about Midway Island, the historic spot where Watanabi took the picture. Even a recognizable icon like the Statue of Liberty appears almost glancingly, in a photograph of Liberty State Park, NJ, where it is just visible off in the distance, past the leafy bough of a tree in the foreground.
Born in Sapporo, Japan, Watanabi studied photography at Nihon University and moved to Los Angeles in 1975. He eventually created his own production company, but he closed it in 2000 to devote himself to photography. “I always go to places with some kind of expectation,” he says, “and I come back with a lot more, with images I never expected.” Whether his photographs show soap bubbles floating gently along the Santa Monica Pier or a statue of a cupid, peering around the corner of a building in Tokyo, they reveal an artist with light touch and a gift for finding something revelatory in the details most of us overlook.