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Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012
In the details of our landscapes sits a panorama of mankind
By STUART MUNRO
Special to The Japan Times
In Johnny Hardstaff's short film "Transmission," a group of astronauts training to visit a distant planet are interviewed. Filmed as a viral promotion for Ridley Scott's recent film "Prometheus," "Transmission" acts as an introduction to the characters of Scott's universe, rich in both story and visual detail. Made as a recorded message to be transmitted into outer space, the film is interspersed with images of Baroque furniture, Japanese glass chairs, Constable paintings and other culturally diverse earthly artifacts.
During one interview, an astronaut confesses his hope for the mission to "crush all man-made religion ... ," a comment swiftly followed by mountainous aerial photography set to classical music.
While Hardstaff's hopes are somewhat oblique, what is clear is a desire to discover a new world amid a struggle between natural and manmade technology, a wish that also resides at the heart of the very earthbound yet equally dramatic exhibition by photographer Taiji Matsue, currently showing at Izu Photo Museum.
Matsue is known for his dramatic global catalogue of landscapes, best described in his 2005 book, "Gazetteer." His new show, "Surficial Survey" includes film work that is being shown for the very first time, alongside his photography.
The first room reveals the Alps mountain range as a sequence of images, each colored slightly differently by passing clouds. A film in the middle of the room brings these images to life, offering clues to the changing landscape on the wall.
In the next room a film of traffic along interchanging highways is shown, just meters from another that tracks people trekking across a frozen glacier. Both films appear to be are made from an improbable and distant vantage point. Elsewhere, a cruise ship sits in the middle of a Norwegian Fjord and in another corner of the room, hotels reveal roofscapes intermittently dotted by sunbathers, satellite dishes and washing lines.
In the gallery's rear space, filmed storm clouds surround a view out, and into, one of the museum's gardens. This moment of reflection gives way to "JP-22," Matsue's photographic series in which urban and rural Japan are seen as patterns of coastal drift and snaking tarmac.
The show comes full circle in the final room, where the previous vastness of mountains are concluded with photographs of dioramas of natural and urban landscapes — all indistinguishable from their real settings. A world map on the banks of Denmark's Lake Klejtrup, a model of Tokyo's Shinagawa, a German beer festival, a castle and Italian roofscape all appear real as if photographed from afar. Yet, the curious detail of each image questions the nature of them, and Matsue's photography begins to take on renewed meaning.
Surveying the surface of the world as if observing from space, Matsue explores things with a strange and dramatic detachment. As photographer, he documents the subtle changes in foreign and unfamiliar ground, the impact of which renews the way we see these landscapes both at home and abroad.
"Taiji Matsue: Surficial Survey" at the Izu Photo Museum runs till Dec. 25; open 10a.m.-4 p.m. ¥800. Closed Wed., year end and New Year's holidays. www.izuphoto-museum.jp.