Toshio Shibata in #47 Mizu:


In Toshio Shibata’s work water controlled by human hands plays an important role. Shibata mainly photographs enormous manmade constructions within the Japanese landscape. His photos of huge water dams that create lakes and regulate the flow of water have made Shibata Japan’s most important contemporary landscape photographer. The works that are included in ‘Mizu’, show that already early in his career (the 1970s) Shibata was fascinated by water, in this case the waters in Scotland, the Netherlands and Belgium (where he studied photography at the Royal Academy in Gent in 1975/76).


After completing a BFA and an MFA with a major in oil painting at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Toshio Shibata (b. 1949) left his native Tokyo to continue his studies at the Royal Academy in Gent, Belgium. In 1975 and 1976 he received fellowships from the Ministery of National Education and Dutch Culture that enabled him to remain in Belgium, and it was during this period that he began to take photographs, also influenced by the exhibition The American West: One Hundred Years of Landscape Photography in Paris (1978) which included work by the Group f/64 artists like Ansel Adams and other West Coast photographers from the US.


Upon his return to Japan in 1979, Shibata had his first solo exhibition, Winter Europe, at the Zeit Foto Salon in Tokyo. After his protracted stay abroad, Shibata became more acutely conscious of the Japanese landscape through extensive travelling in his native country and sought to convey his interest in the particular qualities of this landscape by means of his photography. By 1983 he had begun his Quintessence of Japan series, in which he depicted landscapes and roadsides that had been overlaid by netlike devices to forestall erosion and landslides, as well as the dams that create lakes. Shibata conveyed a sense of human intervention into nature via remarkable engineering efforts, which participate in a cycle of preservation and reclamation in a land with finite natural resources. Using black-and-white film and a large-format camera, Shibata emphasised the abstract beauty and immensity of impression of the Japanese landscape. Although his landscapes are devoid of humans, a human presence is suggested by the benefit that will be provided by the constructions. Since 2004 Shibata has been photographing almost exclusively in colour. 


In 1992 Shibata received the Kimura Ihei Award. His work has been featured in numerous overseas exhibitions, including solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1997 and the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris in 1998. Shibata taught in the School of Art and Design at Tsukuba University (1988-89); since 1987 he has also taught at the Tokyo College of Photography.