The Photographic Alphabet: I is for Yojiro Imasaka
By Tyson Duffy
Maybe it takes the eyes of someone from abroad to see the North American landscape for what it really is. In Yojiro Imasaka’s case, maybe it takes a young ambitious artist born in Hiroshima, Japan. Take a moment to consider it for yourself. When you think of “America,” what do you see in your mind? The urban nightlife of New York or Los Angeles? The Hollywood sign and Mann’s Chinese Theater? The steel and cement of our behemoth interstate highway system? The quaint blight of suburban strip malls? In a culture defined by television and cinema, it can be hard to recall that the ancient Mississippi river is America too, as are the Black Hills of North Dakota, the limestone formations of Pyramid Lake in Nevada, and the Jawbone Flats of Willamette National Forest, Oregon.
Rarely featuring human subjects, Imasaka’s poetic images reveal a natural world flourishing despite dire human prophesy. Politics, planning, progress—these words mean nothing to the swamp oaks and cottonwoods populating the bayous of Louisiana.
William Faulkner said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Imasaka’s eye over the peaceable ruins of the northeast—such as his shots of Bearsville, NY and Swan’s Island, Maine—evoke inherited memories of what appears, at first, to be the Deep South. But if we look, we’ll see the legacy of the nation runs in all directions, not just North or South. That the old-growth forests, agricultural fields, the crumbling outbuildings, and wrought iron implements are everyone’s shared legacy.
And what does the sheer beauty of the North American landscape mean for those who admire it, or live and work within its majesty? Imasaka’s work is intentionally unclear on this point. He asks us, merely, to see it for what it is.